Brian Wilson, The Daily News Journal, April 15, 2016
MURFREESBORO — The chairman of Middle Tennessee State University’s Forrest Hall task force called on Thursday for the name of the university’s ROTC building to be retired and for the building to be renamed after an MTSU alumnus, faculty member and veteran.
Derek Frisby, a global studies professor who will only vote in the Forrest Hall process in the event of a tie, asked for the facility to be named after Joe Nunley Sr., a longtime education professor, historian and World War II veteran.
“He’s a Blue Raider in every way you can imagine,” he said. “To me, he’s a great example of a citizen-soldier-scholar.”
No vote was taken by the 17-member panel during its Thursday meeting, though another meeting was called for 6:30 p.m. Tuesday. The task force has been asked to recommend whether to change the name of the hall dedicated for controversial Confederate general Nathan Bedford Forrest, keep it as is or keep it “with added historical perspective.”
Frisby, however, encouraged the board to consider a fourth option to recommend using the building to honor someone who affected the university more than Forrest.
For a name change to take effect, it must gain approval from the Tennessee Board of Regents and two-thirds approval from the Tennessee Historical Commission.
“If you make a name change to dishonor someone, the historical commission would not be receptive,” Frisby said.
While critics have questioned Forrest’s role as a leader in the Ku Klux Klan and how his troops handled the Fort Pillow massacre in West Tennessee, supporters call the Confederate general a brilliant military mind who denounced the KKK before his death.
A task force was convened in 2015 to recommend to MTSU President Sidney McPhee whether to change the name of the ROTC building. After that recommendation is made, McPhee can choose to seek approval for a name change from the TBR and historical commission.
Three public meetings then occurred where those for and against the change vehemently defended their beliefs in front of the panel. At the end of the third forum, those calling for a name change marched to McPhee’s house and spoke with him about a series of grievances they said existed at MTSU.
After listening through the first public forums, board members spoke publicly about the merits of the options before them.
Several members of the board spoke about the effect the name and the controversy surrounding it has had on students, alumni and the surrounding community.
“We need to make sure we make the right decision to impact the future students of this community,” said Tony Beard, president of the MTSU Alumni Association.
State Sen. Bill Ketron was the only member of the board who publicly supported keeping the Forrest Hall name, saying that he is a firm believer of defending the good and bad elements of a community’s history.
“Once we start renaming it and changing it, then we’re doomed to repeat it,” Ketron said.
History professor Mark Doyle questioned whether the name is the building is worth keeping if students and faculty take issue with it.
“It doesn’t mean we have to continue to perpetuate what our students and teachers see as an injustice,” Doyle said.
Reach Brian Wilson at 615-278-5165 and on Twitter @brianwilson17.