MTSU President Sidney A. McPhee on April 28, 2016, accepted the recommendation by the Forrest Hall Task Force to change the name of the building that houses the university’s Army Reserve Officers Training Corps program.
The President’s decision was affirmed by the Tennessee Board of Regents, after which a Petition for Waiver was filed with Tennessee Historical Commission seeking approval to rename the structure as the Army ROTC Building. The commission has engaged its process to consider MTSU’s petition and the University is awaiting word on when it will be publicly considered.
McPhee, in a letter to Derek Frisby, chair of the task force and a global studies
instructor, said “the values and goals we share in 2016 as a comprehensive university
with international reach are not best reflected by retaining a name affixed in 1958
when we were a small local college that rarely extended beyond our region.”
“It is clear that there are many wide-ranging and contradicting views about the life and legacy of Confederate Lt. Gen. Nathan Bedford Forrest,” McPhee said. “I do not feel it is my role to discern the appropriateness or relevance of his actions prior, during or after the Civil War.
“It is appropriate, however, for me to assess whether the decision made in the middle of the 20th Century to name the building for General Forrest remains in our best interest in the second decade of the 21st Century.”
MTSU announced in June 2015 that it would engage the community on the name of the campus building that houses MTSU’s Army ROTC program and is named after Confederate Gen. Nathan Bedford Forrest. The decision came following a mass shooting at a historically black South Carolina church that prompted a national discussion about Confederate iconography on public property.
Forrest, a Confederate officer praised for his tactical methods, has also drawn attention ]because of his early ties to the birth of the Ku Klux Klan.
The task force included faculty, alumni and student representation, as well as community members.
McPhee asked the panel to recommend whether the building should be renamed; retain the name but with added historical perspective; or recommend that no action or change is warranted.
Forrest Hall was built in 1954 to house the ROTC program, but wasn't dedicated until 1958, when the name became official. It was chosen because of Forrest's notoriety as a military tactical genius and his ties to the middle Tennessee region.
Debate about Forrest rose periodically at MTSU through the civil rights era and beyond, with the University removing a 600-pound bronze medallion of Forrest from the Keathley University Center in 1989. Previous opposition to the name of Forrest Hall didn't reach its height until 2006-07, when a number of students petitioned to have the name removed because of Forrest's ties to the Ku Klux Klan.