COLLEGE PARK — The University of Maryland will strip the name of a former school president who opposed racial integration from its football stadium after a debate at the flagship campus over whether tradition and historical legacies must bend to modern values.
The University System of Maryland Board of Regents voted Friday to change the name of Harry C. "Curley" Byrd Stadium to Maryland Stadium.
The 12-5 vote came after board members, students, faculty and alumni spent two hours discussing whether Byrd should be remembered more as a segregationist or as one of the university's most successful presidents.
University President Wallace D. Loh urged the change, calling on the 17-member board to remove a "painful reminder" of the past and send a message about the institution's values today.
"Our job as an educational institution is to educate the next generation. This is a generational issue," Loh said. "The values of the past are no longer the values of today. Those are not the values of the University of Maryland today.
"That sends a very important message, symbolic as it is."
A onetime Maryland football player, Harry C. "Curley" Byrd rose to university president in 1935 after serving as athletic director and as an English and history teacher. Byrd, who died in 1970, opposed admitting black students; a court order ultimately forced their acceptance. The stadium has carried his name since it was built in 1950.
As part of the decision, Byrd is to be memorialized in one of the campus libraries. The board also agreed to impose a five-year moratorium on naming buildings after individuals, per Loh's recommendation.
The full name of the stadium will be Capital One Field at Maryland Stadium, retaining its corporate sponsorship. Officials with the financial company did not respond to repeated requests for comment.
Loh formed a work group in recent months to study the pros and cons of a name change, and said he based his recommendation on their work. He said he wanted other tributes to Byrd — such as awards given during commencements — to retain his name.
He said the change was not intended to"purge history," but to find a "principled compromise."
Colin Byrd, a senior who helped lead the effort to change the name, told the board the stadium is the "most prominent" symbol of the university's past segregation, a division some students continue to feel today. He is no relation to Harry Byrd.
"It's time to say 'Bye-bye, Curley,' and do it in a hurry," said Byrd, a sociology major from Prince George's County.
Not everyone agreed. Alumnus Barry DesRoches pressed the board to view Byrd's legacy through a broader lens. He said Byrd was "arguably the most consequential individual" to serve as university president, given the development of the campus during Byrd's nearly 20-year tenure.
"If we embrace history, we learn from it, we grow from it," said DesRoches, noting the meeting was taking place some 500 feet from the stadium.
Crisfield Mayor Kim Lawson, too, argued in favor of keeping Byrd's name in place. Byrd was born in the tiny Eastern Shore town in 1889.
"We are proud of our native son, but all of us recognize his faults, which must be taught and given a critical eye," Lawson said. He also asked the board to consider making a grant to Crisfield's library or a new university scholarship for students in place of keeping the stadium's name.
University archivist Anne Turkos did not reveal her personal feelings but urged the board to consider the precedent they would set. She questioned what implications the decision could have on attempts at College Park and other campuses to rename facilities or take other actions.
"Are we going to begin examining the lives and careers of everyone for whom a building on our campus is named?" Turkos said. "Where would this questioning stop?
"We must recognize we that we can't change history and make it something we want it to be," she said.
Loh said removing Byrd's name from the stadium will allow the university to move forward on discussions of "issues of substance, not just symbolism, such as how to make the university more inclusive and welcoming."
He was not sure how soon the stadium's signage would be removed and replaced.
Board member Louise Michaux Gonzales said she was proud of the university for the dialogue that has occurred among students, faculty, administration and others.
"It is not a disregard, a disrespectful rejection of the person who bore that name," she said. "It is a recognition that times have changed."
Colin Byrd said the regents' vote "sends a very strong and complicated message about how we should look back and reconsider who we honor, why and how."
Alluding to other schools and institutions that are debating what to do with statues and memorials from the past, he said Maryland's decision "sends a message to some other campuses that are grappling with similar issues."
Sitting in the lobby of the student union near the meeting room, freshman Rentia Fajardo, an 18-year-old from Hyattsville, said Byrd Stadium is a reminder to her of how far the university as come.
As an African-American, she said, she can understand why there was a push to change the name, but she thinks society often puts too much emphasis on negative attributes.
"We need to focus more on people's positive qualities," she said, "and be able to forgive."