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University of Texas at Arlington: Being honest about past President Woolf’s legacy

Commentary by Justin Bent and Tara Moraghar |
October 13, 2022
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Foreground: Jack R. Woolf. Background: UT Arlington's Confederate Flag, 1968.
Foreground: Jack R. Woolf. Background: UT Arlington's Confederate Flag, 1968. (Fight Back! News/staff)

Arlington, TX – The University of Texas at Arlington prides itself on the diversity and inclusivity of its campus, and rightfully so; the campus sports an impressive student body hailing from a multitude of cultural, ethnic and economic backgrounds. However, UTA cannot, and should not, parade its “inclusivity” until it openly acknowledges the issue of its racist history. From school-sanctioned minstrel shows and mock slave auctions to the Confederate ideology, UTA continues to wrongfully honor one of the worst purveyors the university’s darkest legacies, Jack R. Woolf.

Jack R. Woolf was the second president of the University of Texas at Arlington, heading the administration from 1959 to 1968. Woolf witnessed our transition from a small college to a four-year institution, and he oversaw the construction of the College of Engineering’s Woolf Hall, named in his honor. 

These feats were not the only legacies that Woolf left behind. The Woolf administration is epitomized in their unique form of Confederate worship: “Old South Day.” Beginning on May 4, 1961, Old South Day was a university-sanctioned holiday that encouraged staff and students to participate in old Confederate traditions; students were told to wear their best “Confederate Gray” and join their “Confederate Army,” to host mock slave auctions and minstrel shows, and read aloud a faux Article of Secession declaring their intention to secede from the Union and form an “Arlington State Confederacy.” The “rebel” theme became synonymous with UTA, which flew the Confederate flag openly and proudly under Woolf’s leadership. It’s important to note that by this point, UTA was considered “integrated” and had some, while few, Black students.

Beyond his role in fostering a racist and hateful atmosphere at the university while pointedly ignoring the concerns of Black students, Woolf vehemently refused to integrate the faculty. The first Black faculty member at the university, Reby Cary, was hired in 1969, after Woolf’s ten-year tenure as president, due to multiple protests from the black student body. 

On the issue of student integration, Woolf did so with “much regret,” per his letters to the Dallas White Citizens Council, a white supremacist organization designed to fight against integration. Woolf’s approach to the university dormitories was lackluster at best, begrudgingly choosing to integrate them only after the threat of “problems with the federal government.” Woolf never intended to fully integrate UTA. An avid segregationist, Woolf was keen to exert the “greatest freedom of control over students of all races,” vying to maintain a harsh system in which the fewest possible number of Black students would be permitted on campus despite UTA’s status as an “integrated” university. 

Neo-confederate. Racist. Segregationist. Defender of inequality. This is the true legacy that Jack R. Woolf left behind, one born from hatred. A legacy that UTA continues to honor, continues to permit, through their refusal to acknowledge Woolf’s behavior and the harm derived from it. 

Why, then, do we honor the Woolf administration? Why is “Woolf Hall” named as it is? Jack Woolf did as much to build the hall himself as he did to promote an inclusive, safe, and welcoming environment for all students, which is to say, he didn’t. Jack R. Woolf, and his, backwards administration, represent a UTA that venerates the Confederacy, opposes diversity, and refuses to treat Black students with respect and dignity. UTA needs to do more to acknowledge its history, needs to be vocal in their disapproval of the Woolf administration, needs to do this to uphold their status as a truly inclusive university, and these changes start with the removal of Woolf’s name from Woolf Hall.

UTA truly deserves the honor of being known as one of the most diverse campuses in America and has worked hard for title. However, until the last mention of the Woolf administration, and those like him, are removed from prominence, UTA cannot consider itself a university that listens to and respects its diverse student body. 

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