This week the ACUI Board of Trustees voted to retain the name of the Butts-Whiting Award.
This action was in response to information alleging Porter Butts’ potential connections to a student organization named the Ku Klux Klan while an undergraduate at the University of Wisconsin in the early 1920s. When this information was brought to ACUI’s attention in 2017, the Board of Trustees charged a working group to recommend procedures for vetting and examining issues related to the Association’s named awards. The board approved these recommendations in March, and the working group went on to use them in reviewing concerns raised about Butts. In August, the board received the group’s report on Butts.
The working group found the following key evidence from its review of current and archival materials as well as interviews with Butts’ contemporaries:
- As an undergraduate, Porter Butts was appointed as a member of an honorary interfraternity council called the Ku Klux Klan, which was not formally connected with the national organization of the same name nor its ideology; the group changed its name to not be confused with the national organization.
- While Butts served as managing editor of UW’s Daily Cardinal in 1924, editorials critical of the national Ku Klux Klan appeared in the paper. It is unclear whether Butts authored these editorials, though it was assumed that he at least would have had to give some sort of approval for them to be printed.
- During his career, Butts’ writings and actions indicate he was committed to creating a more diverse and inclusive college union.
In a statement to ACUI members, President Mike Coleman and CEO John Taylor said: “We value the time and effort the members of the working group put in to this matter, we recognize that not everyone will agree with this decision, and we look at this as an opportunity for growth. While it is difficult to completely validate what occurred in the early 1920s, the findings of the working group reveal the likelihood that Porter Butts was involved with changing the name of the organization rather than supporting its association with a national racist secret society. The board values Porter Butts’ contributions to the college union field, including his authoring of the original College Union Idea publication and Role of the College Union Statement.”
Materials gathered by the working group have been published, and an open forum is available for discussion. The Board of Trustees will host two online meetings for ACUI members who want to process this decision:
As part of their action on the working group recommendations, the board also expressed a desire to emphasize diversity and inclusion in ACUI’s 2019 budget and goals. They plan to involve the Council for Diversity and Inclusion as well as the regional inclusivity coordinators in examining how the board can best support ACUI’s diversity and inclusion strategy, which focuses on the areas of workforce, communication, education, and assessment. Additionally, the Association’s D&I Self-Assessment Working Group’s report will be delivered to the board in February 2019 with an expectation that areas for improvement will be identified through that process.