A Thomas Jefferson statue on Hofstra University that was the subject of two online petitions — both to remove and to protect the statue — has been saved by the university’s president.
President Stuart Rabinowitz said in a statement posted to Hofstra’s website on Wednesday that after consulting with students, faculty, administrators, alumni and more, the statue, which stands just outside the Sondra and David S. Mack Student Center, will stay where it is.
In his statement, Rabinowitz said Jefferson was a defender of freedom and helped create the United States, but also said he understood the difficult points of Jefferson’s history, including his slave ownership.
“Yet in the documents most critical to our national character these men of their time laid out a vision of a world in which all people are created equal,” Rabinowitz said. “It is this vision we celebrate and honor in our Founding Fathers, even as we wrestle with their human and indefensible failings.”
Student Richard Caldwell, founder of the online petition to protect the statue, thanked the 1,749 people who signed the petition since its creation two months ago.
“For those of you seeing this that attend Hofstra, I hope now is a time to begin a healing process on campus,” Caldwell wrote on the petition’s site. “This statue controversy brought a great divide and high tensions, and I believe we must continue to have dialogue with each other to try and understand where we all come from.
“Everyone has different opinions based off of their own life experiences, and if we can all try and understand each other, it will be a big step toward a healed campus.”
The dueling petition, started by student Ja’Loni Owens, received 1,140 signatures and called on the university to remove the statue based on Jefferson’s slave ownership.
“For prospective students, this is one of the first buildings that they walk into when touring the university,” Owens wrote. “At almost every single Admitted Students Day, families pose in front of the Student Center to take photos and share hugs and smiles after successful college visits.
“It is unfortunate then that a bronze sculpture of a 71-year-old Thomas Jefferson, gifted to the university by Hofstra Trustee David Mack, is right in front of the Student Center.”
The statue was donated in 1999.
A task force will be formed this fall and will be run by Meena Bose, executive dean for the school’s public policy and public service programs, to continue the conversation about the country’s Founding Fathers, the Atlantic slave trade and “to consider how we use history to advance understanding and build a better, more just world,” Rabinowitz said.