The University’s Board of Visitors will consider formally renaming the Curry School of Education and Human Development and Ruffner Hall after receiving recommendations from a University committee charged with studying the namesakes of the two entities. The recommendation is the latest step in a process started in November 2018 — when Curry School Dean Robert Pianta instructed an ad hoc Committee on Names to conduct a “thorough and thoughtful process of study” regarding the future of the Curry and Ruffner names.
The renaming proposal has already been endorsed by University President Jim Ryan — but, to be formalized, it must also be approved by the Board of Visitors.
The recommendations being considered by the Board include renaming the Curry School to “University of Virginia School of Education and Human Development” and renaming Ruffner Hall to Ridley Hall in honor of Walter N. Ridley — a renowned Southern educator, Howard University graduate and the first African American to receive a doctoral degree from the University in 1953. The committee also recommends installing memorial plaques and exhibits in Bavaro Hall to honor the contributions to public education of Curry and Ruffner.
The Curry Schools and Ruffner Hall’s namesakes — J.L.M. Curry and William H. Ruffner — were defenders of slavery and segregation. Curry, a Georgia politician who founded Virginia’s first teaching academy at what is now Longwood University, advocated for Southern secession and served as an officer of the Confederate army in the Civil War. Ruffner, the first superintendent of Virginia’s segregated public school system, was a slave owner and advocate for the relocation of emancipated enslaved people to Africa. The Curry School was founded and named in 1905, while Ruffner Hall opened in 1973 — 65 years after Ruffner’s 1908 passing.
Neither Ruffner nor Curry had any direct connection to the University.
Robert Berry, a professor in the Curry School, and Susan Kools, a professor in the School of Nursing co-chaired the Committee on Names, which led the inquiry into the legacies of Curry and Ruffner. In Fall 2019, the Curry School also launched a website to gather public input on the process. To augment its research, the committee established a subcommittee chaired by John C. Jeffries Jr., the David and Mary Harrison Distinguished Professor of Law and the University’s senior vice president for advancement.
In its research findings — released April 22 — the subcommittee acknowledged that, although renaming should only occur in exceptional circumstances, “the burden imposed in the twenty-first century by association with the nineteenth-century prejudices of Curry and Ruffner justif[ies] removing their names.”
President Ryan said he endorses the recommendation based on the subcommittee's report.
“I commend that group, and in particular John Jeffries, for their careful and diligent work,” Ryan said. “That said, this is obviously a complex issue, and renaming a building and especially a school are not everyday occurrences. This process, moreover, is not complete: The Board of Visitors retains the responsibility, discretion, and authority to make the final determination.”
Curry and Ruffner are not the first renamings to be considered by the University. In 2016, the School of Medicine’s Jordan Hall was renamed in honor of Vivian Pinn — the only African American and only woman in her graduating class from the University. The International Residence College’s Lewis House was renamed in 2017 to honor W.W. Yen, the first student from China to graduate from the University. The original namesakes, former dean of the School of Medicine Harvey Jordan and former dean of the College Ivey Foreman Lewis, were both proponents of eugenics.
Correction: This article has been updated to clarify that the special subcommittee has recommended the renaming, not the ad hoc Committee on Names.