GALLOWAY TOWNSHIP — Stockton University has yet to reinstall the bust of its namesake, but a planning committee is working to develop a new display that will put the founding father’s history in context.
Students and faculty entering the library at Stockton may not notice the empty space where the bust of Richard Stockton once stood, but an explainer of the project replaced it about a month ago.
“Stockton has begun the Stockton Exhibition Project, a yearlong project to explore the history of Richard Stockton and his legacy as it relates to Stockton University,” university spokeswoman Diane D’Amico said.
Richard Stockton was one of New Jersey’s signers of the Declaration of Independence and was also a slave owner, historical documents show. The former is why the Galloway college was named for him. The latter was why the bust of Stockton was removed from the library just before the start of the fall semester.
A Richard Stockton Exhibit Committee was formed at the time and includes presidents of the Faculty Senate, Stockton Federation of Teachers and Student Senate; the Stockton board’s student trustee, college administrators, students and community members.
Stockton’s Associate Vice President for Academic Affairs Michelle McDonald, who sits on the project committee, said the committee last met in November and plans to meet through the spring, at least monthly.
“We want this to be as collaborative a process as possible,” McDonald said. “This project will be developing over the ’17-’18 academic term.”
She said the committee of about 20 people is actively researching Richard Stockton, including trying to reach out to original trustees who are still alive.
“We want to explore both who Richard Stockton was, what was understood about him at the time of the institution’s naming and what is understood now,” McDonald said.
Stockton Board of Trustees records show the name Stockton State College was one of many suggested when the college was forming in the 1960s, but was never named as a finalist. It became the second choice after the board’s first was denied by the state.
The institution changed its name from Stockton State College to The Richard Stockton College of New Jersey in 1993, with then-President Vera King Farris saying the change would put more of an emphasis on the school’s namesake, according to Press archives.
A 1989 obituary for Joanna Kendall, of Margate, names her as the sculptor of the bust of Richard Stockton.
In Stockton’s 40th anniversary book, “Reaching 40,” the controversial history is discussed: “What was clear, however, was that no investigation was undertaken about any of the names offered and certainly not of Richard Stockton,” the book reads.
Public reaction to the removal of the bust in late August drew both criticism and praise from students and alumni, as well as members of the surrounding communities.
The removal coincided with a national debate over the historical significance of Confederate statues and a white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, where one woman died after a car plowed into protesters.
Citing discussions that go back at least a decade, Stockton President Harvey Kesselman said at the time that the removal of the bust was not prompted by the national debate. McDonald said public interest in the project remains high but ebbs and flows with the news cycles.
According to the project website, the committee plans to host a series of programs over the course of the year to keep the public aprised. Questions and comments, as well as more information about the project, can be found at stockton.edu/stocktonexhibition.