After a year-long investigation, and despite opposition from many in the University of Texas community, its communications school has decided it will not change the name of the Stan Richards School of Advertising and Public Relations.
Richards, who founded The Richards Group ad agency, created a firestorm last October when word surfaced that during an internal agency meeting he called proposed creative work for then client Motel 6 “too Black,” and suggested it would drive away some of the client’s “White supremacist” customers.
The fallout for the agency was harsh — it reportedly lost close to half of its business and laid off much of the staff to remain afloat. In a bid to save the agency Richards, now 89, left it within weeks of making his racist remarks.
“When considering Richards’ offensive comments and subsequent apology on balance with his many significant contributions to the field and the College, we have decided his name will remain on the School,” wrote Moody College of Communication Dean Jay Bernhardt in a report summing up the school’s investigation. “We understand this outcome will perpetuate feelings of pain or anger within our community. We will do our very best to listen to all voices, offer support, and continue making positive changes that bring us together.”
As often occurs in fundraising efforts for educational institutions and other organizations, Richards basically paid to have the school named after him. He participated in a $10 million fundraising effort in 2014 — writing a big check himself and urging friends and associates to donate, as well. That’s probably his most significant contribution to the school.
The Texas Tribune quoted a recent grad from the Richards school, Amanda Saunders, as saying she was disappointed with the decision.
"There were so many students that had to come forward about this uncomfortable topic," Saunders reportedly said. "There are people in the Black, Indigenous and people of color community that were having to yet again defend themselves over an issue that has gone on for generations. That is not their responsibility to fix. And I think that by changing the name of the school, that would have been an absolutely outstanding example," said Saunders.
I couldn’t agree more. The school passed on a great opportunity to show through actions, not just words, how firm its commitment to a culture of inclusion and equality really is. And it makes you wonder how much of a financial hit the school would have taken to do the right thing and change the name.
Richards voluntarily stepped down from his role at the agency to help it survive. He could have helped the school much more as well by volunteering to retire his name from its brand and save it from taking a hit to its integrity.