Blount students petition against relocation from Oliver-Barnard Hall

A group of students fears that one of its campus spaces will be lost to a library housing Senator Richard Shelby’s donated documents. The future of Oliver-Barnard Hall will be decided by the Board of Trustees.

Isabel Hope, Assistant News Editor

Oliver-Barnard Hall, a campus building owned by the University’s Blount Scholars Program, might be turned into a library dedicated to Senator Richard Shelby. Some Blount students are speaking out against it.

The four-year Blount program consists of small seminar classes and is open to students of all majors. There were 380 students in the program this year.

About two weeks ago, program faculty members informed Blount students of Shelby’s potential donation of his legislative documents and the potential rededication of Oliver-Barnard Hall in his honor. 

The building houses classrooms, a kitchen space and a student lounge. It is also where administrative work takes place.

Maggie Palmer, president of the Blount Student Organization, said she feels disheartened by the potential loss of the building in its current form.

“That building is where I’ve made a lot of my college memories,” she said. “The fact that I didn’t even get to spend this past year in the building because of COVID restrictions is just really sad to me.” 

John Pace, director of the Blount Scholars Ambassadors, said this would be “deeply saddening” for many students involved with the program.

“A lot of students say that Blount literally changed their views on the world and that it was the reason they came to UA,” Pace said. “One of the central aspects of this program is its buildings.”

In response to news of the project, Palmer and Pace created a petition to the dean of the College of Arts and Sciences and multiple board members from the University’s larger system. 

“Upper-level classes are held in the building’s two classrooms and also serve as meeting spaces for Blount-affiliated clubs and events,” Palmer and Pace wrote. “Without exclusive access to these spaces, Blount students would lose educational and social opportunities that are integral to the program’s continued success.”

The petition now has more than 200 signatures asking them to reconsider.

Pace said the outcry from students has been an independent effort. Blount faculty members choose to stay neutral and give students freedom to express their opinions.

Lynn Cole, director of communications for the UA System, said no official decision has been made on the donation of Shelby’s papers or the future of Oliver-Barnard Hall.

“It is accurate that we are hopeful Senator Richard Shelby will decide to donate his official papers to The University of Alabama,” she said “The University of Alabama System Board of Trustees, the UA System, and The University of Alabama would be deeply honored by such a generous donation.”

Cole said once the University identifies an appropriate location for the papers, a resolution will be submitted to the UA System Board of Trustees for consideration. 

Pace said he believes the root of the problem is the lack of student representation in the discussion.

“We were never consulted on this,” he said. “Our students are paying to come here and doing work to help this University, so a lot of them were frustrated that we weren’t even asked. It’s disrespectful, and I would hope that this University would show students some respect.”