The Texas Legislature likely will have the final say in the future of the Lawrence Sullivan Ross statue at Texas A&M University, according to an opinion released Friday by state Attorney General Ken Paxton.
The opinion says that since the Sul Ross statue is located on state property and honors Ross in part for his military service, a court “is likely to conclude” that A&M must comply with a section of the Government Code that outlines the Legislature as the entity authorized to remove or relocate monuments or memorials.
According to the Texas Tribune, the opinion is nonbinding legal guidance and cannot resolve actual disputes.
The request by State Rep. John Cyrier, R-Lockhart, and resulting opinion come after students held several protests in recent weeks calling for the removal or relocation of the statue, many suggesting it be taken to Cushing Memorial Library.
Ross was a Confederate general who later served as governor of Texas before becoming A&M’s president in 1891.
In July, President Michael K. Young announced the creation of the 45-person Commission on Diversity, Equity and Inclusion, formed in part to make recommendations on the future of the Sul Ross statue. The commission planned to submit a final report to Young and the regents by November, with the Board of Regents having the final say on how to move forward.
In a Friday statement, A&M System Chancellor John Sharp said that “the statue of Lawrence Sullivan Ross cannot be moved by anyone at Texas A&M University, including the Board of Regents.”
“Nevertheless, the President’s Commission has important work to do to make Texas A&M University even greater,” Sharp’s statement reads. “We all should put our energy toward that goal.”
Paxton’s opinion states that since the Legislature is authorized to remove or relocate monuments or memorials, it “has the authority to approve a request by Texas A&M University to remove or relocate the Ross statue.”
The opinion goes on to say that the Ross statue can be moved for construction, repair or improvements to the surrounding property. If permanently removed, it would need to go to “a prominent location.”
Sharp said A&M’s attorney’s understanding of the opinion would restrict the school from putting the statue in Cushing Library. He goes on to say that the attorney believes it cannot be moved unless a building is built on the statue’s site, in which case it must be moved to an equally prominent site.
Paxton’s opinion does not outline what would be considered a prominent site, or make mention of any specific campus locations such as Cushing Library.
Sharp has been open about his desire to keep the Sul Ross statue on campus but has expressed support of the Commission on Diversity, Equity and Inclusion.
The commission held its first virtual meeting at the end of July. According to an Aug. 1 report in The Eagle, they broke into four sub-committees — Community Engagement, Data & Policies, Values & Mission and Campus Culture & Climate. Subcommittee chairs are in the process of determining their exact goals, and planned to have them finalized by their Aug. 17 meeting.
Commission co-chair Jimmy Williams said on July 31 that each of the subcommittees would likely discuss the Sul Ross statue, but the campus culture and climate subcommittee likely would focus on it the most.