Smathers vote heated in Student Senate

Published: Wednesday, January 24, 2007 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, January 24, 2007 at 12:00 a.m.

A resolution honoring George A. Smathers, the former U.S. senator and University of Florida alumnus who died of a stroke on Saturday, failed to pass in the UF Student Senate on Tuesday night when many senators objected to Smathers' civil rights record.

Senators argued that Smathers, who was a supporter and significant donor to UF, regarded the U.S. Supreme Court decision on Brown v. Board of Education as a "clear abuse of judicial power."

Smathers also voted against the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which outlawed discrimination based on race, religion or sex, and opposed Thurgood Marshall's nomination to the Supreme Court.

"It's important that we recognize his financial contributions, but we shouldn't give him a pat on the back for his social views," Sen. Cecilia Amador said. "As a minority, I feel it is unforgivable."

Tension filled Room 282 of the Reitz Union as senators argued back and forth on the resolution.

Other senators supported the resolution as a proper commemoration for his contribution to UF despite his civil rights record.

"He had a lot of backward policies, but that doesn't mean he wasn't dedicated to UF and the state," Sen. Thomas Dudash argued.

When Smathers attended UF he served as the student body president, president of Sigma Alpha Epsilon and the captain of the basketball, track and debate teams.

After graduating from UF he served in the U.S. House of Representatives and U.S. Senate from 1946 to 1969. He was 93 when he died Saturday.

As a UF alumnus, Smathers contributed the largest endowment seen by the state of Florida at that time, $20 million, for the library system, which is now named in his honor.

After listening to the arguments, Student Body Vice President Arturo Armand said, "Do we judge him by today's standards or the standards of the time he lived?"

"I think we need to recognize his contributions to this university," Armand said. "I think we need to pass this resolution."

Some senators embraced this view while others shook their heads in disagreement.

Finally, after more than an hour of debate, the votes were counted. The resolution, which sought to commemorate Smathers' life and contributions to UF, was 44 to 27 in favor of the resolution, but it was shy of the two-thirds majority vote it needed to pass.

When asked his reaction to the resolution failing in the Senate, Student Body President John Boyles simply shrugged and responded, "I plan on writing a letter to his family thanking them for their contributions."

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