UF student senate rejects resolution honoring Smathers

Published: Thursday, January 25, 2007 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, January 24, 2007 at 11:57 p.m.
The University of Florida's student senate voted Tuesday night against a resolution honoring the late U.S. Sen. George A. Smathers, with some senators citing his record on civil rights as the reason.
But the former U.S. senator's son said Wednesday that the students should be commended for taking a stand.
"If I was voting on the student senate i probably would have voted the same way," Bruce Smathers said. "A student shouldn't be expected to know the circumstances of that time. There are no hard feelings, it is totally understandable."
George A. Smathers, who died Saturday, pledged more than $20 million to UF during his lifetime, prompting a senate resolution to honor him posthumously. The senate narrowly struck down a resolution honoring him because of positions he took as a U.S. senator on civil rights issues between 1946 to 1969.
Reached by phone in Jacksonville Wednesday, Bruce Smathers said he had no hard feelings toward UF or its students in light of the senate's decision. He said he appreciated that the resolution was suggested and understood why it was not passed.
"It's a lack of knowledge of the historical facts of the time," Smathers said. "God bless them that they are active and they are taking a position. I'm very glad that someone had the guts to put it up."
The senate's final vote count was 44 to 27 in favor of the resolution, however, it did not meet the required two-thirds vote it needed to be passed.
Bruce Smathers said his father was not a racist or a segregationist but was a "progressive Southerner" on racial issues. In his voting against the Civil Rights Act of 1964, among other civil rights items, Bruce Smathers said his father was acting on behalf of those who put him in office.
The son said his father was once quoted as saying that racial segregation should end and that everyone should be treated equally before the law.
He said that his father thought desegregation should be done at a gradual rate.
Bruce Smathers also said he and his family would continue to support UF.
"My father loved the University of Florida," Bruce Smathers said. "He has been honored by the University of Florida. We feel very, very warm for the University of Florida."
Paul Robell, UF's vice president for development and alumni affairs, declined to comment. UF President Bernie Machen declined comment as well, but said he planned to meet with Student Body President John Boyles today to discuss the matter.
Boyles, who was one of the resolution sponsors, said he was surprised by the vote. He said he plans to write a letter to the Smathers family thanking them for their contributions.
"He has done a great deal for our university and for our state and this deserves to be recognized," Boyles said.

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