Only the Texas Legislature has the authority to permanently remove the Lawrence Sullivan Ross statue at Texas A&M University, Attorney General Ken Paxton said in an opinion released Friday.
The opinion follows months of racial tension at the College Station flagship that have centered around calls for the statue's removal.
The university’s jurisdiction is limited on permanently relocating or removing the statue, Paxton said.
“Texas A&M University may move the Ross statue if needed to accommodate construction, repair, or improvements to the surrounding property, but if permanently removing the statue, the University must relocate it to a prominent location,” he wrote in the opinion, which was requested by state Rep. John Cyrier, R-Lockhart. The opinion is nonbinding legal guidance and cannot resolve actual disputes.
Ross was a Confederate general and Texas governor, and his statue's presence on campus has become a symbol of lingering systemic racism at A&M for some students and faculty, who have asked that the statue be moved to the Cushing Library on campus, where it can be viewed as a piece of history and not a monument.
But the Cushing Library would not be considered a "prominent location," according to a statement from A&M System Chancellor John Sharp echoing Paxton's opinion. Attorneys reviewing the opinion concluded that neither the university or Board of Regents will have the power to move the statue, Sharp said.
"Based on the Attorney General’s ruling, the statue of Lawrence Sullivan Ross cannot be moved by anyone at Texas A&M University, including the Board of Regents," Sharp said. "Nevertheless, the President’s Commission has important work to do to make Texas A&M University even greater. We all should put our energy toward that goal."
Earlier this summer, A&M President Michael Young signaled that he and other university leaders were considering removal of the statue and announced the formation of task forces to study the statue's history. Those task forces will ultimately make a recommendation on how best to address concerns about Sul Ross and other monuments, Young said.
"It is time for a unified approach on how we address the representation of people who contributed to Texas A&M throughout our history and how we want to shape the expectations and behavior of our community to stand firmly against racism," Young wrote to the campus community.
A&M System Chancellor John Sharp has long opposed removing the statue, but had said he supported the task forces' review.
"While my personal opinion has not changed about the importance of Lawrence Sullivan Ross to Texas A&M, we Aggies must stand united against racism and love one another," Sharp's statement said. "Racists are not welcome at Texas A&M. If we have to challenge them and call them out publicly, we will. ... As Chancellor, I pledge my support of the university’s creation today of the Task Force on Race Relations and the Commission on Historic Representations."
Correction: An earlier version of this article misspelled the name of state Rep. John Cyrier.
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This article originally appeared in The Texas Tribune at https://www.texastribune.org/2020/08/07/texas-am-sul-ross-ken-paxton/.
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