Yale dumps ‘master’ title, preserves ‘triggering’ Calhoun name
By Evan Lips | April 28, 2016, 14:57 EST
NEW HAVEN — Yale University will keep the name of a residential college named after a 19th century alumnus and statesman, best known for his vehement defense of slavery, but will eliminate the title of “master” for faculty who live among the students and supervise residential facilities, even though the school’s use of the “master” title has zero relationship to slavery.
Last fall, Yale was one of several campuses that erupted in protest over the names of its buildings. At Yale, activists held rallies aimed at convincing administrators to delete references to historical figures, including John C. Calhoun, a 1804 graduate of Yale College, who defended slavery and articulated the legal rationale for state nullification of federal law and secession from the union.
But in an email to students, faculty, and alumni sent Wednesday evening, Yale President Peter Salovey said that Calhoun College will keep its name, although the university will drop the title of “House Master,” a term some students regard as “triggering” and “micro-aggressive.” Yale will instead refer to faculty members who administer the residential colleges as “Heads of College.”
The move follows the decision in February by Harvard to drop the “Master” title in favor of “Faculty Dean.”
In his email, Salovey said that scrubbing the name Calhoun from the university would “risk masking the past.”
“Retaining the name forces us to learn anew and confront one of the most disturbing aspects of Yale’s and our nation’s past,” Salovey wrote. “I believe this is our obligation as an institution.”
Salovey noted that while he shares “many of the convictions” held by those who argue that the Calhoun name “constitutes present honor paid to an egregious defender of slavery,” he “disagrees with the conclusion.”
The Yale president wrote that the university will soon launch an “interactive history project” aimed at dissecting Calhoun’s legacy. Responding to complaints over paintings of Calhoun that grace the college, Salovey said the school will hold a “juried competition to select a work of art that will be displayed permanently on the grounds of Calhoun College.”
But the decision has upset liberal activist groups such as the Black Student Alliance at Yale, which in a response issued Wednesday night claimed that decision to keep the Calhoun name was “regressive” and slammed Salovey’s explanation and declared that “keeping the name Calhoun does not foster learning opportunities.”
“At this moment, Yale actively recommitted itself to honoring the legacy of one of America’s foremost proponents of slavery, instead of taking full advantage of the opportunity brought before them to celebrate the contributions that people of color bring to this university,” the group stated.
Others were also upset over the decision not to dump the Calhoun name and took to social media to express their displeasure:
By refusing to rename Calhoun College today, @Yale proves once again it learned nothing from anti-racism protests of last semester.
— Tyler Blackmon (@TylerBlackmon) April 27, 2016
Meanwhile, others had a different take:
@TylerBlackmon and the whiner class has had its say.
— ciecko (@ciecko) April 28, 2016
The college plans to eliminate the term “Master,” even though, as Salovey, pointed out, that the term is not related to the institution of slavery.
“The use of ‘master’ as a title at Yale is a legacy of the college systems at Oxford and Cambridge,” Salovey wrote. “The term derives from the Latin magister, meaning ‘chief, head, director, teacher,’ and it appears in the titles of university degrees (master of arts, master of science, and others) and in many aspects of the larger culture (master craftsman, master builder).
“Some members of our community argued that discarding the term ‘master’ would interject into an ancient collegiate tradition a racial narrative that has never been associated with its use in the academy.”
Some members of the Yale community, however, are still unhappy and allege that the reason administrators finally dumped the ‘master’ title was due to a precedent set by fellow Ivy League schools.
“This step (dropping the ‘master’ title) is promising, but it seems to have come in response to the precedent set by Yale’s peer institutions rather than as a response to the concerns raised by students of color,” the Black Student Alliance at Yale’s statement read.
The Yale president also announced that two new residential colleges will be honoring the civil rights activist and feminist Anna Pauline Murray, a member of the class of 1965, and founding father Benjamin Franklin, whose only link to Yale was an honorary degree awarded to him in 1753.
The Black Student Alliance praised the decision to honor Murray but question the decision to name one of the new colleges after Franklin, claiming that the decision “has a similar impact” that preserving the Calhoun name does.
The alliance, however, neglected to note Franklin’s role in the early American abolitionist movement. Salovey pointed out that Franklin by 1787 had dropped any shred of pro-slavery ties. That year he was elected president of the Pennsylvania Abolition Society, “an organization that dedicated itself to political activist against slavery, as well as the provision of legal aid and education to slaves and other African-Americans.”
The decision to honor Franklin has also come under fire for different, non-racial related reasons. In a press release announcing the names of the new residential colleges, Salovey noted that a major benefactor from the class of 1954, Charles B. Johnson, “considers Franklin a personal role model.”
It was Johnson who donated $250 million to pay for the new college residences.
“Mr. Johnson’s contribution to enable the construction of the new colleges is the single largest gift made to Yale,” Salovey pointed out.
A segment of Yale’s undergraduate population was apparently not pleased.
Charles Johnson could’ve chosen to be an ally in the fight for racial justice. Instead, his ego got in the way. Yalies won’t forgive him.
— Tyler Blackmon (@TylerBlackmon) April 28, 2016