Nearly a month after the University announced it would maintain the namesake of Calhoun College, hundreds of faculty members have vocalized their opposition to the decision.
While most undergraduates have left campus, some faculty members have continued to hold meetings and discussions about the naming of Calhoun College. On Tuesday, the FAS Senate voted 18-1 in favor of submitting a letter to University President Peter Salovey and the Yale Corporation, calling on them to reconsider their decision to retain the namesake of the college. The senate letter is not the only conduit through which faculty members have voiced their concerns about the decision — an open letter authored by Molecular Biophysics and Biochemistry Professor Andrew Miranker has garnered close to 400 faculty signatures. Faculty members interviewed said that while these efforts may have little direct influence on overturning the Corporation decision, they show that a significant number of faculty members — more than half of the FAS ladder faculty — are willing to voice their concerns.
“The letter by itself is not of value. There is no infrastructure that means you can overturn the decision of the president,” Miranker said. “But it is very empowering to people who either do not have a voice or whose voices are not taken seriously.” He added that the letter was concise and focused on the issue of Calhoun in order to rally as many faculty members as possible.
Salovey told the News that he has always weighed the perspective of the FAS heavily, both during the construction of the Calhoun decision and in its aftermath.
“I value and take seriously the input of the FAS faculty,” Salovey said. “I receive this input in many forms. In addition to the letter from the FAS Senate, their views expressed to us in emails, in person, at the listening sessions and through our online solicitation of opinion were certainly taken into account.”
The senate letter comes two weeks after Miranker sent the faculty open letter to Salovey and the Corporation. The senate letter critiques the decision to retain the name of Calhoun as well as the lack of communication with faculty during decisionmaking.
The letter called the lack of formal consultation with the FAS Senate “unfortunate” and wrote that such conversations might have resulted in a decision more reflective of campus sentiment. It also referenced a May 5 Yale College faculty meeting, in which Salovey discussed the Corporation decision with faculty members, and the faculty open letter, which gained momentum following the meeting.
“As the elected Senate of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences, we write to express our disagreement with your recent decision to retain the name of Calhoun College. The decision as it stands does not represent the views of the Senate or the best values of our university,” the senate letter reads. “We strongly request that you reconsider this decision and find a new name for Calhoun College before the start of the fall semester.”
But Vice President for Communications Eileen O’Connor said, despite these petitions, the University remains committed to following through on retaining the name Calhoun College.
“We’ve made a decision,” she said. “We want to implement that decision and analyze how that implementation goes… We always knew that this decision would be controversial. There are many people who have been not perhaps as vocal but have privately supported it.”
The FAS-centric open letter has also garnered much attention and has 335 FAS professor signatories — roughly half of the FAS body. The letter was authored following the May 5 faculty meeting and pushed back against the Corporation’s line of argument in retaining the name of Calhoun College. In his official message to the Yale community, Salovey wrote that the decision was made in part for educational purposes. O’Connor emphasized that the president has prioritized “confronting the past.” However, the letter writes that the name of a college not only represents a university’s engagement with a historic legacy, but also conveys the university’s honoring of an individual. Furthermore, the letter writes that the University is doing students a “disservice” by forcing them to live unnecessarily under a “brand so deeply associated with slavery.”
“When the president and the corporation receive a letter from over 360 Yale College faculty urging them to rename Calhoun College, they should realize the deep faculty resolve on this issue,” History professor Glenda Gilmore said. “This is a needless and divisive issue that is demoralizing faculty and students and will continue to do so until they act.”
Professor Jay Gitlin ‘71 MUS ’74 GRD ’02 — dubbed by many the unofficial historian of Yale — said his colleagues in the FAS are trying to do the “right thing,” adding that he has heard mixed signals on what will happen next. Another phase of formal deliberations would not be surprising, he added, as the Calhoun debate does not seem close to over.
Beyond Yale, the decision to retain Calhoun College’s name has caught the attention of outside scholars. James Loewen, emeritus professor of sociology at the University of Vermont, published an opinion piece “10 Questions for Yale’s President” in the Chronicle of Higher Education, which outlined the arguments against keeping the name of Calhoun College. In particular, Loewen expelled the educational purposes of Calhoun College proposed by Salovey on multiple occasions.
“Yale and the president could make a much more credible claim that the college is ‘educational’ if they had ever used Calhoun to educate students before the Charleston shooting,” Loewen said to the News. “To use that claim now shows bad faith. When a dormitory says ‘Calhoun College,’ all that conveys is that Calhoun was a great man and that we should honor him.” Loewen also highlighted the period during which the college was named after Calhoun. He said that the college was established between 1931 and 1933, during the “nadir of race relations.”
The University announced its decision to retain the name of Calhoun College on April 27.