Yale will break ground on two new residential colleges in 2013. Before the construction crews start, the administration will determine the names of colleges number 13 and 14. A cacophony of alumni, faculty and student voices will join in with their thoughts in an attempt to influence the University’s image and symbolic priorities. In order to avoid getting lost in that future fray, I will nominate my choice for one of the colleges today: Roger Sherman, Connecticut’s most notable founding father.
Such a decision might draw political ire in the current climate. Sherman already faces three strikes against him for being dead, white and male, much like every other college namesake. However, his elevation to canonical status would reaffirm Yale’s core values at an apt moment.
As the only man to sign the Declaration of Independence, the Articles of Confederation and the Constitution, Sherman occupies a special place in American history. At a time when we struggle to distinguish between public service (Lincoln’s government “of,” “by” and “for” the people) and community service, Sherman College would reaffirm the fast dying brand of republican virtue and responsible civic citizenship.
Yale should also not shy away from the tradition and past that Sherman represents: He received an honorary degree from the University and served for a stint as its treasurer. His elevation signals an important message: Yale is more than a collection of buildings and people — it is a timeless commitment to scholarship whose history does, and should, define us.
The announcement of the New Haven Promise scholarship program last year ushered in a new era of financial commitment by the University to the city. What better way to represent that fierce devotion to the Have than to honor Sherman, the city’s first mayor? By doing so, Yale reinforces the fact that we do not live in a bubble but instead coexist with the larger, dynamic community around us.
The message gets even better: New Haven’s first mayor was also a self-made businessman who earned his money in a time of difficult upward mobility. Snobby representatives to the Continental Congress condescendingly called Roger (are we at a first name basis yet?) a mere “cobbler,” a trade he held in his youth. Through him, let’s pay tribute to entrepreneurship and meritocracy.
Like many other Yale namesakes, our friend Sherman was also a devote Puritan whose faith guided his daily life. He lived plainly despite his means. In a modern world of excess and immorality evident here (e.g. boorish DKE brothers) and nationally (e.g. easy credit, Bernie Madoff) it would behoove us all to remember the lessons taught to the West by religion: eternal truths, right and wrong, and temperance.
A plaque outside of Roger Sherman’s old home, now the site of the Union League Cafe, commemorates New Haven’s “Jurist-Patriot-Statesman” (it turns out he was an accomplished judge as well). It is time that Yale again acknowledged one of her own, both for his sake and ours.
Nathaniel Zelinsky is a junior in Davenport College.