Kaifeng Wu

Over the past two weeks, Harvard and Princeton have decided to stop using the word “master” in their residential college housing systems.

On Tuesday, Harvard College Dean Rakesh Khurana sent an email to all Harvard students announcing that undergraduate residential “house masters,” with the support of Harvard President Drew Faust and Faculty of Arts and Sciences Dean Michael D. Smith, had unanimously expressed a desire to change their title. As such, Harvard College will soon launch a process that culminates with a suggested replacement title, to be announced at some point early next year. The Harvard announcement comes less than two weeks after Princeton University announced it would immediately change the title of “master of the residential college” to “head of college” amid discussions about racism and discrimination on college campuses nationwide, including a call by student activists to remove the name of former U.S. President Woodrow Wilson from campus buildings and the School of Public and International Affairs.

At Yale, the University has yet to decide whether to replace the title of master, months after religious studies professor Stephen Davis sparked campus dialogue on the subject when he asked students in his college to refer to him as the “head” of Pierson College rather than the “master.” In an email to his students, Davis cited the title’s racial and gendered implications as reasons for his discomfort.

University President Peter Salovey said the decisions reached by Princeton and Harvard will aid Yale in reaching a decision of its own.

“I am confident that Yale will come to a decision about the title ‘master’ in a reasonable amount of time,” Salovey said. “The recent decisions at Princeton and Harvard represent information that is useful for our discussions.”

There have previously been discussions about the word “master” at Harvard: The position was originally called “master,” but the word “house” was added years ago to deflect unfortunate associations. However, Harvard house masters told the News in August that the word has not been a topic of much contention at the university because students rarely address them by their official title. Instead, students call them by their first names, or by nicknames.

In his email to the student body, Khurana — who also is head of Cabot House — said the decision to move away from the title of master brings the university into line with the values and demands of the 21st century.

“The desire to change this title has taken place over time and has been a thoughtful one, rooted in a broad effort to ensure that the College’s rhetoric, expectations and practices around our historically unique roles reflects and serves the 21st-century needs of residential student life,” the email read.

Alexander Kaufman, a sophomore at Harvard, said he supports changing the “house master” title. Though he said he has not yet had the chance to discuss the decision with many of his peers, he said he expects the administration to be widely applauded in striving to make the Harvard community more welcoming. Changes in the college’s rhetoric may seem minor, but the effects of slight adaptations can be widely felt, he added.

The Princeton administration decided to abolish the title “master” two weeks ago as students began to call for racial justice at the university.

A Princeton sophomore, who wished to remain anonymous, told the News that when the university announced the title change, students had not explicitly asked for the abolishment of the title “master.” She said the Princeton administration had taken the step as a pre-emptive measure after hearing that there would be a sit-in at the president’s office later that day.

Salovey said he, Yale College Dean Jonathan Holloway and the Council of Masters have been discussing since August whether the title of master should change, and expect to reach a conclusion later this academic year. Meanwhile, many of the other residential colleges’ masters have issued statements to their own students telling them to use whatever form of address they prefer, although none have pushed back on the term ‘master’ as explicitly as Davis did.

University Vice President and General Counsel Alexander Dreier said only the Yale Corporation can officially change the title of master.

“For the title “master” to be officially changed, the Yale Corporation would have to amend the Corporation Bylaws,” he said.

Still, Salovey said he suspects the Corporation will look for input from him, Holloway and the masters before taking any action to change the University bylaws. In addition, Holloway told the News last month that masters can call themselves whatever they want within their college communities.

Julia Zhuang ’17 said she expects Harvard’s and Princeton’s decisions to matter to University administrators because Yale is constantly comparing itself to its peer institutions, especially Harvard and Princeton.

The Council of Masters will hold a regularly scheduled meeting on Friday, Holloway said, adding that he expects that Harvard’s and Princeton’s decisions will strongly impact the discussion.

“I am sure that our peer institutions and their decisions will become a central part of the conversation,” he said.

  • Jawaralal_Schwartz

    To kick things off, let’s try “potentate,” which can be gender neutral, as well as historic and connoting the logistical-cum-thought-leadership role of the position [which was gutted via special pleadings of micro aggression victims. “Head” must be sidestepped for connoting superiority (or superlativeness) rather than just, er, power.

    • http://www.artspace.com/magazine/interviews_features/lists/the-10-worst-ways-to-die-in-a-hieronymous-bosch-painting-53872 Hieronymus Machine

      Yes, why not something more in the middle, like, I dunno, rhymes with mass?

      Also located in the middle of fiASco (interestingly appropriate, given that the Bass fiasco was merely a harbinger, the first, faint sounding of a now-deafening death knell).

  • dzmlsience

    Well, I’m glad they were able to get that straightened out. Now for the high fives and pack pats of self-congratulations.

    “Barring any other business, I suggest we adjourn for liquid lunch at the faculty club!”

    Academic administration in action.

  • ydnreader

    What a time to be alive

  • ydnreader

    Let’s abolish master’s degrees too. Why has it taken so long. Oh, the injustice

  • 100wattlightbulb

    Time to get rid of “master’s degree” as well then. As I predicted, the continuation of the dumbing down down of America’s school systems, from kindergarten through higher ed. Controlling speech does nothing to further expanding the mind. Unbelievable. The cry- bullies are winning.

  • aaleli

    I remember a few years ago when Princeton and Harvard dumped EA, then reinstated it in 2012. Let’s hope level heads prevail at Yale this time too. Dropping a tradition that is in NO WAY based on slavery is just S T U P I D.
    But then why would Yale want to differentiate itself from any state school either…..it’s such a “privilege” thing to work hard and attend a university that caters to intellect.
    These Universities are making decisions which diminish the degrees that are bestowed on their students.

  • Mike Harrington

    Nowadays, an appropriate title for head of a Yale residential college might be “warden.” There’s precedent for that title at Oxford, where the head of Rhodes House is known as the warden. The title fits in other ways, too.
    C. Michael Harrington, TD’69

    • barrygster

      That would create an atmosphere too similar to the racist criminal justice system.

  • http://www.about.me/Stephen_Green21 Stephen Green

    There are three things to say ’bout this, two by someone else one by me, neither understood by the mini-Robespierre’s or Group of 88-types.

    1. “It’s a beautiful thing, the destruction of words.”

    2. “Those who control the present, control the past and those who control the past control the future.”

    3. Damnatio memoriae never knew it had such close cousins in American academia…it falsely assumed the Internet made irrelevant leftist attempts to rewrite history. The two things you can count on from leftist fanaticism: its persistence and effects are plague-like.

  • morse2017

    Okay, here’s the thing that I don’t really get… The use of “master’ at Yale (and at Princeton, Harvard, who just copied us) comes from our own aping of the English Oxbridge system, where “master” has NO connection to its American slave trade meaning. The Latin is “magister”, which meant “chief, teacher, leader.” Are we going to start pushing to rename master’s degrees as well? Do we consider “history” a problematic term simply because it sort of sounds like “his story,” and subtly reinforces the patriarchal narrative of history? To those offended by the term, I don’t assert that your feelings are invalid, but I encourage you to think about why you are offended, if it’s reasonable or rather grounded in kneejerk reaction to connections your own mind is making for you.

    Words only have as much power as you give them.

    • branford73

      When the story of Pierson College’s efforts to purge the word “Master” from its midst was reported three months ago I proposed “Magi” as the substitute. I worried that this plural form of Magus would be inappropriate to refer to one head of college though. But your suggestion of Magister could make Magi a shortened form and therefore not grammatically incorrect.

      No one under 30 reads Orwell’s “1984” anymore. So passe’.

      • dzmlsience

        If millennials read 1984 I don’t think they would understand it as cautionary. Frankly, it might take them a while to work out that it’s fiction.

    • ShadrachSmith

      And Social Justice Warriors only have as much power as you give them. In the Ivies, they run the place because you let them. And here we are watching a free-range crazy competition 🙂

  • marcedward

    Pointless symbolism to appease screaming hysterical hyperbolic snowflakes and cry-bullies.

  • Debbie

    It’s a start, but no special snowflake will be truly safe from the grievous injury the word can cause until we purge it from the English language entirely in all of its noun, verb, adjective and proper noun usages.

    • marcedward

      That doesn’t go far enough. The mere knowledge that the “M Word” was every used anywhere ever is too much. Yale must commit to creating a time machine so people can go back in time and prevent the word from ever being used.

  • CentralJerseyMom

    In other news, we are also officially abolishing the word “niggardly” (from the Old Saxon “nigon” meaning stingy). Anybody remember when an aide to the mayor of Washington DC used that word in reference to a budget and had to resign?

    Also, Mikael Bulgakov’s seminal work “The Master and Margarita” will now be called “the Very Great Artist and Margarita.”

    Also, the principal 1st violin in an orchestra will no longer be called the “concertmaster” (or worse, “concertmistress” which is even more problematic). Instead they will be referred to as the “Extremely Important Violinist.” Until it is decided that having separate 1st and 2nd violin parts as well as ranking of players within each part is elitist and marginalizing. Everyone will then play only 2nd violin parts (so that no one is made uncomfortable trying anything that could expose technical weaknesses) and the violinists will take turns sitting next to the conductor.

    • Randy Wilmot

      Can I get a trophy for participating in this discussion?

      • Mr. L

        You should be granted a law degree so your feelings aren’t offended.

  • http://www.artspace.com/magazine/interviews_features/lists/the-10-worst-ways-to-die-in-a-hieronymous-bosch-painting-53872 Hieronymus Machine

    So, H&P are… neo-abolitionists? Neat.
    BTW: isn’t “head” short for head… master?

    (In my mind’s ear I can hear that distinctive “phthupt” of the memory hole’s pneumatic tube, its orifice located just to the left of the speakwrite:
    unpersons, rectified.)

    P.S. As a grammatical matter, YDN editors might do well to review proper usage of “as such”; its misuse here niggles (can I still say that?).

  • ldffly

    This is simply puerile. Salovey’s quoted statements don’t give me enthusiasm for the future of anything at Yale. And I thought Levin was problematic.

  • wingspan

    hard to watch how decolonizing this community is creating THIS much anger. All the commotion to abolish racist slave terminology? in 2015? The earth is warming and Yale is crawling out of a deep freeze…

    • aaleli

      Spoken like a good little uninformed lemming.

    • 13

      Well, I think the “commotion”, or any backlash at least, is people saying that the word ‘master’ in this context doesn’t mean anything like what it means in a slavery setting (and one might note that slavery doesn’t necessitate anything to do with race).

      I guess it’s similar to that awkward argument we have when people get told off for using the word ‘niggardly’.

      edit: I just realized that my points have been made further down. Although that doesn’t really take away from their relevance to your comment, and to ignore them would be, well… disingenuous on your part.

    • Phil Ostrand

      Just an FYI, research you history before you call the term one associated with slavery. It is associated with English leaders of schools or houses within schools, hence the term Master. The term is not tied to slavery except through lazy pseudo academics.

    • ArchieBunker

      What would you call a black person who owned slaves?

    • branford73

      Is it really too obvious to say the New Haven and Yale community was decolonized in 1783?

      I don’t read so much anger in these posts– rather a sad disgust using sardonic sarcasm.

    • DJEB


      Ah, the hazards of using activist buzzwords. If the word “master” causes you such trouble, you are both simultaneously functionally illiterate, and also mentally unfit to handle the real world. Good luck, man. You are really going to need it on your side now that you’ve bought into anti-reality nonsense.

  • Anna

    What conversation? You made a really stupid decision based on misinformation to placate emotionally immature, narcissistic students who have nothing better to do with their lives. The terms existed way before slavery, and any term can have a pejorative meaning based on context and usage. All you did was show yourself as educational institutions that now lack the foundations you were originally built upon. Shame on you.

  • gthog61

    gutless ignorant cowards

  • Gomer Pyle

    Are the female heads still called Mistress? /s

  • hithere55

    This is patently absurd. The word “master” IN THIS CONTEXT clearly is derived from the Latin ‘magister,’ or, teacher. It is NOT a slave master. By this “logic,” no one should ever use the word “master” IN ANY CONTEXT.

    • ldffly

      A young mind, focused only on its own set of experiences, incapable of seeing things from outside that set of experiences, can only understand the word ‘master’ in the context of American ante bellum history. One would have hoped that nearly all Yale students wouldn’t be in that condition the day they hit the campus. Oh well, so much for that hope. Yet now the administration doesn’t seem to want to drive them into a more adult frame of mind. A very sorry state of affairs.

      • hithere55

        I totally agree. I’m sure there are actually MANY Yale students too scared to voice their opinion that this whole mess is just that: a mess. I’m guessing the atmosphere on campus is that if you don’t agree with the protesters, you’ll be called racist. So we can’t condemn all the Yale students, but the protesters are really mucking up our language and how we actually engage in dialogue.

  • Nancy Morris

    “Your Holiness” gets the job done.

  • dzmlsience

    I think we all know where this is headed… the term that they actually want to substitute for “master”…


    • Elliewho

      Gotta admit, this actually made me laugh out loud!

  • American Tax Payer

    Y’all Reap what Y’all Sow and serves y’all right too.

  • Spoonie Gee

    Is there anything more pathetic than a white liberal?

    • dzmlsience

      Two white liberals?

  • Mr. L

    Chip, chip, chip…
    That’s the sound of the First Amendment being chipped away.

  • 13

    While I’m opposed to changing the title, a name is only a name, and some have pointed out elsewhere that it would be easy and harmless to change to ‘Magister’; an argument I’m quite in favor of, if only to point out the absurdity in changing the title at all.

  • Phil Ostrand

    Can one still get “crackers” with their soup at Yale? When will the administration and dining halls stop using this derogatory term? When will the micro-aggressions end?

  • Phil Ostrand

    SHould my MBA be changed to HBA? When are business schools going to stop these micro aggressions?

    • Nim

      Are you sure you have a masters or did you somehow get it without reading a lot? Because surely you have a problem identifying things in context. Having to call someone “Master” when you are directly talking to him is clearly different from having a title that is only written in a diploma. Even if the title here is also derived from the same route it is pretty awkward to call someone master unless you are a steward serving him. Even without the slavery allusion, this title is just kinda stupid and better off not being used.

      • elpimpasimo

        LOL! im a minority with an ivy league degree and i am laughing my $%$ off at you fools. not just me but the rest of the country is laughing. you are weak and pathetic and you have no idea whats awaiting in the real world… grow up and understand you attend HARVARD and VERY LUCKY… wthell is wrong with you. switch places with community college kids and then talk you clown *&(&^ lol… my god. i would NEVER hire you.

        • Nim

          congratulations? don’t even see why this is relevant to my comment. Where did I even say I go to Harvard and I do not really want to work for a douchy illiterate boss.

      • elpimpasimo

        LOL! im a minority with an ivy league degree and i am laughing my $%$ off at you fools. not just me but the rest of the country is laughing. you are weak and pathetic and you have no idea whats awaiting in the real world… grow up and understand you attend HARVARD and VERY LUCKY… switch places with community college kids and then talk you clown *&(&^ lol… my god. i would NEVER hire you.

      • elpimpasimo

        LOL! im a minority with an ivy league degree and i am laughing my A off at you. not just me but the rest of the country is laughing. you are weak and pathetic and you have no idea whats awaiting in the real world… grow up and understand you attend HARVARD and are VERY LUCKY… switch places with community college kids and then talk lol… my god. i would NEVER hire you.

  • rick131

    So dumb. The ivy league schools are older than the US.

  • ArchieBunker

    How can students claim that they are marginalized while attending one of the worlds most prestigious universities?

  • ldffly

    Surely, this whole discussion was conceived of and written by Gracie Allen. A clever woman who made a living playing off ambiguity and her own outlook on the world. Not the right outlook, not an outlook that would actually work, but one that got plenty of laughs.

  • Robert Boni

    And “master degrees”? Shouldn’t those go away also?

    • John Fredrickson

      Of course. And it should be forced upon every other university world wide, too. The rest of the world must obey because we, as collage students, can’t handle words!

  • Smartacus

    Out: “Master.”
    In: “Babysitter.”

  • elpimpasimo

    LOL! im a minority with an ivy league degree and i am laughing my A off at these kids. not just me but the rest of the country is laughing. you are weak and pathetic and you have no idea whats awaiting in the real world… grow up and understand you attend HARVARD / Yale and are VERY FORTUNATE… switch places with community college kids / kids that are working at walmart with no college degree and then talk lol… my god. i would NEVER hire you.