Yale has deadlines. Whether writing a lab report or an essay, we as students have come to expect that when we’re given an assignment, there’s a clear window of time in which it should be reasonably completed. Even the most generous of extensions have expiration dates.
But for the Yale Corporation, such rules do not seem to apply — at least for the questions most pressing and urgent to many students and alumni. It’s been over a year of silence since the previous managing board of the News called for the renaming of Calhoun College, a push that has built upon decades of pressure by students and alumni seeking to strip John C. Calhoun, one of the nation’s fiercest advocates of slavery, of his Yale legacy.
So with the Yale Corporation set to convene this weekend — one of only five meetings that occur throughout the entire year — the time has come for Yale to make up its mind.
The myriad of think pieces, opinion columns, public protests and campus discussions over the past 12 months — and decades prior — have provided the Corporation ample opportunity to explore all sides of this issue. Therefore, we will not use this space to rehash the relative merits of keeping or discarding the name Calhoun. One more column is unlikely to add much to the conversation.
But the fact remains that nearly thousands of students walk through the Calhoun gates every day. Students and alumni have been debating for issue for long enough. Each of us deserves an answer.
One need only look to our peer institutions to see that Yale is trailing behind. Just this week, Princeton’s board of trustees announced that it would preserve Woodrow Wilson’s name on all campus buildings and programs, a decision that followed pressure by students this fall to drop the name in recognition of Wilson’s staunch support of racial segregation. While the content of Princeton’s decision is a separate debate, we commend the quick response of the administration. But the decision is only one of many examples of swift administrative response across the Ivy League in the last 12 months. In December, both Harvard and Princeton also decided to replace the title “House Master,” a debate at Yale also expected to be addressed by the Corporation.
While both Harvard and Princeton formed special committees that met frequently with the specific task of resolving these naming issues, Yale did not. A group of Princeton trustees, for instance, met nine times between December 2015 and late March. During the same period, the Yale Corporation met only twice. Unlike its peer bodies, the Yale Corporation is not treating this issue with the urgency it deserves.
Of course, the decision to rename Calhoun is more than a routine administrative operation, such as approving an annual budget or rubber-stamping faculty appointments. But the Corporation’s wavering is not a procedural necessity — it’s an affront to the many students and alumni for whom the outcome is intensely personal. For many who call the college home and who share the campus emblazoned with his name, the name Calhoun is a daily reminder of Yale’s long legacy of bigotry and racism. Even those who defend retaining the Calhoun name are likely frustrated by the lack of resolution. The extended silence tells us that the issue just isn’t a priority.
When Stephen Schwarzman ’69 donated $150 million to renovate Commons, it took only a few months before the old plaques disappeared and shiny blue signs bearing the Schwarzman name were nailed onto its marble exterior. No student referendum. No town-hall discussions. No online forum titled, “An open conversation.” It was a decision that, relative to Calhoun, seemed to occur overnight.
It’s possible the Corporation is deliberately elongating the decision process. Rather than announce what will likely prove a divisive verdict while classes are in session and students are on campus, they may be biding their time until their next meeting — slated to occur over Commencement weekend — in order to diffuse backlash, while also upholding their promise to make a decision before the end of the academic term. Students on summer break will naturally be more distracted and disengaged. We’ll be away from campus, and it will be difficult for any sort of organized response to gain traction.
We can only hope the Yale Corporation has enough courage to stand by its decision and welcome the conversation it will inevitably generate. They should not delay the decision out of fear of the reaction it will provoke. Decisions like this one provide us with a natural opportunity to reflect on our values and identity through open conversation. Informing us in a University-wide email over break will not allow for that.
In his freshman address, which centered on whether to retain the Calhoun name, University President Peter Salovey said if “this kind of conversation cannot or does not happen on the campuses … then we should be concerned whether it can happen anywhere.” But discussion means little without action. After years of conversation, it’s time for a decision.