As University President Peter Salovey prepares to announce several major naming decisions, the News has confirmed that the Council of Masters recommended that the title of residential college “master” be eliminated.
The Council of Masters initially voted to keep the title at one of its meetings prior to November’s campus protests, according to a senior faculty member who was informed of the vote by one of the masters. But in the aftermath of the protests, the council re-voted in favor of eliminating the title, the faculty member said. Based on interviews with half a dozen masters — all of whom declined to speak on the record — it is unclear whether the decision was unanimous. Because the “master” title is included in University bylaws, its official removal is ultimately dependent upon a Yale Corporation vote.
While the specific timeline of the council’s recommendation is unclear, Yale College Dean Jonathan Holloway told the News in December that the council planned to submit a recommendation to Salovey by the time winter break ended in mid-January, with the understanding that it would be presented to the Corporation.
“We would formally convey a recommendation on behalf of the Council of Masters to the Corporation,” Salovey said on January 16. “That is certainly something the Corporation would pay close attention to.”
The Corporation gathered in February and early April, and Vice President for Communications Eileen O’Connor told the News after the most recent meeting two weeks ago that there will be no further Corporation involvement before naming decisions are announced, suggesting that decisions have already been made.
Salovey told the News on April 10 that the names of the two new residential colleges, as well as the fate of Calhoun College and the title of “master,” will be announced all at once, sometime before final exams. Interviews with Woodbridge Hall officials, Corporation members, vice presidents, residential college masters and faculty members revealed that the circle of individuals directly informed of the decisions still remains small — not even masters know whether their term of address will be altered.
O’Connor said she had “absolutely no comment” on whether the title will be changed. Holloway, Corporation Fellow Donna Dubinsky ’77 and Senior Fellow Margaret Marshall LAW ’75 all declined to comment, as did Corporation Fellow Charles Goodyear IV ’80, who deferred to Salovey. Salovey declined to comment.
Salovey told the News that he presented a formal recommendation on the matter to the Corporation this semester, despite maintaining for months that he would not do so. O’Connor declined to specify whether Salovey’s recommendation aligned with the council’s.
Pressure to move away from the title of “master” has come not only from the council, but also from Yale’s student activists and peer institutions. Next Yale, a group of students advocating for a more inclusive campus, demanded in mid-November that Yale replace the title. And Harvard and Princeton eliminated the title last fall after campus protests centered on racism and discrimination emerged nationwide.
But Salovey and other administrators have said Yale would reach conclusions independently.
“The actions of our peer institutions have no effect on our timetable and no effect on our decisions,” O’Connor said last week. “This is a decision for Yale and Yale alone.”
Conversations about whether to retain the title “master” at Yale began in August, when Pierson College head Stephen Davis asked that students no longer call him by the title, citing the discomfort it caused students and its negative associations.
“I think there should be no context in our society or in our university in which an African-American student, professor or staff member — or any person, for that matter — should be asked to call anyone ‘master,’” Davis wrote to the Pierson community. “And there should be no context where male-gendered titles should be normalized as markers of authority.”
Davis is the current chair of the Council of Masters.