Renewed debate over Calhoun College and the title of master emerged at the beginning of the 2015–16 academic year, while students and alumni have been debating the names of the new residential colleges since their construction was announced in 2008. But on Wednesday, Salovey announced the outcome of each debate in one fell swoop, answering three separate, distinct questions in one University-wide email.
The choice to intertwine these decisions begs the question: What, if anything, was the University’s broader strategy?
The answer, it seems, was to attempt to appease all of Yale’s constituencies at once. But the result is a series of decisions in direct opposition to the desires of the majority of the student body and that some describe as the “bare minimum”: Calhoun remains; “master” goes; one college named after a white man suggested by its benefactor, the other in honor of a queer woman of color.
Salovey presented the two decisions on Calhoun College and the title “master” as equally significant. In his campuswide email, he elaborated upon the “master” decision first and gave it roughly as much space as Calhoun received.
But nearly all students interviewed said the importance of the Calhoun decision far outweighs that of “master.”
“The administration is trying to put Calhoun and ‘master’ on the same level of importance, but ‘master’ is chump change. Changing ‘master’ was at the bottom of our priority list, and changing the name of Calhoun was near the top,” said Sebastian Medina-Tayac ’16, who worked with Next Yale and is a staff reporter for the News. “They did the barest minimum they could have done without being universally condemned.”
Indeed, these decisions disappointed many students. Based on a survey recently conducted by the News, just 22 percent of roughly 1,700 respondents wanted the University to make a concerted effort to name just one of the colleges after a woman or person of color, while 45 percent wanted Calhoun to remain and “master” to be eliminated. Despite these figures, all 40 students interviewed earlier this month said the timing of the announcement would make it difficult to protest the decisions, regardless of the outcome.
The University originally planned to release the decisions Thursday evening, but was pushed forward by more than a day after the News broke the Calhoun and “master” decisions Wednesday afternoon.
Salovey has noted on several occasions that the opinion of the student body is just a single factor in University decision-making. And while it appears that other perspectives did ultimately guide him and the Yale Corporation, this came as no surprise to most students. 70 percent of those surveyed last weekend expected master to be eliminated and 61 percent expected the name Calhoun to stay, despite voicing a preference for the opposite.
Logic grounded these expectations. Because Harvard and Princeton eliminated “master” in the fall, respondents overwhelmingly said Yale was essentially obligated to follow suit. Others noted that changing “master” would be an easy form of appeasement. Regarding the Calhoun decision, respondents said they expected Yale to prioritize alumni relationships, which may have been damaged by a potential renaming.
“In order to appease alumni and other donors, it may be difficult for them to [eliminate Calhoun],” one survey respondent wrote, prior to the announcements.
Indeed, an anonymous alumnus involved in University governance said that with the number of donors at an all-time low, his or her impression was that Yale could not afford to rename Calhoun.
Students also believe that money and alumni, more than anything else, decided the naming of the new colleges. For reasons previously unknown publicly, the Corporation appears to have had strong incentive to name a college after Benjamin Franklin, a one-time slave owner. Charles Johnson ’54, who donated $250 million toward the new colleges and chaired a mutual fund named after the Founding Father, suggested Franklin — his personal role model — as Yale’s newest residential college namesake.
Salovey told the Washington Post Wednesday evening that Johnson’s donation was not contingent on naming a college after Franklin, though he re-emphasized the size of the gift.
“I really want you to remember this is the largest single gift ever given to Yale,” Salovey said.
Alex Zhang ’18, a member of Next Yale, said he found the decision to honor Franklin disturbing, adding that it certainly seems like an effort to “appease a donor.”
Similar to master, the University’s coinciding decision to honor Anna Pauline Murray LAW ’65 ignited excitement that was tempered by student skepticism. More than half of 20 students interviewed Wednesday evening said that choosing Murray enabled the University to honor a woman and person of color at once, which Lauren Ribordy ‘19 called killing “two birds with one stone.”
Given campus climate, many interviewed said they found it surprising that the University is honoring Franklin, a former slaveowner. Some also called the decision-making process misleading because of Johnson’s undisclosed preferences and the exclusion of seemingly popular choices, such as Grace Hopper and Edward Bouchet.
Regardless of student satisfaction, Salovey ensured on Wednesday that he will be held accountable for the three decisions. Though he originally told the News that the Corporation would decide the names of the two new colleges, as well as the fate of “master” and Calhoun College, the body was mentioned just once in his email. In contrast, Corporation Fellow Charles Goodyear IV ‘80 said last month that he expected the Corporation to announce the decisions.
“It is my job as president to recommend to the board what I feel is best for students, faculty, staff, alumni and the institution on every issue. This one is no exception,” Salovey said on April 10.