No minds seem eager to change on the questions of Calhoun and “master,” so I’ll leave to braver hearts the disputes on the University’s decisions on those (except this one: “laird” is a Scottish title of nobility. Just say this to yourself: “Greetings, freshmen, I am the laird of Berkeley College.” You smiled, right?).
On to serious matters — The naming of Franklin College is likely to prompt the most interesting controversies. Benjamin Franklin was the most important Founding Father with a Yale affiliation. Sterling Memorial Library holds his collected papers. He was a founder of charities, an early champion of abolitionism, an inventor, a writer (his autobiography is worth two reads) and an able defender of the American Revolution.
What’s against him? Principally, Franklin did not earn a degree at Yale — he was granted an honorary one. I have spoken with several people very concerned about this apparent departure from the tradition of naming colleges after Yale grads. Fortunately, the leaders of Yale wisely remained within the school’s ancient practice concerning names of residential colleges. Berkeley, Davenport and Pierson are named for people who did not graduate from Yale. And Trumbull — like Franklin College — is named for the (Harvard-educated) holder of an honorary Yale degree. There’s also the matter of Franklin’s skin color and sex. But why should this be a point against him? Franklin, like his collegiate sister Pauli Murray LAW ’65, is just the sort of person Yale should want its students of every color and both sexes to emulate.
One of Franklin’s most important contributions was to the education of the youth of Philadelphia, where Franklin spent much of his adult life. During the 1740s, Franklin raised funds from wealthy Philadelphians for an academy Franklin then served as president beginning in 1749. Religious pluralism was a guiding principle in the selection of trustees for the school. “Care was taken,” he writes in his autobiography, “lest in time that predominacy might be a means of appropriating the whole to the use of [one] sect, contrary to original intention.” A “Church-of-England man,” a Presbyterian, a Baptist, a Moravian and members of other Christian denominations were appointed to serve as trustees.
Long before Skull and Bones, Franklin founded a secret society in 1727. The “Junto,” as it was called, was created to increase members’ “influence in public affairs & our power of doing good” by spreading through subsidiary clubs the sentiments of the mothership. Sounds sinister, but the group, like societies at Yale, mostly held discussions among its members on the politics — and, perhaps more significantly, pooled the libraries of its several members to give each access to others’ books. Franklin also helped found the Library Company of Philadelphia, one of the first public libraries in America. The improvement of how many minds can be traced to Franklin’s beneficence?
Franklin’s solicitude for his city was rivaled by his fierce patriotism. Franklin signed the Declaration of Independence, and served as a delegate from Pennsylvania to the Constitutional Convention. Legend has it that upon leaving the convention, a woman approached him and asked what sort of government the Framers had given the infant nation. “A republic, madam — if you can keep it,” replied the good doctor. Franklin himself worked to keep it, serving the nation as ambassador to France for many years, and authoring pamphlets in defense of America’s cause. Franklin’s accomplishments are a superb example to Yalies of public service. And his charge to a fellow citizen outside the convention exhorts future generations to exert themselves on behalf of liberty and self-government.
And long before President Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation, Franklin advocated and planned for the freedom of black slaves. Slavery, he wrote, is an “atrocious debasement of human nature.” But he did not advocate merely legal emancipation. “To furnish [freedmen] with employments suited to their age, sex, talents and other circumstances, and to procure their children an education calculated for their future situation in life” were among the ideas Franklin proposed to “promote the public good, and the happiness of these our hitherto too much neglected fellow creatures.”
Franklin was a cosmopolitan — he also loved his own small city. He is an example to the many Yalies who, after gathering at Yale from around the globe, will disperse to all of five or six states north of the Mason Dixon and east of the Mississippi River upon graduation. Franklin was also an autodidactic polymath — what better example to this generation of aspiring self-made men and women?
Members of the current sophomore class, as I understand it, will be the first allowed to live in the new colleges. I hope Franklin College will receive the students its venerable namesake merits.
Cole Aronson is a sophomore in Calhoun College. His column usually runs on Mondays. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org .