Yale named its last master on Wednesday.
An hour after naming David Evans ’92 the new head of Berkeley college, University President Peter Salovey announced in a campuswide email that Yale will discard the title, replacing it with “head of college.” Salovey’s message also included two other key naming decisions regarding the name of Calhoun College and the two new residential colleges.
Pierson head of college Stephen Davis opened a conversation about the title last August when he asked Pierson students to stop referring to him as “master,” citing concerns about the term’s associations with slavery and oppression. In the subsequent months, the title has generated heated debate on campus, as students, faculty and alumni have expressed emotions ranging from support to disdain for Davis’ request. Because the title was built into the University bylaws, the Yale Corporation held the final say. The body made the decision to change the title during its April meeting — months after Harvard and Princeton announced a similar change in the title in their residential systems.
According to Salovey’s email, heads of colleges may be addressed as professor, doctor, Mr., Ms. or whatever title they prefer.
“I’m happy for the process [of change] to grow organically out of conversations,” said Timothy Dwight College Head Mary Lui. “One thing I try to emphasize is that regardless of what title I have, my job is still the same — to be a leader in the college and create a supportive environment for everyone.”
Davis declined to comment on the decision.
Students interviewed spoke positively of the elimination of the title, but many said they had expected the University to make the change: A survey distributed by the News last weekend, which garnered over 1,700 responses, showed that 45 percent of students believed the title “master” should be changed, and 70 percent believed that it would. Students also said they would have liked to see the Yale Corporation take the same approach to the name of Calhoun College, which will not change.
“[Eliminating the title ‘master’] is the right move, but it’s not a cause for celebration because there is so much more institutional change that still needs to happen,” Elianna Boswell ’17 said. “The same logic for changing ‘master’ should be applied to Calhoun.”
Salovey’s email noted that the use of “master” in the residential college system derives from the Latin word “magister” and is a legacy of the college systems at Oxford and Cambridge Universities in England. He also highlighted the arguments that have dominated both sides of the discussion. Those in favor of retaining the title argued that discarding the term would “interject into an ancient collegiate tradition a racial narrative that has never been associated with its use” at Yale, the email said. But others said the title, regardless of its origins, carries a painful and unwelcome connotation, especially when applied to a figure of authority.
In the Corporation’s deliberations about whether to eliminate the title, a recommendation by the Council of Masters to do so was “especially salient,” the email noted. The council is made up of the heads of Yale’s 12 residential colleges, and Davis currently serves as the body’s chair.
The council ultimately found that the reasons to change the title proved “more compelling” than reasons to keep it, the email said, and the current heads themselves felt that it was no longer appropriate to be addressed by that title. It is unclear whether the council’s recommendation came unanimously, although a source familiar with the council’s deliberations told the News in February that the council had “flip-flopped” on the decision.
The council’s recommendation to drop “master” came “very organically,” Lui said. “Head of college” seemed to be the most logical replacement, she added, since the Yale administration had considered that term of address when the residential college system was first introduced in the 1930s, although it ultimately settled on “master.” Lui added that the Corporation welcomed the council’s input in making the change.
Sociology professor Julia Adams, the head of Calhoun College, said that as a historian who understands the medieval, early-modern routes of the title “master,” she was not bothered by the title. She added that “head of college” is awkward, but said that can be solved in individual college settings.
Lui said despite the time it took for the University to resolve the issue, she is happy about the change in title. She said she will send out a memo to the TD community suggesting possible replacements, such as professor, doctor or even just her initials, “ML.”
The problem with “head of college,” Lui said, is that it sounds “clunky” and does not roll off the tongue as smoothly as master did. Still, Lui added that if students wanted to call her “Head Lui,” she would be fine with that address.
Lui first addressed the issue last semester after Davis’s initial request, when she told students in TD to call her whatever they felt most comfortable with. Nat Aramayo ’17, a student in TD who was active in the student activist group Next Yale last semester, said they appreciated how prompt Lui was in addressing the naming decisions this time around as well, setting up an open discussion just 20 minutes after Salovey made the announcement.
Fourteen students interviewed said they were glad to see the change in title and called it a good move on the University’s part. Still, many said they had expected the change and were not satisfied with the overall decisions by the Corporation.
Sebi Medina-Tayac ’16, a staff reporter for the News who was involved in Next Yale in the fall, said changing master is a “diversion” from the actual college naming issues, which are causing greater controversies.
Lauren Ribordy ’19 echoed Medina-Tayac’s sentiment, adding that the title “master” was not the main focus of the larger discussion about naming issues at Yale.
“People think that it is a good change in general, but the sentiment is that this is not what we really wanted,” she said.