Amidst the tears and painful conversations last semester, a note of optimism hung in the air. The March of Resilience in November affirmed a widespread commitment to, in University President Peter Salovey’s own words, “a better Yale.” Student activists delivered concrete policy demands to administrators, with some tangible results. Despite the University’s past failures to address the concerns of students and faculty of color, there was a glimmer of hope.

At around 5:30 p.m. Wednesday, that hope was unceremoniously dashed.

The Corporation’s decision to change the title of “master” comes as little comfort to those who saw the much-awaited naming decisions as an opportunity to make a better Yale, one sensitive to the evolving needs and values of the University. Salovey’s strained justifications for retaining the name of Calhoun College and christening Benjamin Franklin College made it clear that he was indeed listening — but not to everyone. Wednesday’s announcement constitutes more than a missed opportunity; the decisions represent a failed exercise in trying to appease both students and donors.

A recent survey conducted by the News found that a majority of students — 55 percent — were in favor of renaming Calhoun, yet only 39 percent believed that the college’s name would actually change. These findings reveal a sobering truth: Students do not have faith that the administration takes them seriously. The decision not to rename Calhoun affirms such perceptions, and will only serve to entrench the divide between the campus and its leadership. In his email to the student body, Salovey lauded the “wide engagement, thoughtful conversation and respectful debate that brought us to the decisions announced today.” But respectful debate begins with mutual trust and recognition. How can constructive dialogue proceed when one party’s trust in the other has been thoroughly eroded? The answer is simple: It can’t.

Preserving the Calhoun name would not have undermined the administration’s credibility by itself. But in light of the surrounding announcements, we find it difficult to believe this particular decision arose purely from earnest discussion about Yale’s future.

Pauli Murray LAW ’65, a queer woman of color and civil rights activist, certainly earns her place in the pantheon of Yale alumni. We would be proud to call ourselves members of a college that celebrates her steadfast commitment to justice for all people. However, this news is difficult to celebrate wholeheartedly — Murray College, a symbol of progress and equality, will stand next to Franklin College, whose name seems to have carried a $250 million price tag.

The new college will be permanently engraved with the name of Benjamin Franklin, a slaveowner whose only affiliation with Yale is one honorary degree. That alone is disappointing. But even more disappointing is the thinly veiled admission that one of Yale’s most generous donors, Charles B. Johnson ’54, played an outsized role in the decision. His donation should not have had any bearing on the Corporation’s decision-making process, especially given the lasting significance of the outcome. Roland Betts ’68, a senior fellow of the Yale Corporation, promised in 2008 that even the most liberal donation to Yale could not buy one’s name on a residential college: “The answer is, ‘No,’” he claimed. “We’re not going to do it” (“New college names are not for sale”, Feb. 29, 2008). But apparently, donating can buy one the right to select any other name.

We thus cannot help but view Salovey’s announcements with cynicism. Perhaps members of the Corporation really did spend long hours debating the philosophical trade-offs between keeping and changing the name of Calhoun and considering the long list of qualified candidates to honor with the new residential colleges. But it is clear other motivations were in play. Many alumni expressed a preference to keep the Calhoun name, and considerations of revenue  — not justice — seem to have influenced each decision.

Yale will eliminate a title to which few were attached, and name one residential college after a queer woman of color. But in deciding to do so, they have paradoxically insulted the very students who have fought so hard for change. When paired with its calculated verdicts on Calhoun and Franklin College, the symbols of progress start to look rather unprogressive. What the University says, in effect, is this: We care about minority students, just so long as it doesn’t hurt our bottom line. If we throw them a bone with Murray College, perhaps we’ll appear just and enlightened.

This act isn’t fooling anyone. Yale’s administrators have established a tragic and undemocratic precedent, proving, yet again, with whom they stand.

  • habitualjoker

    The university is more concerned with its stability and continuation than the ephemeral demands of current students? Color me unsurprised.

    Charles B. Johnson *should* have a role in naming one of the two colleges he so graciously financed for Yale. That money will be put to use housing and educating countless minority students. It’s pretty much the least you could ask for when making such an enormous contribution. Appeals to “justice” here are hugely overblown.

    This fixation on symbols and names has gotten really tiring. It isn’t material — a rose by any other name would smell as sweet! Could the names have been better? Of course. I’m disappointed Grace Hopper was snubbed for Murray in what appears to be a naive attempt at damage control on the administration’s part. But does this mean generations of Yalies to come won’t benefit exactly as much from everything Franklin College and Murray College will have to offer? Surely not.

    • charliewalls

      If a name means so little to some, then why not allow others with a strong interest more sway? This News statement is well written and creditable. The students favored renaming for justifiable reasons. As several national papers have noted, Yale chose to keep a college name from an individual now clearly identified as enthusiastically pro-slavery. It also deferred to a donor’s hero, selecting a name surely on a hundred high schools or small colleges elsewhere in the country. In doing so, Yale shows none of the ‘leadership’ it so often advocates. A dull day in New Haven.

      • habitualjoker

        Is $250MM not “strong interest”? I agree that the News’ view was well-written and that they have made a case for their stance. However, I still disagree with it. Reducing Franklin to a “slaveowner” is intellectually dishonest, as is assuming ill-intent on the part of the administration. A much better argument against the name “Franklin” is his tenuous link to Yale.

        As for deferring to the donor’s desire — the only reason people care that he got to choose is because it disagreed with *their* desires. Had Johnson happened to hold Grace Hopper in a similar esteem, no one would criticize Yale for bowing to his request. It’s a common hypocrisy.

        Although my original comment didn’t touch on this, I have no particular love for Calhoun. As I’ve already stated, I don’t think names alone have such high value. Maybe some large donors threatened to pull back should Yale ditch the Calhoun name. If so, while I don’t think it should matter to said alums, I wouldn’t fault Yale for prioritizing the money. If not, let it be changed.

  • disqus_f3Gqo4uR2r

    Thank you, YDN: you got this exactly right. Murray is indeed someone to celebrate, a representative of path-breaking greatness in our own times. But was she the only such person connected to Yale in any way, the only possible name? I doubt it. You are right to suggest that the Corporation’s calculations were cynical. As for Calhoun, the arguments for keeping it are specious: a name on a building is not a way to “remember our history”–it is an honor. If Yale had had the guts to change that hideous name, it would not have been “erasing” history but making history.

  • carl

    What world does the YDN think it lives in?

    The Corporation’s decision that the colleges would not be named for anyone living might–I say might, because we do not know–might have delayed fundraising for the new colleges until Charlie Johnson came along. He may have been the only donor willing to give $250 million without his own name attached.

    Ponder that. Harvard has Pforzheimer House for a reason.

    The editors leave out a significant side of Pauli Murray, who is more than a “three-fer,” and more than a Yale Law grad. Rev. Murray was the first female African-American ordained as an Episcopal priest, and she worked for years as a priest and in caring for the sick. For these reasons, in addition to her activism and legal career, she has recently (2012) become a saint.

    Murray’s status as a holy woman will have special resonance because Murray College will stand where Berkeley Theological Seminary once stood. I suspect there is rejoicing today not only at the Law School, but also at the Div School–and at the Nursing School as well.

  • Contrarian

    New Left: “Franklin was a *white male*.”
    Old Left: “They named the new college after A MUTUAL FUND.”

    What’s the more compelling criticism?

  • bluerover7

    So sad. Who is going to want to live in Calhoun? I feel sorry for the incoming freshman who are assigned there. It will be a slap in the face for many.
    Keep the Calhoun name, but move it to a non-residential building.

    • Tim Steele

      I’m sure there are countless high school seniors around this country who would be thrilled to attend Yale regardless of the name of the residential college to which they are assigned. You have no idea how silly you sound!

  • sy

    There are no deceased Yale College women or Yale College African-American graduates for college names. The first women will reach retirement age next year. Almost all African-American graduates are alive. The YDN never bothered to suggest one white male name to replace Calhoun–not Cole Porter, Nathan Hale, Noah Webster. Franklin will do fine though a break from the tradition of naming Yale colleges for Yale people. Franklin was the single American with international stature to secure France’s recognition, navy and money to win independence (Washington, Jefferson and Europe had never seen each other before the war.) As for money, that is another reason that Franklin is on the $100 bill and now a Yale college, and Washington, Jefferson and Lincoln are on the $1, $2 and $5 bills.

  • The Noble Saybrugian

    It’s almost like this university isn’t a democracy–almost like administrators don’t think 18-year-olds should be in charge of a 25 billion dollar institution!

  • marcedward

    Lesson: school isn’t a democracy. Students work like crazy for the opportunity to attend Yale, and they pay money for that privilege. Students are transitory residents, nothing more. The institution was here before you were born, it will be there long after people have forgotten you ever existed. You don’t get an equal voice in decisions and that’s how it should be.
    If you can make as great a contribution as Calhoun than maybe they’ll name a building after you. Right now you’re just one special snowflake among millions, you’ve accomplished nothing of note, so nobody gives a **** what you think of Calhoun.

  • Boott Spur

    “Undemocratic”? Since when is Democracy the organizing principle of this time-honored University?

  • Prg234

    Highly immature assessment of a very complex set of decisions. This is the way the real world works not some infantile version of reality where you always get your way. Current students of a university do not get to decide policy issues via a “democratic” process and neither should they. What are you advocating, policy via current student survey results, via Facebook likes, via Twitter consensus? Surely there are many (most) issues of more importance to underepresented minorities at Yale than these vacuous symbolic gestures?

  • asdf

    You kids are so over-dramatic. It’s been really amusing watching this year’s “crises” unfold from afar, away from the Yale bubble. “That hope was unceremoniously dashed.” Give me a break. You accomplished your goal of unilaterally redefining the academic title of “master” and you’re still complaining?

  • David Zincavage

    I’d love to see the author’s alleged “long list of qualified candidates” to have Yale residential college named for them. Frankly, I’d say that there are no females or African-Americans associated with Yale who were sufficiently prominent in the leadership of the university, or who were internationally-renowned scientists, or who were –like John C. Calhoun– among the most prominent political thinkers and leaders of their time. The standard that you SJWs want to use for specially favored identityh groups is different and merely consists essentially of showing up.

  • jack

    OK, one big concern here- this article makes a massive leap in assumption…

    “A recent survey conducted by the News found that a majority of students — 55 percent — were in favor of renaming Calhoun, yet only 39 percent believed that the college’s name would actually change. These findings reveal a sobering truth: Students do not have faith that the administration takes them seriously.”

    Lets assume that this survey is binary (yes/ no only)- 55% believe it should be changed v 45% do not, while 39% believe it will be changed v 61% think it will not…

    That isn’t much of a difference… assuming all those who believed it would be changed supported the change (an assumption- i know- but doing the best given zero context), only ~16% of the population believe that the University admin will not act in line with their own personal view.

    16% of students makes these “distrusting” group outsized minority. Rather, the vast majority of students (84%) truly believed that the admin would act in line with their own view.

    That seems pretty trusting to me, whether warranted or not

  • td2016

    This is all fatuous, predictable, formulaic drivel. But it’s also offensive, especially the idiotic criticism of the great and brilliant American Everyman (and abolitionist) Ben Franklin and the smug high dudgeon over the Corporation’s taking seriously Charlie Johnson’s suggestion for naming a college his quarter billion dollars paid for. Terming that utterly appropriate token of gratitude the “sale” of the college name is just flat out perverse and stupid. The author of that particular charge should consider not going out in public for a year or two, in my opinion. I wouldn’t if I had written it.

    The editorial’s overall determination to find offense is also repulsive, and its language is ignorant and purple. It is not even formally correct to write: “We thus cannot help but view Salovey’s announcements with cynicism.” Whoever perpetrated that mess really meant to write: “We thus cannot help but view Salovey’s announcements as cynical.” Or does the YDN really mean to confess that it, not the Yale president, is cynical? One could go on! In short, this editorial is in serious need of an editor, but it needs so much more than that. It’s hugely embarrassing to the YDN. Yes, “This act isn’t fooling anyone.” Quite so.

    Note to YDN: Yale is not a democracy in which it is the Corporation’s role to represent the will of the undergraduate student body. That roll is filled (imperfectly) by the YCC.

  • td2016

    It is unlikely Johnson was given anything approximating “naming rights.” Anyone in his right mind who gets a gift of a quarter billion dollars would like to do something to show gratitude. The Corporation probably asked Johnson for a suggestion (they certainly should have), he came back with a good one, and it was done. Simple and appropriate as that.

  • annette

    I must say I am most unimpressed with the Yale Students as reflected in the YDN. Maybe the admissions committee needs to be revamped.

  • td2016

    I will leave it to the readers of these comments to determine for themselves whether Benjamin Franklin, one of the most brilliant, inventive, benevolent, witty, positive, creative and generally adorable people who ever walked the face of this continent was a “terrible suggestion.”

    It is highly unlikely that the Corporation assured Johnson that his suggestion would be taken before he offered it and they considered the matter. So whatever definition you are giving to your weasel words “de facto” has got yo be weak to the point of meaninglessness. Yes, Johnson (being highly intelligent) probably realized that the Corporation (whose members are of sound mind) would take his suggestion seriously, what with his having givenYale a quarter billion dollars. Beyond that, you have nothing but unfounded agitation.

    Calm down. Take a pill. Take two. Take a dozen.

  • td2016

    That Ben Franklin was highly involved in founding the very great University of Pennsylvania is not even arguably grounds for calling him a “terrible” suggestion. If anything, it adds to his luster and makes him an appropriate and aspirational role model. Martin Luther King and Abe Lincoln and Mahatma Ghandi had no substantial Yale connections, and their names would have been perfectly appropriate, too.

    You need to calm down. Take a pill. Take two. Take a dozen.

  • td2016

    Not that it matters, but Ben Franklin considered Germans and Swedes to be “swarthy,” which he considered an affront to the “purely white people” who “originally” settled America:

    “Why should Pennsylvania, founded by the English, become a Colony of Aliens, who will shortly be so numerous as to Germanize us instead of our Anglifying them, and will never adopt our Language or Customs, any more than they can acquire our Complexion. ”

    “Which leads me to add one Remark: That the Number of purely white People in the World is proportionably very small. All Africa is black or tawny. Asia chiefly tawny. America (exclusive of the new Comers) wholly so. And in Europe, the Spaniards, Italians, French, Russians and Swedes, are generally of what we call a swarthy Complexion; as are the Germans also, the Saxons only excepted, who with the English, make the principal Body of White People on the Face of the Earth. I could wish their Numbers were increased. And while we are, as I may call it, Scouring our Planet, by clearing America of Woods, and so making this Side of our Globe reflect a brighter Light to the Eyes of Inhabitants in Mars or Venus, why should we in the Sight of Superior Beings, darken its People? why increase the Sons of Africa, by Planting them in America, where we have so fair an Opportunity, by excluding all Blacks and Tawneys, of increasing the lovely White and Red? But perhaps I am partial to the Complexion of my Country, for such Kind of Partiality is natural to Mankind.”

    Of course, Franklin’s animosity towards Germans may have another explanation: as a young man in Philadelphia Ben Franklin published the first German language newspaper in America – the Philadelphische Zeitung – which failed after only one year.

  • Tim Steele

    “A recent survey conducted by the News found that a majority of students — 55 percent — were in favor of renaming Calhoun, yet only 39 percent believed that the college’s name would actually change. These findings reveal a sobering truth: Students do not have faith that the administration takes them seriously.”

    You do realize that the current undergraduate students are but a small fraction of the entire Yale community, don’t you? Should the current residents of Calhoun College have any more say than all of the Yale graduates who called Calhoun home for their time at Yale? I am just utterly sick of hearing about how the administration does not take the current students seriously. You are confusing being taken seriously with getting your way, I’m afraid. If you don’t get your way that does not mean your voice was not heard. Now get over it please and move on…

  • Rod Berne

    Someday these losers and whiners will make a donation, and future students will protest and cry about how donor money shouldn’t have any sway on decisions.

    Actually who am I kidding, these kids will never make enough money to matter.

  • donald monroe




  • donald monroe