One of my all-time favorite movies, “All the President’s Men,” offers the best advice I’ve ever received as a journalist: Follow the money. Certainly, that was true for the Watergate scandal, the subject of the film. And it’s true now — especially in the names of our two newest colleges. Let’s follow the money. It’s the most obvious lead here.
Although the size of our endowment may suggest otherwise, Yale is a nonprofit entity. A nonprofit seeks revenue, yes, but also adheres to its mission. In reflecting on our two newly named additions to Yale, let’s take this two-pronged approach: We must consider both wallet and mission.
On one hand, the mission of “light and truth” (which President Peter Salovey so charmingly cited in his campuswide email), manifests in the creation of Murray College. Although most of us only found out about her today, Anna Pauline Murray LAW ’65 lived as an intellectual, an activist and member of the clergy. She seems to have been thoroughly committed to both light and truth — to justice, to equality and to spiritual teaching. And as Salovey wrote: “Pauli Murray represents the best of Yale: a preeminent intellectual inspired to lead and prepared to serve her community and her country.”
Yet some view her decision as a way to check off a host of underrepresented identities — a woman, a person of color, a queer feminist. Check, check, check. But to treat this choice as tokenism is another iteration of something that already happens here far too often: the “she only got in because she’s [identity]” rhetoric that can putrefy spots earned through exceptional merit and not that [identity]. To say Murray College is named for Pauli Murray because she’s a queer woman of color reduces her achievements and her legacy. Even if the campus protests of last semester may have pushed her name to the forefront of the new-college conversation, Murray is an ideal alumna to honor with one of Yale’s newest homes.
On the other hand, Franklin College is an obvious (and acknowledged) nod to the Yale pocketbook — he’s literally the face of the $100 bill. And Franklin did shape some of the best parts of this country, despite contributing to some of the worst. He’s an intellectual, scientist, diplomat and philosopher and he deserves — and should be granted — a named place in American higher education. (But in fact, he already does! Is that not the entire point of the University of Pennsylvania? Or Franklin and Marshall?)
As we all know, Franklin College has nothing to do with today’s Yale (because in his lifetime, Franklin had almost nothing to do with Yale at all). Salovey didn’t attempt to conceal that this choice has everything to do with Yale’s single largest donor Charles B. Johnson ’54, “who considers Franklin a personal role model.” (An aside — Johnson also “considers” Franklin the name of his mutual fund, Franklin Templeton. Did we just name a residential college after an investment firm?)
Johnson’s enormous influence on the naming decision has gone counter to the explicitly voiced desires of the student body, who advocated for names like Bouchet College or Hopper College. Yet if Salovey did not accommodate requests from large donors, he would not incentivize large donations, which keep this place running. Maintaining the strength of our education, the power of our research and the prestige of the name on top of our diplomas is wildly, shockingly expensive and relies upon enormous donations like Johnson’s.
But we shouldn’t honor one donor’s request that stands so wildly in contrast to the prevailing opinion and wishes of students on campus. It’s true that both money and morals — Franklin and Murray — are necessary parts of Yale. But it’s also true that Yale students today are unimpressed — and angry, saddened and deeply frustrated — with this naming decision. But one day, some of us will have wallets that rival Johnson’s, and will be in a position to make these types of decisions to steward and direct this institution. Yale is raising us to be its future alumni, and as future alumni, we can perhaps — as a whole — value the voices of students on campus over our own egos. We must hope for more decisions that look like Pauli Murray College, and much fewer that look like Franklin.
amelia nierenberg is a sophomore in Timothy Dwight College. Her column runs on Thursdays. Contact her at