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

amelia.nierenberg@yale.edu .

  • god1878

    The notion that Franklin College is named for Franklin Templeton is idiotic–about as idiotic as the decision to name it Franklin College. Franklin Templeton is named for Benjamin Franklin (look at its logo). Franklin College is named for Benjamin Franklin. Obviously, Mr. Johnson has a bizarre obsession with Benjamin Franklin. But to say Franklin College is named for Franklin Templeton is the same as to say Berkeley College was named for UC Berkeley: It’s just wrong, and stupid, and totally undermines the many very good arguments about why Franklin College is a bad name.

  • ShadrachSmith

    It takes a certain hubris to compare Ben Franklin to Anna Pauline Murray, and like Murray better. Having said you like her better, can you give me a why on that one? Ben Franklin is awesome, and I’ll have words with those who say different 🙂

  • Ferto

    You can’t complain about tokenism and whine when someone is chosen based on their identity while simultaneously demanding that choices be made prioritizing identity. It does not make sense.

  • Rakesh Khurana

    Perhaps if you got rid of single-sex social organizations, you wouldn’t have these problems!

    -RK, Dean of Harvard College.

  • Jeremiah

    …this line of thinking clearly illustrates why the rest of the country thinks Yale is a joke. It’s devolved into identity politics and white shame. The principles behind the Age of Reason and the Enlightenment that gave rise to men like Franklin has been flushed.

  • Tim Steele

    “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.”

    Those donations not only keep Yale running, they also help pay for financial aid packages for 51% of its students — many of the same students mocking President Salovey by throwing fake money at him. Please stop with the hypocrisy and recognize that there are pros and cons to everything. You may not like the fact that big donors buy influence at Yale (and elsewhere) but at least acknowledge that many of the students protesting these decisions wouldn’t even be able to attend Yale in the first place if not for the generosity of these same donors.

    Yes, money talks and it also helps pay for your education!

    • dasimon

      So, how much of Yale should be for sale to appease big donors?
      This is not a good precedent.

      • Ralphiec88

        Practically every campus in the world has a building named after a major donor. To suggest that that somehow makes the college “for sale” is the sort of hyperbole popular with 13 year olds and college students free from the trammels of common sense.