In the coming days, many students will be inundated with Facebook posts eviscerating the Yale administration and Corporation — and for good reason. It’s duplicitous to change the title of “master” because it makes some students feel uncomfortable, but keep the far more disturbing name of John C. Calhoun emblazoned on a residential college. It’s also strange, if not entirely absurd, to name a new residential college after Benjamin Franklin.
But that’s about all I want to say about that. What I’m more interested in is the way students and administrators appear to conceive of one another.
I can hardly go 10 minutes without reading yet another post about how University President Peter Salovey is a shill for Yale’s donors. And from our perspective, these decisions do seem suspect. It’s no secret that many old — and, more importantly, wealthy — alumni have fond memories of their time in Calhoun College. And Salovey’s own email notes that Benjamin Franklin is a personal hero to Charles Johnson ’54, the benefactor of the new colleges.
But we don’t give the administration enough credit. It’s not as if Salovey wakes up in the morning wondering which rich alumnus to suck up to next. Administrators are not keeping track of how long it’s been since they’ve last stirred the metaphorical pot. As we should very well know ourselves, leading an organization is hard — especially when that organization is one of the oldest and most influential in the world. For those who complain about Yale’s previous promise not to auction off the names of the new colleges, I ask you this: What else did you expect they’d say? Did you think that Yale would publicly admit that donations sometimes come with strings attached?
The idea that no leaders can satisfy everyone shouldn’t be new to a student body made up of former high school club officers and student council members. Sometimes, the administration has to make difficult decisions. Most of us have been in similar situations too. Yet every time anything controversial comes out of Woodbridge Hall, we immediately label its inhabitants crooks and bigots. Where has our compassion gone?
But for any administrators reading this, you’re not off the hook either. True, administrators need to worry about Yale for much longer than four years. That’s not an excuse to write off student views, however. We’ve been socialized to believe that our college years are an incredibly meaningful and formative period of our lives. We are just as invested in the University as you are, if not more. The decisions released two days ago are a slap in our faces. When you solicit suggestions from the Yale community, there’s a general understanding that our suggestions will be taken seriously. While Anna Pauline Murray LAW ’65 seems like a fine namesake for a college, I hadn’t actually heard anybody suggest her this year.
What happened to the names we proposed? What happened, for example, to Grace Hopper College? If the administration had to make a unilateral decision, that’s fine. But don’t ask for advice you won’t take. Moreover, holding an “Open Discussion on Naming Decisions” after the decision has already been made is, at best, a waste of our time. It’s not much use discussing that which we cannot change.
This column marks the halfway point of my Yale career. Despite Yale’s many problems, I’m optimistic that my next two years are going to be exciting. We’ll undoubtedly experience many more controversies during my time on campus. I just hope that, when we do, we’ll all be a little more considerate to one another.
Shreyas Tirumala is a sophomore in Trumbull College. His column runs on alternate Fridays. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org .