Three months after the University announced that it would retain the namesake of Calhoun College, the future of the name is again uncertain.
Amidst continued opposition to the decision to maintain the name Calhoun College, Yale has formed a Committee to Establish Principles on Renaming that will this fall establish principles by which renaming decisions are to be made. Once those principles are established, Salovey said he will “efficiently” — and with final authority — evaluate requests from the Yale community to change certain names, including Calhoun and other college names, in consultation with the Yale Corporation, the University cabinet and relevant experts.
That marks a significant departure from last year’s decision-making model, under which Salovey described himself as “just one member of the Corporation” debating renaming issues and that the body would consider various options and reach a consensus at its own pace.
“Renaming decisions will not be made in a vacuum, but the decisions are mine,” Salovey told the News Monday morning. “Once these principles are formulated, we can hold any request for the removal of a historical name up against those principles. I expect that a request will come in for John C. Calhoun. And then any outcome is possible.”
The 11-member committee will be composed of alumni, students, staff and faculty, including Yale College Dean Jonathan Holloway and Stephen Pitti, director of the Center for the Study of Race, Indigeneity and Transnational Migration and head of Ezra Stiles College. Part of its aim is to bolster participation from professors, many of whom have complained both about the decisions and that they were not sufficiently consulted.
“The President’s Office is under a lot of pressure as the negative reactions continue,” one senior professor said.
Emily Greenwood, chair of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences Senate, said in an interview that the committee will fill an important hole in University governance and decision-making.
“Our community is in urgent need of a common intellectual framework for addressing debates about renaming and historical memory on campus,” Greenwood said. “As a faculty member who has followed these discussions closely over the past year, I consider the creation of a committee on historical renaming a promising response to faculty, student, and campus opinion.”
The decision to establish the committee seems to stem primarily from faculty dissatisfaction, which caught University officials off-guard, rather than outcry from the student body. In an email to the FAS, Salovey and FAS Dean Tamar Gendler explicitly recognized two letters — one from the FAS Senate, another signed by more than 400 faculty members — that both urged the University to reconsider its decision to retain the name of Calhoun College. The administrators wrote that the University has been “moved” by these concerns.
Salovey told the News that many FAS professors only began to focus on issues of renaming after he announced in April that the namesake of Calhoun would be retained.
Greenwood emphasized that the FAS Senate “has urged that Yale’s decision to retain the name of Calhoun College be revisited as soon as possible.” Another senior member of the FAS Senate — who requested anonymity to speak freely — explained that faculty felt excluded from the decision-making process last year and distressed by the decision to retain Calhoun.
“Many faculty — myself included — assumed that the University would not open the Calhoun question without intending to change the name. In retrospect, that was clearly a flawed assumption,” the professor said. “In exchanges with the executive committee in late fall and early spring, we spoke casually about the fact that the naming decisions were underway. There was no formal request to consult with the Senate, and the Senate was not brought into confidence about the content of the naming decisions at any point before the public announcement.”
Last year, the Yale Corporation controlled issues of renaming. In establishing this committee, Salovey seems to be transferring that authority away from the Corporation — which keeps its deliberations strictly confidential — toward a more flexible process.
Salovey recently hosted a conference call with the Corporation to discuss the formation of the committee.
Changing a residential college name technically requires an adjustment to University bylaws — which necessitates two Corporation meetings — but Salovey will no longer be constrained by those restrictions, according to recent interviews. Rather, Salovey will discuss his principles-based recommendations on renaming with the Corporation either by phone or in person and then to announce a decision, making a change in the bylaws little more than a formality.
Salovey likened the committee’s charge to that of another committee — one chaired by Professor C. Vann Woodward more than 40 years ago — that formulated enduring principles concerning free expression on campus. As the renaming committee formulates its own guidelines, its members will consult faculty from across campus — especially in the humanities, social sciences and sciences — because “members of the FAS have a particularly vital part to play” in this process, Salovey and Gendler wrote.
“Last year, I was trying to make principled decisions in consultation with the Corporation,” Salovey said. “I am in no way saying there was something unprincipled about last year’s conversation or decision-making. What I am saying is that going forward, our decision-making would be improved if we had a set of enduring principles that can be applied to any situation in which names are being questioned. And I think those principles could more systematically draw on relevant expertise than we did last year.”