The debate over the name of Calhoun College will be settled in the next three months, according to a Friday email from University President Peter Salovey.
Salovey wrote that the Yale Corporation will decide whether to rename Calhoun by early 2017, after reviewing the recommendation of three advisors — history professor John Gaddis, African American Studies professor Jacqueline Goldsby GRD ’98 and Calhoun alumnus G. Leonard Baker ’64 — tasked with applying the University’s new renaming principles over the next few months. Salovey announced the new protocol in a campuswide email that also included a 24-page report by the Committee to Establish Principles for Renaming that called for attention to multiple layers of historical context in renaming decisions.
Both Gaddis and Goldsby signed a faculty petition in May demanding the reversal of the decision to retain Calhoun. Baker was a trustee of the Yale Corporation between 2000 and 2012 and has also served on the School of Management’s advisory board.
In his email, Salovey invited the campus community to communicate with the task force through a form on the University website.
“I selected three people whose expertise seemed relevant to the name John C. Calhoun [class of 1804],” Salovey told the News, noting that Gaddis and Goldsby are both scholars of American history and that Baker served on the original renaming committee.
Salovey added that he has not decided whether he will publicly announce the advisors’ recommendation before the Corporation makes a final decision. But by the end of the process, he said, the University will make both the recommendation and the decision public.
“I understand that there is a certain amount of campus fatigue with this issue, and I understand especially among students that they feel they’ve been involved in a discussion of this issue for quite some time, so they would like the issue to be resolved,” Salovey said. “I can’t predict the outcome, but we are on a path that is not an extremely long one to resolving the issue.”
In theory, the Corporation could make the Calhoun decision in February, at its first meeting of the new year. The Corporation’s second meeting of 2017 is not until April.
“I don’t know that speed is of the essence in my mind, I think it’s much more important that we’re thoughtful about it,” said Corporation Senior Fellow Donna Dubinsky ’77. “I’d like to see people digest the principles on a broad perspective, but that being said, we’re going to relook at Calhoun.”
As outlined in Salovey’s email, the new process for settling the Calhoun issue will bypass the initial stages of the broader protocol announced on Friday morning.
In the first step of the new procedure — which will apply to all future renaming decisions — community members can submit written renaming requests to the University referring to the principles in the committee’s report.
The Office of the Secretary will forward to Salovey any request that is “thoroughly researched and well-documented” and meets certain administrative requirements. The president will then discuss with his cabinet — composed of the University provost, University vice presidents and professional school deans — whether the request merits further review.
Next, Salovey will appoint a team of expert advisors — similar to the group he charged with making a recommendation about the name of Calhoun — to submit a report with a recommendation on the name in question. Finally, he will present that recommendation to the Corporation, which will formally decide whether to rename the building.
“The University has never had an explicit process for handling a kind of situation that we’re seeing emerge on many campuses across the country,” Salovey said. “And since honoring and memorializing historical figures is being questioned so consistently beyond the walls of Yale, I felt it wasn’t serving the University well to have an ad hoc process that was essentially invented on any occasion where a request for renaming was made.”
Over the past year, Duke, Princeton and Stanford, among other universities, have wrestled with naming controversies of their own. John Witt ’94 LAW ’99 GRD ’00, a professor at the Yale Law School and the chairman of the renaming committee, said he hopes the principles provide a concrete framework for future debates — both at Yale and across the country.
“It’s certainly true that every one of these cases at universities around the world is its own idiosyncratic case,” Witt said. “But I think we were able to find some criteria that any decision-maker who wants to take on one of these problems will usually have to think about.”
Still, whether the report will ultimately lead to the renaming of Calhoun remains to be seen. Both Witt and Yale College Dean Jonathan Holloway, another committee member, declined to comment on how the principles might apply to that particular dispute.
But history professor Beverly Gage ’94, who also served on the committee, told the News that the “principal legacies” guideline has clear implications for Calhoun.
“It seems clear that Calhoun’s defense of slavery was one of his principal legacies,” she said.