After Yale’s trustees elected to keep the name of Calhoun College in the spring, the University faced heavy criticism from undergraduates, culminating in a student-led demonstration on Cross Campus.
But those students were not the only group alarmed by the University’s decision. In May, another prominent campus constituency launched its own protest: the Yale faculty. Nearly 400 professors — around half the Faculty of Arts and Sciences — signed an open letter calling for University President Peter Salovey to reverse the Calhoun decision. And the FAS Senate, which has no decision-making authority over building names, voted 18 to 1 to submit a letter to Salovey and the Yale Corporation urging them to rename the college.
Now, months after the initial backlash, the University has announced a new protocol for renaming campus buildings that could ultimately lead to the reversal of the Calhoun decision — and give faculty more authority over such decisions in the future.
In a campuswide email on Friday morning, Salovey announced that a group of three advisors — one alumnus and two faculty members, both of whom signed the open letter — will revisit the Calhoun debate and make a formal recommendation to the Yale Corporation. That recommendation will follow guiding principles outlined in 24-page a report released Friday that was penned by the Committee to Establish Principles on Renaming, a faculty-led task force that Salovey formed in August.
Although the Corporation still has final authority over the potential renaming of Calhoun, the role of the faculty in the renaming process has grown significantly in the months following the open letter and the FAS Senate vote.
History professor David Blight, who served on the renaming committee, said the new process marks an improvement from last year, when faculty members had little influence over the University’s decision to keep Calhoun.
“Lots of people felt like they were never really part of that decision, apart from a public conversation,” Blight said. “Now there’s a structure from the renaming report, and there’s a structure apparently now with the president appointing this committee of three. It’s a structure of advise and consent, which didn’t really seem to exist last year.”
Salovey established the renaming committee — which was chaired by a law professor and consisted of four other faculty members, three alumni, an undergraduate, a graduate student and one staff representative — last August largely in response to the faculty uproar over the Calhoun decision.
Still, in an interview with the News, Salovey stopped short of saying that the Yale faculty now has greater influence over renaming decisions. But he emphasized that the new protocol — which calls for the president to appoint expert advisors to help settle future naming disputes — will allow the University to better harness the scholarly expertise at its disposal.
“Faculty could always contribute their voice on these issues, and many did, but I would say [the new protocol] ensures that scholarly expertise is brought to bear,” Salovey said. “It ensures that, at least for the people who are formally participating on the [renaming] committee or as advisors, that their ideas and reactions stand out in greater relief.”
Yale’s peer institutions have taken a variety of approaches to faculty inclusion in renaming decisions. At Princeton, a committee consisting solely of trustees voted to keep the name of Woodrow Wilson, whose racist views have generated controversy in recent years, on multiple campus buildings. But at Harvard, five faculty members served on the committee that recommended changing the Harvard Law School seal, which honored the family of a prominent slaveholder.
Donna Young, a member of the American Association of University Professors, said Princeton should not have excluded its faculty from the Wilson committee.
“Faculty are very, very close to the students in a way that administrators aren’t,” Young said. “Faculty are not only representing the academic mission, but they’re also much closer to understanding what the students want.”
Young added that Yale’s newly inclusive renaming approach cuts against nationwide trends: Over the last few decades, she said, the size of university administrations nationwide has grown significantly while the number of full-time faculty positions has declined, leading to “a weakening of the faculty voice on campuses.”
Former University Secretary Sam Chauncey said that in the ’60s and ’70s professors were involved in nearly every aspect of Yale’s administration, from investment decisions to athletics management. These days, the faculty’s primary administrative powers involve hiring and tenure decisions, as well as curricular reviews.
“If you look from 1950 to the present, there has been a steady decline in the faculty being consulted about decision-making,” Chauncey said. “As the University gets more complicated, administrators tend to just make the decisions, it has to do with the size of the administration.”
Jacqueline Goldsby — an English professor and chair of the African American Studies Department who will serve as one of the advisors on the new Calhoun task force — said that after arriving at Yale in 2010, she was surprised by the faculty’s “exclusion from the decision-making process.”
For example, faculty felt excluded from conversations about the opening of Yale-NUS College and the implementation of a corporate-style “shared services” staffing model, Goldsby said.
“In both cases, faculty opinions were solicited after the fact of the policies being put in place,” she said. “That order of things struck me as odd.”
Still, Goldsby said the University deserves credit for working harder to solicit faculty input in recent years, from the founding of the FAS Senate in 2015 to the establishment of the renaming committee in August. She described last year’s collaboration between the FAS Senate and FAS Dean Tamar Gendler — specifically over changes to the University’s tenure system — as an ideal example of “bilateral openness.”
Andrew Miranker, a professor of molecular biophysics and biochemistry who wrote the open letter to Salovey last April, said the FAS Senate provides an effective communication channel between faculty and the administration, which he hopes will continue to strengthen the voice of faculty in other University conversations.
“Faculty can add insight that draws on their disciplinary expertise in relevant fields, including history, philosophy, law, political science, literature and other scholarly areas,” Gendler said.
The FAS Senate will hold its final meeting of 2016 on Thursday.