Faculty members, many of whom were involved in activism toward changing the name of Calhoun College, are rejoicing at the University’s decision to rename the college in honor of computer scientist and Navy Rear Admiral Grace Hopper GRD ’34.
“This is a great day for Yale, and it marks a new era of engagement with our University’s history,” said history professor Beverly Gage ’94, one of six faculty members who served on the Committee to Establish Principles on Renaming, whose November report indirectly led to the Yale Corporation’s vote to change Calhoun’s name Friday. “The name change is a credit not only to the president and the Corporation, but especially to the students, faculty, staff, community members and alums who encouraged Yale — over many months and years — to do the right thing.”
A month after the University announced that it would not change the name of Calhoun, the Faculty of Arts and Sciences Senate voted 18–1 in favor of submitting a letter signed by 396 faculty that called on Salovey and the Corporation to reconsider their decision. The 2016 announcement was reversed on Saturday when the Corporation approved the recommendation of a Yale task force that suggested the name be changed after applying the principles adopted by the renaming committee.
Now that Hopper has replaced Calhoun as the college’s namesake, Dean of the FAS Tamar Gendler said she has heard “uniformly enthusiastic responses” from faculty members.
Emily Greenwood, a classics professor and the chair of the FAS Senate, said she is confident there is a clear consensus in favor of the decision among faculty, despite their varying opinions about historical renaming.
Student activism also helped spark conversations surrounding the University’s history and self-identification as a community, Greenwood said, adding that while she regrets how long it took for the administration to arrive at this decision, she appreciates that Salovey ultimately listened to the campus community.
“When Peter Salovey initiated a ‘difficult conversation’ around the name of Calhoun College back in August 2015, none of us envisaged quite how this conversation would unfold,” Greenwood said. “It has been painfully drawn out, but as an individual member of faculty I welcome the way in which students, faculty, members of the administration and alumni have come together to address this issue.”
Andrew Miranker, a professor of molecular biophysics and biochemistry who authored last year’s faculty letter, said he was “over the moon” about the decision to replace Calhoun’s name with that of Hopper. He added that he was pleasantly surprised by how quickly the final decision was made, praising the administration’s timeliness in concluding a lengthy stretch of conversation and activism.
“I was really happy to see that a big, collective effort — starting with the students in Battell Chapel and my letter, and then the [FAS] Senate and the cafeteria worker over the summer and the protests from the town over the summer — had an effect,” Miranker said. “It’s not very often that voicing your unhappiness gets anything done. This was really great.”
The two faculty members who sat on the Calhoun task force — history professor John Gaddis and African American Studies Chair and English professor Jacqueline Goldsby GRD ’98 — both told the News that they were pleased, but not surprised, with the University’s decision, especially in light of the renaming committee’s guidelines. Gaddis said their task force was not responsible for choosing the replacement name, nor for the timing of the announcement.
Hopper’s achievements and legacy embody Yale’s institutional mission, Goldsby added.
“I’m sure that some will disagree with the outcome or feel ambivalent about it, but the decision allows the Yale community to move forward,” she said. “We can focus our efforts on creating a living space that reflects and welcomes the breadth of students, faculty and staff who work and study at Yale.”
Gendler commended the selection of Hopper as the college’s new namesake, saying the decision ensures future Yale students will know about Hopper’s illustrious career as a scientist and public servant.
Other faculty were not as quick to praise the decision. History professor and Calhoun alumnus Jay Gitlin ’71 MUS ’74 GRD ’02 said he expected the change but feels “sadly disconnected” from his alma mater, adding that he never had a connection to John C. Calhoun as an individual, only to Calhoun College.
“I wonder how any current undergraduate would feel if the name of his or her college was changed after they graduated,” Gitlin said. “It is a very odd feeling. It is my hope that the administration will create a substantial exhibition to preserve our memories of Calhoun College and its history.”
Gitlin said he hopes to see a “substantial museum-quality permanent exhibition” featuring a history of the college and pictures of former masters, deans, students and members of its community. He suggested such an exhibit could include artifacts like Calhoun dining hall dishware and the bell used on Trolley Night, a Calhoun tradition.
Gitlin said Grace Hopper would not have been his first choice for a replacement name, suggesting alternative names like class of 1778 graduate Noah Webster, Lucinda Foote and Henry Roe Cloud, class of 1910.
Grace Hopper is buried in the Arlington National Cemetery outside Washington.