Saturday, February 11, 2017

Yale's re-naming of Calhoun College

I'm not a big proponent of talking politics here (or generally anywhere), so allow me a rare exception.

Yale announced that it's renaming Calhoun College, and I was not in favor of it--until today. I'm a Yale grad, and even though I don't think that makes my opinion any more valid than anyone else's, it's my alma mater, and I have an opinion.

Like many on both sides of the political spectrum, I'm not a fan of the current environment on many campuses in which traditional liberal ideals such as free speech and open-mindedness seem to have been hijacked by rigid adherence to "liberal" dogma. People need to be able to have different points of view without being shouted down.

My initial reluctance to the name change may have been influenced by this, but more broadly my concern is that it's a slippery slope to judge the past by current mores. If we go down that road we're going to have to re-name 90% of America, starting with Washington DC (not to mention Columbus Avenue, FDR Drive, and Robert Moses State Beach). There are a lot of problems to be solved in the world--we need to pick our battles.

Like Yale President Salovey, I believe there should be a pretty high bar to justify changing names of Yale's residential colleges, lest they all be renamed each year based on current fashion. I'm pretty sure I could come up with at least one decent reason for changing any of them.

In this case, however, I agree with the committee's justification for the name change--Calhoun didn't contribute anything of significance to Yale, he was controversial even in his own lifetime, and frankly, it was a mistake to name a college after him to begin with.

As long as decisions like this are based on rational discourse and not overzealous mob-think, I'm fine with it. Salovey's email, linked here, is articulate and well-reasoned, and he deserves some kudos for it (he's going to get plenty of blowback too, obviously). I think Yale handled it well, and I'm cool with the outcome.

Best of all, now we can focus on more important things, like Ivanka and Nordstroms.

Thanks--I appreciate your tolerance of my diversion. :)


  1. Hey Todd, it's Stu Rohrer. Came across this post while I was searching for that funny/inspiring piece you wrote about GMing the Time Inc site with the hip-hop and rap team.
    I'm also a Yalie, and an alum of Calhoun to boot, as was my daughter (2012), so I feel like I have some skin in this game. I've met Jonathan Holloway a number of times - he was "master" of Calhoun in my daughter's day (a title now discontinued for illogical but p-c reasons, but that's another story) before he got promoted to Yale's Dean for Impossible Student Diplomatic Situations. He was a proponent of leaving Calhoun's name on the place as a "teaching moment" and I tended to agree with him.
    Anyway, the part of Pres. Salovey's justification that helped me accept the name change was the part about Calhoun being a public figure *because* of his views rather than *despite* them. That does raise the symbolism to a different and, I agree, intolerable level.
    This is the second time this kind of change has visited me - my business school was renamed for a wealthy donor after I left. It took a long time for me to get used to the new name, and did nothing for my allegiance to the place.
    But what's done is done. I say accept it and move on. I'm just trying to imagine the stonecutters erasing "Calhoun" from the neo-gothic archways and chiseling in "Hopper."

    1. Thanks for your perspective, Stu.

      FYI, here's my post on my year at Essence: