Yale University has established a new committee dedicated to deciding when and how the school should rename buildings, monuments, and other campus features it believes are too offensive for a modern university campus.
The Committee to Establish Principles on Renaming is exactly what it sounds like: A special group that will set rules to decide what aspects of Yale’s history should remain, and which should be purged.
The committee’s existence stems from the long-running controversy over Calhoun College, a residential college at the school named for John C. Calhoun, an American vice president who was a vocal defender of slavery. Many have called for Calhoun College to be renamed, with those calls gaining strength after the June 2015 shooting in Charleston, South Carolina, which sparked a general backlash against monuments to the Confederacy and slaveholders.
Back in April, Yale President Peter Salovey announced Calhoun College would not be renamed, despite protests. At the time, Salovey said renaming the college would go against Yale’s core principles, including its motto, Light and Truth.
“Removing Calhoun’s name obscures the legacy of slavery rather than addressing it,” he said at the time.
But the announcement did nothing to quiet critics or defuse the issue. Opponents continued to denounce Calhoun, and in June, a Yale employee smashed a historic stained glass window at Calhoun he argued was demeaning because it showed black slaves harvesting cotton. Despite initially losing his job and being hit with criminal charges, the employee ultimately went totally unpunished for his stunt.
Now, Salovey seems to be setting the stage for a complete reversal of his original decision. In a Monday announcement, Salovey said he was creating a new committee to reevaluate whether Calhoun and other parts of Yale should receive new names. In the announcement, Salovey backed off of his initial claim that removing names was wrong, instead acknowledging that in some cases, the best way to remember the past is to obscure it.
“It is now clear to me that the community-wide conversation about these issues could have drawn more effectively on campus expertise,” he said. “I have therefore appointed a Committee to Establish Principles on Renaming, and am charging this committee with developing clearly delineated principles to guide the university’s decisions on proposals to remove a historical name from a building or similarly prominent structure or space on campus.”
The new committee will include six Yale faculty members, three alumni, two students, and an administrator. The committee’s make-up will substantially empower the school’s faculty, who had complained about being sidelined in the naming debate previously.