Yale Announces New Procedure For Renaming Of University Buildings
AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:
Yale University has announced they'll revisit their decision not to rename a residential college named for the 19th century politician and white supremacist John Calhoun. They've also announced a formal process for anyone calling for the renaming of university buildings. Now, Jonathan Holloway was on the committee that established the new procedure. He's the dean of Yale College. Welcome to the program.
JONATHAN HOLLOWAY: Thanks for having me.
CORNISH: So now there will be a formal process for people who want to petition the school and say, we want to change a building or a statue or something like that. What are they going to have to prove to get that done?
HOLLOWAY: Well, the one thing they're going to have to do is substantial research. We had a team of seven researchers spending months in the archives looking at the body of evidence that would relate to a person's history or their accomplishments or not. So that's the basic-level entry point is that it's got to be serious research based in the archives, based in history, contextualized
CORNISH: Now, the University of Oregon, in terms of allowing the potential renaming of buildings, have a different criteria. They look at whether the person has discriminatory, racist, homophobic or misogynist views that actively promoted systemic oppression or who fail to take redemptive action - that's on the list of criteria. What do you see in that broad a view?
HOLLOWAY: Well, I think it's just that, it's a broad view. I mean, the...
CORNISH: Is that practical?
HOLLOWAY: It's so broad, I wonder about its practicality. The fact is as human actors we're all flawed. So I really wonder if you are going to be using the Oregon test against historic figures who are operating in a world in which you - people did not even know or worry about the experiences or views of women or immigrants or minorities, you're going to fail the test pretty quickly. And so I think any renaming test has to be mindful of the present and the past and also the future in trying to sort out what its litmus tests are going to be.
CORNISH: Looking at the principles you've devised, one of them is examining the standards of a namesake's time and place, and essentially asking, quote, "was the relevant principal legacy significantly contested in the time and place in which the namesake lived?" Doesn't this also get many people off the hook?
HOLLOWAY: Well, it depends on the research. So one of the things our researchers discovered locally is that there were people in Calhoun's era - or in the era of when the decision was made to name a building in his honor - who were really unhappy about it for reasons that spoke to - or spoke against his principal legacy. And a lot of us, myself included, didn't know that that protest existed at the time. So this is why we've got to do really careful research in trying to sort through what I'll call the arrogance of your contemporary moment so you don't put your values on an era when those values didn't really resonate.
CORNISH: The committee's report noted that there are multiple ways to deal with these kinds of decisions. So one is like erasure. For example, there was a stained-glass window that had the image of a kneeling slave at the foot of John Calhoun and the image of the slave was removed from the window. And then meanwhile, there was another Yale College that was named for Ezra Stiles. And that now just has a plaque memorializing the lives of his slaves into indentured servants. So what does all this mean going forward? Are there going to be a lot more plaques?
HOLLOWAY: Yeah, I do think there'll be more plaques. I think at a place that is old like Yale is old, there's going to be a real tension between radically changed sensibilities from one hundred-year era to another hundred-year era. So there's memorials already all over the campus. And I think we'll be adding some more. What they'll say, I don't really know but I think that's OK. I think it's OK for contemporary individuals to say in this moment we declare this and then let the future historians look backwards and try to sort things out. I think that's fine.
CORNISH: Jonathan Holloway is the dean of Yale College. Thank you for speaking with us.
HOLLOWAY: It's my pleasure. Thank you.
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