Roger Kimball, Wall Street Journal, August 8, 2016
On Aug. 1, Yale University president Peter Salovey announced that he is creating a Committee to Establish Principles on Renaming. There has been a craze for renaming things on college campuses the last couple of years–a common passion in unsettled times.
In the French Revolution, leaders restarted the calendar at zero and renamed the months of the year. The Soviets renamed cities, erased the names of political enemies from the historical record, and banned scientific theories that conflicted with Marxist doctrine.
At Princeton, Stanford, Georgetown, Harvard and elsewhere, students have demanded that buildings, programs and legacies be renamed to accommodate modern sensitivities. Amherst College has dropped Lord Jeffrey Amherst as its mascot because the colonial administrator was unkind to Indians. Students at the University of Missouri have petitioned to remove a statue of the “racist rapist” Thomas Jefferson. This is part of a larger effort, on and off campuses, to stamp out dissenting attitudes and rewrite history to comport with contemporary prejudices.
But isn’t the whole raison d’être of universities to break the myopia of the present and pursue the truth? Isn’t that one important reason they enjoy such lavish public support and tax breaks?
A point of contention at Yale has been the residential college named for John C. Calhoun, a congressman, senator, secretary of war and vice president. Alas, Calhoun was also an avid supporter of slavery.
Mr. Salovey is also perhaps still reeling from the Halloween Horror, the uproar last year over whether Ivy League students can be trusted to pick their own holiday costumes, which made Yale’s crybullies a national laughing stock. In the wake of that he earmarked $50 million for such initiatives as the Center for the Study of Race, Indigeneity, and Transnational Migration.
He then announced that Calhoun College would not change its name. Apparently, he has reconsidered. After the Committee on Renaming has done its work to develop “clearly delineated principles,” he wrote, “we will be able to hold requests for the removal of a historical name–including that of John C. Calhoun–up to them.”
I have unhappy news for Mr. Salovey. In the great racism sweepstakes, John Calhoun was an amateur. Far more egregious was Elihu Yale, the philanthropist whose benefactions helped found the university. As an administrator in India, he was deeply involved in the slave trade. He always made sure that ships leaving his jurisdiction for Europe carried at least 10 slaves. I propose that the committee on renaming table the issue of Calhoun College and concentrate on the far more flagrant name “Yale.”