Committee on Renaming invites input from Yale community

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(Photo by Michael Marsland)

The Committee to Establish Principles on Renaming will call on experts with diverse points of view as it pursues its mission: to develop principles, guidelines, and a process for determining whether to remove a historical name from a Yale building.

Among the most important people the group wants to hear from are the members of the Yale community, said the committee’s chair, John Fabian Witt, the Allen H. Duffy Class of 1960 Professor of Law and professor of history.

“Every time I have a conversation on this topic with someone who cares about Yale, I find that I come to see another facet of the situation,” said Witt. “I look forward to hearing even more perspectives.”

Established in August by President Peter Salovey, the committee includes, in addition to Witt, four faculty members; a faculty adviser; three alumni; one staff member; and two students. (View the members’ bios.) While the committee is not charged to specifically make a recommendation on whether to rename Calhoun College, the debate over that issue last year inspired the establishment of the committee, said Salovey. “[I]t is now clear to me that the community-wide conversation about these issues could have drawn more effectively on campus expertise. In particular, we would have benefited from a set of well-articulated guiding principles according to which historical name might be removed or changed.”

The members of the committee met in person for the first time on Aug. 29, but Witt had already been in contact with the group for weeks. He sent them documents about Yale’s guiding principles, including the Woodward Report, which codified the university’s commitment to freedom of speech, and the university’s mission statement, which commits Yale to the free exchange of ideas in a diverse community.

“I thought we should start by looking at our core values,” said Witt. He also gave the committee members literature on the history and theory of naming, and case studies of comparable cases at leading universities around the world. Plans call for the committee to meet with some of these educators and other outside experts as it continues its work.

“There are dozens of universities around the world struggling with these issues,” Witt said. “We’re not going to be bound by what they’ve done, but we are eager to learn from their successes and failures.”

The committee will hold a public forum later in September to which all members of the Yale community will be invited. Details will be announced in YaleNews.

In the meantime, you can share your views with the committee using this form. The committee asks that submissions be made by Oct. 7.

To learn more about the Committee to Establish Principles on Renaming, its members, and its charge, visit the committee’s website.

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