Yale University said Wednesday it has decided to keep the name of a residential college named for John C. Calhoun, a 19th-century alumnus and ardent supporter of slavery, but will eliminate the title "master" for faculty members.
"Ours is a nation that often refuses to face its own history of slavery and racism. Yale is part of that history," said Yale President Peter Salovey. "We cannot erase American history, but we can confront it, teach it and learn from it."
Controversy has surrounded the name of Calhoun College for decades, but it received new attention in the fall as protesters on campuses around the country called for universities to address the legacies of historical figures, such as Woodrow Wilson at Princeton University, in Princeton, New Jersey.
A petition circulated on campus last year demanding Yale change the college's name. The Black Student Alliance condemned Wednesday's announcement on Facebook, saying, "the decision to keep the name of Calhoun College, is a regression" that "only diminishes our ability to combat the heinous nature of slavery and racism."
Calhoun, a former vice president under John Quincy Adams and Andrew Jackson, also served as secretary of state, U.S. senator in South Carolina and U.S. representative, according to the U.S. Department of State's Office of the Historian.
He graduated from Yale College in 1804 and attended Litchfield Law School, according to the U.S. historian's office. Calhoun was a controversial figure because of his support for slavery.
Salovey said opinion was split among students and alumni on the Calhoun name and, in the end, it was decided it was not a matter of public opinion. He said eliminating the name Calhoun would reduce the likelihood that slavery would be taught. He said the university also will be addressing Calhoun's legacy in other ways, including a work of art to be commissioned and placed on the grounds of Calhoun College.
One of two new residential colleges under construction will be named for Anna Pauline Murray, a civil rights activist who received a doctorate in law from Yale in 1965, the university announced. The other will be named after founding father Benjamin Franklin, a 1753 recipient of an honorary degree from Yale. The two new colleges are part of an expansion plan for Yale's undergraduate student body.
Yale also said it would eliminate the title "master" for faculty members who serve as residential college leaders, changing the name to "head of college."
The Black Student Alliance said "the choice to name one of the two new residential colleges after Anna Pauline Murray is a step in the right direction" and that gropu members "feel similarly about the decision to shift from the title of 'Master' to 'Head of College.'"