Report of the Committee to Establish Principles on Renaming

December 2, 2016

To the Yale Community,

In August I announced the appointment of a committee charged with developing clearly delineated principles to guide the university’s decisions on proposals to remove a historical name from a campus building, space, or structure. The Committee to Establish Principles on Renaming—chaired by John Witt ’94, ’99 J.D., ’00 Ph.D., the Allen H. Duffy Class of 1960 Professor of Law and Professor of History, and comprising Yale faculty, students, staff, and alumni—recently completed its report. The recommendations set forth in that document have been accepted by the Yale Corporation, including me, and I write today to share the conclusions with you.

Questions of naming and commemoration raise difficult but important discussions. These are complicated intellectual and moral issues faced by universities and other institutions around the world. From the outset, I have sought for Yale to bring its scholarly resources to bear on this subject of national and international import. My hope is that the principles announced today will prove useful not only to our community but to others as well.

To download a PDF copy of the committee’s report, please click here or follow the attachment link at the foot of this message. The report is also posted on the committee’s website, together with a comprehensive appendix of information the committee considered when developing the principles. These collateral materials include input from the campus and alumni communities, historical research, and relevant Yale archival resources. A series of filmed interviews with committee members, offering insight into the group’s process, deliberation, and introspection, can be viewed online.

The report of the Committee to Establish Principles on Renaming provides the kind of enduring and timeless guidance I had hoped for: thoughtful, clear, scholarly, and balanced. It represents the intensive efforts of an extraordinary group of committee members who dedicated four months to meeting with each other, soliciting the input of the Yale community, reviewing documents, speaking with experts from around the country, and engaging in thoughtful analysis and debate. On behalf of the trustees, I offer heartfelt appreciation for this remarkable service to the university.

In its report, the committee described a strong presumption against renaming. However, it also recommended that we adopt a formal process to address requests to reconsider a historical building name. The resulting procedures—which are posted on the website of the Divison of the Senior Vice President and General Counsel—allow requests to withdraw a historical name to be submitted in a detailed and well-documented application. Alternatively, the president may elect to initiate the process. Bearing in mind that we have already accumulated a wealth of historical information and community input regarding John C. Calhoun, I have made the decision, in consultation with members of the University Cabinet (which includes the provost, vice presidents, and deans), to apply the principles to the question of the name of Calhoun College. 

I have asked three advisors with relevant expertise and knowledge—G. Leonard Baker ’64 (Calhoun College); John Lewis Gaddis, the Robert A. Lovett Professor of Military and Naval History; and Jacqueline Goldsby, professor of English, African American Studies, and American Studies and chair of the Department of African American Studies—to assist in reviewing the Calhoun case in light of the committee’s articulated renaming principles. I am deeply grateful to them for accepting this responsibility. They have been asked to do a thorough and thoughtful job, and we will allow them the time they require to come to a reasoned recommendation, with the expectation that their report and recommendation will be reviewed and a decision reached by the Yale Corporation early in 2017. If you would like to send a message to this group of advisors, you may do so by clicking here.

In closing, I take to heart the final assertion of the committee’s report—that if Yale “is to take up the work of ‘improving the world today and for future generations’ by helping to educate the leaders of tomorrow, it will need to do more than reconsider symbols. It will need to continually dedicate and rededicate itself to carrying out its mission of excellence in teaching, research, and learning.”


Peter Salovey
President and Chris Argyris Professor of Psychology