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Yale Now Has a Procedure For Renaming University Buildings

Yale Now Has a Procedure For Renaming University Buildings

What could go wrong?

Jonathan Holloway, the dean of Yale College, discussed the new building renaming procedure recently on National Public Radio.

From their report:

Yale Announces New Procedure For Renaming Of University Buildings


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.


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This idea relates back to the philosophy of atheism. The Ten Commandments cover why this is a terrible idea: don’t create false idols.

The difference between heroes and idols is whether you include their flaws in the history. In the Bible, we learn far more from King David’s flaws than from his virtues. “Even good men can be corrupted by power and lust,” that’s far more applicable to our modern lives than, “When dueling a giant, hurl stones.”