Tuesday, May 01, 2007

Celebrating the "Good Ole Slaving Days" in Connecticut?

Boola Boola; Moola, Moola

What's In A Name? Millions, Yale Says By ADRIAN BRUNE, Special to The Hartford Courant

It's a longstanding tradition for colleges and universities to name libraries, dining halls and dorms - and just about anything else that can fit on a plaque - after their donors.

But in the early 1930s, Yale University broke with that tradition in a big way.

When finishing construction of 10 residential colleges, Yale decided not to christen them after their benefactors but rather after some well-known graduates. And the burden of informing the patrons fell on one man's shoulders: Yale President James Rowland Angell.

Notifying alumni they should probably forget about that bronze plate bearing their names outside the new dorms proved awkward.

Imagine, for instance, having to notify Frederick W. Vanderbilt, heir to the famous railroad fortune.

Here's what Angell said:

"As a general principle, we have, in designating names for these colleges, definitely adopted the policy of not using the names of living persons, or donors," Angell said in a 1931 letter to Vanderbilt. "We have gone back two or three generations in order to forgo the possible embarrassment which might attach to the use of names of persons recently associated with the university."

Despite a compromise for Vanderbilt - the golden acorns of the family's crest made their way into what would become Silliman College's seal - Yale has stuck to that principle throughout the construction of additional residential colleges. Now that the university is considering building two more residential colleges to ease crowding, the debate over monikers for the dorms has arisen again, leaving President Richard Levin to decide whether to break with policy and cave to the ever-increasing demand for donors' recognition.

A Yale spokesperson says the residential colleges are far from even going up on the drawing board, let alone meriting discussion on their names. Yet that has not deterred alumni from combing through the stacks of Sterling Memorial Library and the university archive to start considering monikers.

"The naming of residential colleges is not like naming just any building," said Mark Alden Branch, executive editor of Yale Alumni Magazine. "These names are screamed at football games. They're part of every undergraduate's first conversation, and over the years they become a big part of students' campus identities."

A few months ago, the magazine started the buzz by soliciting suggestions for the rumored colleges and running a full-page story featuring its readers' ideas in its most recent issue.

Some of the submissions included: Yung Wing College, after the first Chinese student to graduate from Yale (or any American university); Sinclair Lewis College, commemorating the first American - and the only Yale alumnus - to win the Nobel Prize in Literature; and Roosevelt Thompson College, honoring a Rhodes Scholar from Arkansas popular with everyone he met - even future president Bill Clinton -who died in a car accident in the spring of 1984, his senior year.

Yale Alumni Magazine has planned on running more proposals in its May/June issue, focusing on prominent women and minorities for whom a college could be named.

"We're just calling for ideas to get the discussion going in the hope that by casting a wide net, we'll turn up some good or novel ideas Yale could consider," said Branch, who added that the magazine's ongoing unofficial contest for the best name did not have the university's endorsement.

Unrelated to the current hurrah, next month an exhibit opening at Sterling will examine how Yale has chosen names for its 12 residential colleges and unveil little-known facts about the men for whom Yale designated its dorms.

"The Eponymous Dozen," compiled and overseen by Richard E. Mooney, a Yale alumnus and a former executive editor of The Courant, reveals such things as prominent geologist Benjamin Silliman's side job as a purveyor of bottled water, the choice of Jonathan Edwards College's mascot as a spider because of the minister's famous fire-and-brimstone "Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God" sermon ("The God that holds you over the pit of hell, much as one holds a spider ... abhors you") and how Saybrook College is linked to the 1998 film "Shakespeare in Love."

Mooney also speculates on potential names for residential colleges, adding Annie Goodrich, the organizing dean of the Army School of Nursing during World War I and Yale's first School of Nursing dean; Noah Webster, the "Dictionary Man"; and Jane Bolin, the first African American female judge.

"When I first embarked on this exhibit [two years ago], I had no idea Yale was even considering the building of two residential colleges," said Mooney, an amateur Yale historian whose exhibits, including one of the history of The Yale Daily News, occasionally pop up around campus. "Everybody is having a lot of fun deciding what's next and coming up with names. Noah Webster and William Howard Taft are suggested almost every time."

Unlike Harvard, which did an about-face on a similar policy in 1994, when it changed its North House into Pforzheimer House to memorialize significant Harvard donors, and Princeton University, whose five current residential colleges carry the names of backers, Levin has suggested that if the Yale Corp. permits resident-college naming rights to a donor, that individual must cough up $100 million of the estimated $250 million price tag. Even this concession could raise significant consternation.

"The precedent [of naming colleges after donors] should be considered, but I think the colleges ought to have names out of history," Emerson Stone, Class of 1948, wrote to the alumni magazine last month, also pointing out that Yale was named after Elihu Yale, who gave hundreds of books and goods to the Collegiate School in 1718.

This last round of controversy in the names of Yale residential colleges pales in comparison to that of a few years back, when a school union revealed that many of the men for whom the school named its colleges had owned slaves. The most well known among them is John C. Calhoun, an early 19th-century senator, vice president and staunch proponent of slavery.

"There have been efforts over the years to change the name of the college, but they've never gone anywhere," Branch said. "People disagree over whether changing the name would be an appropriate accommodation of modern sensibilities or an erasing of unfortunate history."

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