‘Questions are being raised about whether these individuals’ names or representations should be removed’
Harvard University recently announced its 16-person committee to explore the possible renaming of buildings, programs, professorships and places on campus.
The committee at this point will not rename anything but has been asked to develop the guidelines for determining what should and should not be renamed.
Harvard President Lawrence Bacow explained in the school’s news release:
Over decades and centuries, Harvard has attached many different names to many different things—buildings and other spaces, professorships, centers, academic programs, and more. Increasingly, members of our community are raising questions about the propriety of past decisions to recognize certain historical figures by having named things for them or by honoring them with artifacts such as statues or portraits. More specifically, questions are being raised about whether these individuals’ names or representations should be removed in view of their past advocacy or support of activities that many members of our community would today find abhorrent.
Bacow (pictured) asked the committee, composed of administrators, students and professors, to consider a variety of questions. He picked former Harvard president Drew Faust to lead the committee.
“How should judgments about removing names or artifacts take into account not only the individual’s failings and flaws but also the individual’s positive contributions to the University and to society?” Bacow asked.
“Are there circumstances in which a historical figure’s name should be removed, or retained, for some purposes (or in some places) but not others?” Bacow suggested as another guiding question.
Bacow wants the committee to “articulate general principles” for determining “when the names of such historical figures should or should not continue to be associated with Harvard buildings, spaces, professorships, programs, or other named objects.”
Student activists have petitioned the university to rename a handful of buildings on campus. In June, activists asked the school to rename Mather House, named for former university president and slaveowner Increase Mather.
“It got to me that a place like Mather House, which I consider to be a home, is named after someone whose ideals and actions should not be supported, especially right now or ever,” one student told The Crimson.
Other activists want to see the Board of Overseers, a school governing body, renamed because it has slavery connotations.
In 2016, activists persuaded the university to stop calling the heads of its houses “masters” because activists claimed it evoked slavery imagery. The change occurred under Faust’s tenure at Harvard.
A university administrator who supported the decision said that he had not seen “any direct connection between the term House Master and the institution of slavery.”
IMAGES: Lee Yuan / Shutterstock, Harvard University/YouTube