NEW HAVEN, Conn. (AP) — Ivy League universities are parting ways with the title of “master” for leaders of residential colleges, a label with roots stretching back to the universities of medieval Europe that many now see as evoking slavery.
Harvard and Princeton have eliminated the title, and Yale is weighing whether to change it.
Although the master title has long been a source of misgivings, with some holding the positions preferring to be called by their first names, a push for change gained steam amid protests around the country as colleges moved to address student concerns about inclusiveness and the racial climate on campuses.
Undergraduates at the three Ivy League schools are assigned to a number of colleges, where the masters, who are drawn from the university faculty, oversee social and academic programs and serve as advisers.
Princeton administrators announced last month that the masters at its six colleges had decided to drop a title they described as anachronistic and historically vexed.
“We believe that calling them ‘head of college’ better captures the spirit of their work and their contributions to campus residential life,” Dean Jill Dolan said.
At Yale, the current debate picked up with an email from Stephen Davis, a professor who has been known as head of Pierson College since rejecting the title of master. In August, according to the Yale Daily News, he wrote to his college, “I think there should be no context in our society or in our university in which an African-American student, professor or staff member – or any person, for that matter – should be asked to call anyone ‘master.’”
Yale President Peter Salovey has said he expects the university to make a decision on the issue before the summer. Last month he announced several other changes including a new center devoted to race and ethnicity and new faculty positions dedicated to the histories, lives and cultures of under-represented communities.
Harvard announced last week that it plans to change the term “house master” for a new title to be determined later.
“The desire to change this title has taken place over time and has been a thoughtful one, rooted in a broad effort to ensure that the college’s rhetoric, expectations, and practices around our historically unique roles reflects and serves the 21st century needs of residential student life,” Harvard Dean Rakesh Khurana wrote to students. “The house masters feel confident that a change in title at this point in time makes sense on very many levels.”
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