I have been thinking about the protests recently on several campuses over racism of famous historical figures such as the statue of the Confederate President Jefferson Davis at University of Texas at Austin, the Woodrow Wilson name on the building of Public Policy School of Princeton University and the Calhoun College of Yale University and holding the opinion of against the removal until now. I was against the removal and am still against the simple removal because I agree with Yale President Peter Salovey, “the whole story is part of our legacy as a university and it’s part of our legacy as a country.” Removing them means to simply sweep them under the rug. I am sure that we have all heard various sayings about history being the best teacher. It is obvious to me that a history forgotten is a history never learned as the master of Calhoun College and dean of Yale College, Jonathan Holloway argued, “as an open sore, frankly, for the very purpose of having conversations about this.” However, I had always been feeling uneasy because intuitively the argument (and my opinion) was flawed and yet I had not been able to come up a sound logical reason either way. Having lived in places close to the three institutions mentioned above, I feel a special bond and like to share some thoughts on them.
When I read that the University of Texas at Austin decided to remove the statue of the Confederate President Jefferson Davis from the Main Mall last summer, I went to campus and took pictures to record a history I could personally associate with.
University President Gregory Fenves said “While every historical figure leaves a mixed legacy, I believe Jefferson Davis is in a separate category, and that it is not in the university’s best interest to continue commemorating him on our Main Mall.” (I just noticed, while loading the photos, that the other statue is no other but President Woodrow Wilson!) My feeling at that time was amiss, for the lack of a better word as my vocabulary is rather limited, but agreeable. I recently read a book titled “As Texas Goes…” by Gail Collins, in which she commented that students in Texas public schools must pledge two allegiances, one to the flag of the United States and the other to the flag of Texas, respectively. I read the book because, after living in the state for less than a year, I found the state and its people and culture fascinating and thought she would shed some insight. I may be mistaken but believe that there is a connotation of sarcasm in her description of the two pledges.
When I informed a friend, a chemist working at the Edison office of EPA, that I was leaving for Austin, Texas. He wished me luck but could not resist the urge to lash out the state, though he did say that Austin was okay. Another friend, a psychiatrist with his own practice in Jersey, was excited and gave me a quick overview of various rifles and handguns as he is a proud gun owner and a strong advocate for gun ownership. It’s fair to say that I went to the state with a conscious and suspicious mind. While my initial welcome was not a friendly one (see the note below I got from a parking lot in Round Rock about which I wrote a blog here last year),my encounters with real people, time and again, such as clerks at DMV and stores, shuttle drivers and TSA agents the airport, rangers at parks, agents at border controls, co-workers, monks, coaches, nurses, doctors, and even other drivers on roads were nothing but pleasant and enjoyable. Granted I had no chance of learning their political and ideological views with most of them and have no idea what they think of me when they learn my views. However, the following photos show one aspect of the state affair. The last two are taken from the museum at the Texas State Guard base in Austin.
Now move on to Princeton University where the name of President Woodrow Wilson is on the building of Public Policy School. Woodrow Wilson served as the president of the university before becoming a Governor of New Jersey and President of the United States and was, from what I read, instrumental to the development of the institution. His racist view and action have largely been overshadowed by his great many accomplishments. Numerous schools and places are named after him, including the building at Princeton University and the statue at University of Texas at Austin. Seventeen hundred miles apart, the disparity and contrast are so strong that I wonder the relevance of “one nation under God, indivisible”.
Finally, to the stay of Calhoun College and walk of the Master title. While the issues were being debated, I had no doubt that Yale would not change the name of Calhoun College. Neither I thought it would stop using Master. Here I quote the reaction of one alumnus, “… We can’t stop there. I have often chafed under the oppressive baton of a maestro and am deeply offended that I have never been invited to the Masters golf tournament. I am tearing up my master’s degree and quitting my masters swimming program as I write, so as not to cause offense. Davis has inspired me to complain to chess, bridge, ship, martial arts, crafts and Freemason ‘masters’ and demand that they drop all their titles because they remind me of slavery. … The word even crept into the Bible, when the politically unaware disciples called Jesus ‘master’. …” Personally I think Yale has taken an easy way out. Appease some while keeping its true color.
Finally my thoughts are as follows. People at Princeton and Yale ought to take a hard look of University of Texas at Austin and think about the issue from a higher level. The purpose of naming something after a person is to commemorate the person for his or her contribution to the institution. For the people like Jonathan Holloway, I challenge them if they will consider putting the name of Stalin somewhere. Yes we must not forget history. However there are many ways to remember and keep conversations going. Honoring Calhoun is not one of them. And master should stay.