October 26, 2020
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.
I would like this committee to articulate general principles to help determine 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. In its deliberation, the committee should consider the following:
- 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?
- How should we view activities or beliefs that are inconsistent with our community values today but that may have been viewed differently during the individual’s lifetime or at the time the decision was made to name something for the individual?
- 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?
- If a name or artifact is not removed, what is the institution’s responsibility to present a candid and balanced account of the individual’s failings as well as contributions?
- If a name or artifact is removed, what is the institution’s responsibility to preserve, and not simply erase, the history of the individual’s association with Harvard?
- What processes should govern decisions in individual cases to remove a name [or an artifact] from a building, space, program, or other object?
These questions are not unique to Harvard. Many of our peer institutions have grappled with similar questions over the years: Yale in deciding to remove the name of John Calhoun from one of its residential colleges; Princeton in deciding to remove the name of Woodrow Wilson from its School of Public and International Affairs; Stanford and Indiana University in deciding to remove the name of David Starr Jordan, who served as president of both institutions, from a number of buildings; and Columbia in deciding to remove the name of Samuel Bard, the founding physician of their medical school. I encourage the committee to review the reports and announcements that accompanied each of these decisions to see what we can learn from them.
Committee to Articulate Principles on Renaming
Drew Gilpin Faust (chair)
President Emeritus and the Arthur Kingsley Porter University Professor, Harvard University
Charles Warren Professor of American History, Professor of African and African American Studies, Faculty of Arts and Sciences
Chief Diversity and Inclusion Officer, Harvard University
Suzannah “Suzie” Clark
Morton B. Knafel Professor of Music, Faculty of Arts and Sciences
Professor of Law, Harvard Law School
Leverett Saltonstall Professor of History, Faculty of Arts and Sciences
Harvard College Class of 2021
Winthrop Laflin McCormack Professor of Citizenship and Self-Government, Harvard Kennedy School
Carl M. Loeb University Professor, Harvard University
Robert I. Goldman Professor of Economics, Faculty of Arts and Sciences
Robert P. Hubbard Professor of Architectural History, Harvard Graduate School of Design
President, American Academy of Arts and Sciences; Former Member (2008-14) and President (2013-14), Harvard University Board of Overseers
Harvard-MIT Program in Health Sciences and Technology MD-PhD Candidate, Harvard Medical School
Professor of Global Health and Social Medicine, Harvard Medical School
James F. Rothenberg Professor of Romance Languages & Literatures and of Comparative Literature, Faculty of Arts and Sciences
Vice President for Campus Services, Harvard University