Official change is announced.
Harvard students, professors and alumni alike have been well aware of the ongoing discussions on the title of “House Master”. The title has historically been used to identify and differentiate the individual college residential house leaders from other faculty members. This past December of 2015, the current house leaders came forward unanimously to state that they desired a change to their title. Specifically, the dean of the college, Rakesh Khurana sent an email to the students announcing that, “House Masters have unanimously expressed desire to change their title,” on December 1.
That statement sparked a multitude of discussions across campus and within alumni dialogue as well. Anchoring these discussions are the reasons for change and the arguments surrounding them. The reported and official reason is to promote inclusion on this campus. The idea fits with the general trend that is spreading across colleges nationwide to shed our traces of or links to historical occurrences of exclusion and prejudice. There has been action taken and continued debates at Princeton and Yale, for example. One of the more specific reasons circulating for the Harvard House Master title change is the archaic nature of the title and its perceived negative gender and slavery connotations. These are substantial reasons and have garnered much attention and praise by many. Some criticisms, however, have included the perception that the administration is misreading the meaning of ‘Master’ and that it is acting too impulsively and quickly.
Months after the initial announcement, we now cannot say that the administration moved too fast. Earlier this week, Michael D. Smith, Edgerley Family Dean of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences announced that the administration would finally reveal its decision and make the title change official. Shortly after 5:00pm on Wednesday evening, Smith sent an email to the entire FAS constituency declaring the decision. The new title will be “Dean”. To use Smith’s example, the usage will be “Faculty Dean of Lowell House”.
In addition, Smith touched on multiple other topics within his email. He briefly addressed the criticisms of this decision and restated the necessity of doing so. Smith wrote, “I have not been shown any direct connection between the term House Master and the institution of slavery.” Instead he stated that, “titles send a message.” The exact message Smith thinks “Master” sends or that the new “Dean” sends has not been made explicitly clear. Nevertheless, we have been assured that the committee on determining a new title thoroughly examined multiple options before coming to the very common and familiar ‘Dean’.
Smith ended with a note on how this title change is only a step in the ongoing process of making Harvard a more inclusive environment. Students will no doubt receive more emails on this matter from Khurana, other prominent administrators and, of course, our newly renamed Faculty Deans of Houses. The decision being made only continues the discussion and debate as a score of reactions are to be had. Most will eagerly await participation in these discussions as spirited dialogue, regardless of what it is titled, is an essential part of Harvard College’s nature and mission.
Caroline Cronin ’18 (firstname.lastname@example.org) appreciates such a nature.