- The Washington Times - Thursday, February 25, 2016

Harvard University on Wednesday announced that it will stop using the term “House master” when referring to dormitory officials after students said the title evokes an association with slavery.

Michael D. Smith, the head of the school’s Arts and Sciences department, said in an email to students and staffers that individuals who oversee undergraduate residences at the school will now be known as “faculty deans” amid calls for a change due to the long-lasting title’s link to slavery.

“This title reflects our House leaders’ high standing in the joint academic and administrative hierarchy of the College and is easily understood by prospective students and their families, who might not (yet!) be deeply familiar with Harvard College’s residential system,” Mr. Smith wrote.

“I want to emphasize that a decision to change does not necessarily mean that what came before was wrong,” he added. “The academic context of the term has always been clear. Many alumni will remember House leaders as the Master of their beloved House, and they should have no qualms in doing so.”

Harvard had used the “master” moniker for generations until now, borrowing the title from British institutions where “schoolmaster” and “headmaster” are still used as labels for teachers and educators. Following protests on the Cambridge, Massachusetts’ campus last year, however, administrators said they would consider making changes.

“The House Masters have unanimously expressed a desire to change their title,” Dean of the College Rakesh Khurana said in December. “The recommendation to change the title 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.”

The title change at Harvard follows a similar decision out of Princeton last year in which the school began using “head of college” in lieu of the more controversial “master” honorific. Another Ivy League school, Yale, has been weighing an adjustment as well, but has been unwavering thus far despite calls for a change.

“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,’ ” Stephen Davis, a religious studies professor at the school, told Yale Daily News at the time.


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