Rob Hanke writes to President Salovey, Dean Holloway, and Calhoun Alumni

From: “Robert Hanke” <>
Date: September 11, 2015

Dear President Salovey, Dean Holloway and Alumni of Calhoun College:

It was great seeing you once again, Peter, at our YC ’60’s 55th Reunion.  I think we did quite well both with our Class Gift as well as our attendance at the Reunion.

With respect to Yale changing the name of Calhoun College to something else, I would be very strongly opposed to that.  Our residential colleges, and certainly their names, are as much a part of many of us as Yale itself.  They are where we lived for three years of our lives.  Tradition is very important to some of us.  Changing the names of our residential colleges would result in the loss of a major part of our identity with those “bright college years.” No renaming could ever mean much of anything to those of us for whom Calhoun College was our home.  During World War I and shortly afterward, Yale’s traditional song, Bright College Years, was nearly banned for its German heritage.  I think that would have been very unfortunate.

I believe current events should not be used to promote the social agenda of either the right or the left.  Together with historical revisionism, so much in vogue today, current events are now being used more and more for just this purpose.  Your letter speaks only of John Calhoun with respect to slavery, admittedly not good at all.  But there was much that was very positive about the man, particularly so if Yale once thought he should be honored to the extent of having a residential college named after him.

In 1957, in fact, a Senate Committee selected Calhoun as one of the five greatest Senators of all time.  Also, for example, to improve the social status of a prominent minority, he established, in 1824, the Bureau of Indian Affairs.  He was a very distinguished leader and Yale alumnus – not without his flaws, of course, but who is not?  However, since Yale’s slant now seems all about making a case against the man, why be impartial and bring up anything that is good or positive about him?

If they try hard enough, I am sure “they” – whoever they might be from time to time – might find convenient reasons to change the names of several of Yale’s other colleges as well, possibly even the name of Yale itself.  Maybe Yale could then set a new standard of political correctness so that other colleges and universities across the country might also be encouraged to change their names, some with such potentially dishonored former slave owners as Washington and Jefferson.

It deeply disturbs me that Yale would even consider changing the name of one of its old residential colleges, and what might the revisionist name be?  Good luck!  King’s College, incidentally, is already taken by Oxford, although that would not be a bad name at all if Calhoun’s name must in fact end up in the dust bin of history.  Does Yale not have enough of a challenge already trying to come up with ”acceptable” names for its two new residential colleges?  Why add to the controversy that I’m sure will arise when the announcement of those names is made?  Why not, in fact, use the two new residential colleges to be “politically correct and socially responsible” instead of renaming the old ones?

It seems to me that Yale has more pressing tasks to wrestle with today than changing the name of one of its residential colleges.

While I doubt the opinions or feelings of Yale’s more traditional old Calhoun graduates will make much difference one way or another in Yale’s decision, I do appreciate your at least asking us how we feel.  Opening it up to the whole alumni body, however, will undoubtedly give you the response you seem to be looking for.  Someone from Trumbull, Davenport or Berkeley, for example, probably could not care less whether another college’s name is changed for reasons of current social leanings and/or political correctness unless, of course, this is going to set a precedent for changing other names around the campus as well.

With my best wishes,


G. F. Robert Hanke
Calhoun College
Yale College Class of 1960

Classmates, you’re invited to contribute your views on this topic. Please comment below.

3 comments to Rob Hanke writes to President Salovey, Dean Holloway, and Calhoun Alumni

  • Al Veerhoff

    If we are going to talk about slave ownership, let us not forget that slaves helped erect the U.S. Capitol, that though he detested slavery Jefferson could not run Monticello without them, and that some New Englanders who opposed slavery came from families who made their wealth by operating slaveships. The quest for absolute political and moral purity, left and right, has almost wrecked our legislatures.

    (Sorry to join the discussion so late.).


    Having offered up to change Penn’s School of The Fine Arts to Penn School of Design, such occurred. Suddenly, last year, the School, with no debate, certainly not with those of us on the Penn Van Alen Travel Fellowship (Jim Van Alen-Y’60), the School of Design is now The Weitzmann School of Design. At our next meeting, I inquired as to the rationale–the response: ‘the name is of a substantial donar to the School. Naming rights has blurred the original cause. I support Bob Hanke’s valued position in argument.

    Charlie–AIA Emeritus


    Misquoted- My earlier message sent at 7:26 a.m./ L.
    As earlier believe stated, Jim Van Alen Y’57—and a demonstrated excellent
    athlete-including Varsity Hockey. Best Charlie

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