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UPDATED: February 24, 2016, at 11:50 p.m.
Each of Harvard’s 24 House masters will now be called a “Faculty Dean,” Faculty of Arts and Sciences Dean Michael D. Smith wrote in an email to undergraduates and FAS members early Wednesday evening.
In his email, Smith unveiled the new name and acknowledged ongoing critiques of the changes, which Dean of the College Rakesh Khurana announced in early December after House leaders unanimously agreed to change their title. Some noted that the term “master” could be associated with slavery.
In the months following Khurana’s announcement, some opponents argued that the change was misinformed, since the linguistic origins of the word “master” do not relate directly to slavery.
“Some have called it a ‘mistake’ believing that we didn’t understand the root of the word ‘master,’ or that we lacked a proper appreciation for the history of the title at Harvard and the European institutions from which Harvard leaders took inspiration, or that we were acting too quickly and without thought to student demands,” Smith wrote. “None of these could be farther from the truth.”
Smith also wrote that the new name does not directly respond to those critiques.
“I want to emphasize that a decision to change does not necessarily mean that what came before was wrong,” Smith wrote. “I have not been shown any direct connection between the term House Master and the institution of slavery.”
However, he wrote that “titles send a message” and they can and should change when such a change serves the College’s mission.
Still, he wrote that many alumni will likely still use the term House master “and they should have no qualms in doing so. The term House Master is and will remain a part of the College’s long and proud history.”
Last semester, Khurana, a Cabot House Faculty Dean, said he had “not felt comfortable personally with the title” of House master. At the December Faculty meeting, he said the recommendation to change the title was “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.”
Mather House Faculty Dean Michael D. Rosengarten said he thought the former House master title was “offensive and inappropriate” to students. Still, he said, the new title is not perfect.
“We have a lot of deans now at Harvard,” Rosengarten said, adding that students could be confused by the word “faculty” in the title because not all Faculty Deans are Harvard professors. Additionally, all Houses have separate resident deans who are also members of FAS.
In his email, Smith wrote that new dean title would reflect both Faculty Deans’ high academic and administrative positions, and that the term could be more easily recognizable to individuals outside of Harvard.
Ultimately, the Faculty Deans provided a list of potential titles to Smith, who made the final decision on the name.
Leverett Faculty Dean Howard Georgi wrote in a House-wide email that he “guessed all along that [the change] might go this way, not because the term is perfect, but because all of the alternatives were less appropriate.”
Smith closed his email by emphasizing that the title change would not signal an end to University-wide discussions about race, which recently have dominated campus and national discourse.
William A. Greenlaw ’17, a Pforzheimer House Undergraduate Council representative, said he appreciated that administrators changed the title but still had lingering concerns.
“I think it’s a good title, my only worry is that the College might pat itself on the back for doing the name change and then forget about issues of greater cultural import on campus.”
—Staff writer Jalin P. Cunningham can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @JalinCunningham.
—Staff writer Melissa C. Rodman can be reached at email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter @melissa_rodman
—Staff writer Ignacio Sabate can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @ignacio_sabate.
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