The Retrospectoscope Looks At A Recent Symbolic Interaction

Calhoun college is one of 12 Yale residential colleges modeled on the English 800+ year old Oxford/Cambridge template.The Yale system was installed only some 70 years ago with a 1932 gift of Sloane Hearkness,a multimillionaire benefactor.Each residential college has a Master and a Dean living on site with their families and providing hostelry and academic guidance respectively.A few days ago the President of Yale invited Yale community wide (including incoming freshmen) opinion exchange and commentary about Calhoun college.President Salovey is a distinguished social psychologist who also served as Provost of the University for eight years.Yale has established a new campus in Singapore and is opening a new campus(West) in New Haven.The establishment of degree granting campuses outside of the traditional and in a foreign country with totalitarian credentials has been a cause of much discussion and dissent.President Salovey has wisely chosen to apply the lessons learned from the advent of the new campuses
to an old existing one.
John Caldwell Calhoun was an early Vice President of the U.S.(Jackson presidency)and a later representative and senator from South Carolina.Sometimes called the instigator of the Civil War, he was a staunch believer in the institution of slavery and states rights and a doctrine of nullification to support it.(although ostensibly a believer in a strong central government otherwise.)The establishment of a Calhoun College embodies the principle of producing leaders for a resurgent south.(this has to be seen as referring to the original Confederacy)So 150 years after the end of the Civil War and 50+ years after the civil rights struggles in the 60s with the resurgence of sociopolitical polarization,in the second term of the first black president who finds himself reduced to executive actions to implement his policies the question of the activities of Calhoun College is relevant.
The started in part from reflections on Yale and New Haven and their interaction with each other and the era of the 60s.The amnesia for being a model city on the part of New Haven and the restricted memory of Yale of its involvement with the community for the establishment of the Community Mental health Center and the loss of the recommendations of AK Rice to the then Medical school dean (Redlich)and the then President Brewster, concerning structural relationships between Yale and its medical school and it’s service obligation to the community of New Haven.My fellowship in Branford College was of interest in demonstrating to me the futility of trying to engage students and community when relations are virtually in a state of war.Yale has probably gone far beyond the recommendations of Ken Rice in involving itself with the community and the CMHC is alive and well, functioning within Yale’s well administered Dept. of Psychiatry.No one should expect that closure of Calhoun College can be a result of this exchange even though the “tampax and toilet paper” functions of a Master are probably best done automated and didactic assistance may not be best handled by this particular mode of geographic assignment.Something is accomplished by proximity and family like functioning.What it is and its relevancy for the times is a valid question for all of the residential colleges.Making sure that the “resurgent south “for whom leaders are being prepared is a non segregated south of truly equal opportunity can’t be assured by Yale or Calhoun but the equality(race and genderwise)of opportunity to participate should be reflected in the demographics of Calhoun college and its activities being equal to any of the other residential colleges.
Time and economics have relegated Mowry’s and its practices to a non discriminating curiosity.
The same forces are acting on the residential college system.So far …Well Done old Eli!



  1. No one expects that the college will be operationally closed.The renaming of Calhoun would be symbolic closure.A living,breathing system in it’s transformation conveys a meaning that a flag ,medallion,or statue cannot.(perhaps occasioned by the fixity of inanimate symbol.)

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.