Following debate, Harvard drops historic ‘house master’ title

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In a case of questioning old-fashioned terms in a modern context, the change followed criticism that master conjured connection to slavery

Harvard University will change the centuries-old title house master, used to describe the Ivy Leagues residential administrators, to the term faculty dean, the university announced this week.

The change comes after waves of protests in late 2015 across several US college campuses, including Yale and Princeton, where students protested what they saw as institutional racism. Activists claimed the title house master was inappropriate and conjured a connection to slavery.

Michael D Smith, dean of the the Harvard faculty of arts and sciences, wrote in an email to students, faculty and staff members on Wednesday that the change in title was made in an effort to foster a more inclusive community.

Never before had the house leaders been so united in their belief that such a change is important to our efforts to create an intellectually, socially, and personally transformative experience for our students, Smith wrote.

Harvard academics have said the master titles roots come from old European terms for heads of household, teachers or chief servants. Smith wrote that the change did not mean the old title was necessarily wrong and Harvard was not denying the titles connection to European institutions or capitulating to student demands. He acknowledged that the title is embedded in Harvards legacy and that some alumni would feel they lost something.

Many alumni will remember house leaders as the master of their beloved house, and they should have no qualms in doing so, he wrote. The term house master is and will remain a part of the colleges long and proud history.

Rakesh Khurana, dean of Harvard College, said in an interview with the Harvard Gazette last year that the title causes discomfort when used in the context of a university in the United States a country with a history of slavery and of racial discrimination.

Harvard announced in December that the title house master would be retired. Opponents to the decision argued the change was misinformed, the Harvard Crimson reported.

William Greenlaw, an undergraduate student at Harvard, told the Crimson this week that while he appreciated the title change, he still had concerns.

I think itsa 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, he said.

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