Yale's mistake on John Calhoun

Story highlights

  • Yale turns down student demands to remove John Calhoun's name
  • John McWhorter says Calhoun was too ardent a champion of slavery to be honored

John McWhorter teaches linguistics, American studies, philosophy and music history at Columbia University and is the author of "The Language Hoax: Why the World Looks the Same in Any Language." The opinions expressed in this commentary are his.

(CNN)I am generally not a fan of the fashion for demanding the removal from buildings of the names of people of the past whose views about disadvantaged groups wouldn't pass muster with enlightened folk today. Yet Yale University, in refusing student protesters' demand that a residential college named after John C. Calhoun be renamed, has missed an issue of degree.

John McWhorter
For all the excesses of the protests that rocked so many college campuses last fall, there were issues on their slates of demands that made some sense. Questioning the appropriateness of having to walk by a Calhoun College every day was one of them.
Make no mistake: things named after George Washington and Thomas Jefferson occasion in me no pious "considerations" that the men were, amidst all else that they accomplished, slaveholders. My life ticks along just fine despite things named after Robert E. Lee. That Yale has decided to name a new building after Benjamin Franklin rankles me not despite that Franklin, as a white man of his time, had some slaves for a while. Most will agree that the volume of the man's accomplishments dwarfs the blight of his slaveowning stint.
    Should we scrub all memorials to Woodrow Wilson?