Clemson honors students take aim at Calhoun name
Honors students at Clemson University are contemplating whether to follow in Yale’s footsteps by removing the name “Calhoun” from their school.
A survey that was recently emailed to students in Clemson’s Calhoun Honors College poses a series of questions about former U.S. Vice President John C. Calhoun, the college’s namesake, starting with whether they had ever given any thought to the significance of the name.
The second question begins by noting that Calhoun “owned Fort Hill Plantation (slave holder), said that slavery was a ‘positive good,’ and supported the Nullification Doctrine (Secessionist),” after which it asks, “Do you think that this background is representative of the values of the Honors College?”
The survey then informs students that the Calhoun name was not added until 1982—21 years after the honors college was established—and asserts that this was done for “marketing reasons” before asking whether they “think the Calhoun name is good marketing for Clemson in 2017.”
Lastly, it asks each student to weigh in on the question of keeping or removing Calhoun’s name, but does not offer any potential replacements.
One honors student, who spoke with Campus Reform on the condition of anonymity, took issue with the way the survey was presented, saying it was clearly intended to evoke a specific outcome.
“I’m not opposed to the name change if that’s what people want, I just want it to be done in a fair, unbiased manner,” the student said.
“I’m concerned by the extremely leading questions in the survey,” concurred a second honors student who also wished to remain anonymous.
“It is clear that they wanted a particular result, so they could claim students’ support in the removal of Calhoun’s name,” the student expounded. “Removing historical names is a dangerous trend, and, more importantly, Calhoun was an excellent statesman and leader who vigorously defended South Carolina.”
The survey was sent out by William Lasser, executive director of the Calhoun Honors College, but was developed by a group of honors students that remains anonymous following an event on April 24 titled, “Considering Calhoun: An Open Discussion About the Namesake of the Honors College,” a flyer for which advertised it as “a candid conversation regarding historical memory and naming on Clemson’s campus.”
“There has been a lot of scattered conversation about the name of the Honors College, especially since Yale University decided a few months ago to change the name of their Calhoun College,” Lasser stated in response to Campus Reform’s inquiries.
While he admitted that “I have some concerns about the name due to...some students and potential applicants feeling that the name is an issue,” Lasser also noted that the Calhoun name is not as strongly associated with Clemson as it was with Yale, and suggested that a name-change could eventually come about as part of a major donation.
“I think the College is in a position over the next decade or so to attract a major donor who could contribute at a sufficient level to have naming rights,” Lasser divulged, but clarified that “there are no current plans to change the name of the College.”
Lasser noted that “it's not completely clear who would have the authority to make such a change,” at least at the administrative level, because “certainly the Board of Trustees could do so if they wanted.”
Follow the author of this article on Twitter: @RobertMGunter