The Corner

Culture

Yes, Master

So Harvard is going to ban the phrase “Master” because of its “associations with slavery”:

The “Masters” of Harvard’s undergraduate residential houses are senior faculty members who serve as the chief administrative officers within the houses. They are responsible for shaping the cultural and intellectual life of these smaller student communities, and also play a role in giving each house a distinctive character.

Ivy League institutions adopted the term from British schools, notably Oxford and Cambridge, where “master” survives as a shorthand for “schoolmaster” or “headmaster.” But in the American context,  the “Master” moniker, which is also used at Yale and — until very recently — Princeton, has been criticized for its associations with slavery.  Students and faculty alike have pointed out the title’s unsettling historical connotations. Its elimination has figured among demands from student protesters at Harvard and Yale.

Now, even the Washington Post story points out the obvious: The “associations” with slavery are being imposed by the students (and faculty). This is Harvard. Last I checked, people there took themselves pretty seriously. And yet they lack the intellectual maturity to make this obvious distinction? This is the equivalent of twelve-year-old boys tittering and snickering during sex-ed class.

Moreover, if the biggest racial problem minorities at Harvard face is the use of the term “House Master,” then there are no serious racial problems at Harvard. And if there are serious racial problems at Harvard — I’m agnostic on the question — changing the title “House Master” to “Residence Facilitator” or “Indoctrination Minister” or whatever will do absolutely nothing to address those problems. In other words, this is entirely about power-assertion for its own sake and nothing more. No wonder the administration is caving in to this. It’s like giving an employee a new title instead of a raise; it don’t cost nuthin’ and it distracts from having to do anything serious. 

Well, that’s not exactly true. It does have costs. First, what little charm Harvard had left as an old and venerable institution shrunk just a bit more. And second, it costs time. 

The Post reports:

Harvard College Dean Rakesh Khurana announced in an email to students Tuesday night that leaders of the university’s undergraduate residences have agreed to forgo the title of “Master.”

“I write on behalf of myself and my fellow residential House leaders to let you know that the House Masters have unanimously expressed desire to change their title,” the email said. “In the coming weeks, the College will launch a process in which members of the House leaders’ docket committee, working with senior College team members and the House leadership community as a whole, will suggest a new title that reflects the current realities of the role.”

What a vital use of everyone’s time. Surely Harvard has nothing better to do that to sit around tables arguing about what to call its glorified RAs. 

But I hope they don’t get too bogged down on just this one issue, not when there are so many other important items on the agenda. What will Harvard call its “Master’s degrees” now? Maybe they should cancel classes to deal with that pickle. And what of Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five? Hie thee to the airbrushes fair Harvard!  

I jaunted over to Wikipedia and typed in the word “Master.” Here’s what I found:

Fictional characters[edit]

Film and television[edit]

Literature[edit]

Music and audio[edit]

Sport[edit]

Tennis[edit]

  • ATP World Tour Finals (used to be called Tennis Masters Cup), the season ending men’s professional tennis tournament
  • ATP World Tour Masters 1000, a series of prominent mid-season tennis events on the men’s professional tour
  • WTA Tour Championships, season ending women’s professional tour tournament; sometimes informally called “Masters” in analogy of the men’s year-end event.

Other uses[edit]

That should keep Harvard busy for quite a while. 

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