Ivy League Colleges Harvard And Princeton Drop ‘Master’ Title In Favor Of ‘Head Of College’ — What About Other Terms?

Ivy League colleges have dropped the “Master” title for its professors. While the term will be revised to “Head of College,” they are yet to determine what the “House Master” will be called. The change being witnessed across many premiere institutes like Harvard and Princeton is owing to the implied meaning and perceived association of the term with slavery.

Ivy League colleges Harvard and Princeton have taken steps, with Yale likely to follow suit, to stop using the term “Master” for their professors. The decision follows increasing outcry that the term is rather “disempowering,” particularly to the black students. Many have argued that the term, “Master,” is a saddening, and many times infuriating, reminder of the dark ages of slavery in America. It was customary for all slaves, particularly the large number who worked on the sprawling plantations, to refer to their owners as masters. The term directly denotes ownership over other human being, which has been outlawed a long time ago. The supposed remnant of the era too, needs to go, reasoned those behind the decision.

Ivy League Colleges Harvard And Princeton Drop ‘Master’ Title In Favor Of ‘Head Of College’
(Photo by Emile Wamsteker / Bloomberg / Getty Images)

Incidentally, the term “Master” doesn’t have its origin in the American slavery. Instead, the term, most likely “has roots stretching back to the universities of medieval Europe,” reported the Associated Press. However, the same term being quite commonly used to refer the owners of slaves in America is a tragic reminder of the period and the atrocities that were committed on the slaves. In a note to students about the change, which was agreed to by all the masters, Harvard Dean Rakesh Khurana said as follows.

“The House Masters have unanimously expressed a desire to change their title. The desire to change this title has taken place over time and has been a thoughtful one, rooted in a broad effort to ensure that the college’s rhetoric, expectations, and practices around our historically unique roles reflects and serves the 21st century needs of residential student life.”

The “masters” are handpicked from university faculty. These respected members of the faculty personally oversee social and academic programs, ensuring they not just abide by the rules of the college and laws of the land, but also that the programs are in accordance to the institute’s long-respected traditions. A majority of the “masters” also serve as advisors for students assigned to a specific residence, known as a “college,” reported News Max.

Ivy League Colleges Harvard And Princeton Drop ‘Master’ Title In Favor Of ‘Head Of College’
(Photo by Emile Wamsteker / Bloomberg / Getty Images)

If the Ivy League’s not calling them “Master” anymore, what will the professors be referred to as? Princeton administrator Dean Jill Dolan had an answer ready. She said as follows.

“We believe that calling them ‘Head of College’ better captures the spirit of their work and their contributions to campus residential life.”

Interestingly, the master of Pierson College, Stephen Davis, had an additional grudge with the term “Master,” reported the Examiner. While urging students not to call him “Master Davis,” he added that the term was unnecessarily biased toward men. While it’s no secret that colleges in the old days didn’t have many female professors, times have changed significantly and hence the term might be considered offensive in more ways than one, he said.

“I think there should be no context in our society or in our university in which an African-American student, professor or staff member — or any person, for that matter — should be asked to call anyone ‘master’… And there should be no context where male-gendered titles should be normalized as markers of authority.”


While the term “Master” for professor has been dropped, there are several other titles with “Master” in them, most notably, “master’s house, master’s office, master’s aide, master’s tea,” among others. There could be many changes in the near future, because any term that is not considered “ethical and inclusive” should be changed, seems to be the consensus.

[Photo by Joe Raedle / Getty Images]