Hoya Historian Gets It Wrong

Matt Quallen is our favorite Hoya columnist due to his “Hoya Historian” columns which he uses to shine a light on overlooked aspects of Georgetown’s history.  It doesn’t even bother us that much when he approaches his task with a liberal frame and focuses almost exclusively on gays and race.  We learn a little each time we read him, and don’t doubt that if he pursues a career as a history professor or professional historian, he’ll be a success.  

However, his most recent column, on the discussion surrounding Mulledy Hall, needs a bit more perspective attached to it.  Mulledy Hall was named after Thomas Mulledy, S.J. who served twice as president of Georgetown.  He also sold 272 slaves when he was the Provincial General of the Maryland Society of Jesus.  It was an act he later came to regret.  As Quallen notes in a previous piece, “[a] contrite Mulledy came to expect that history would condemn him.  Of his ensuing humiliation he wrote that ‘no doubt I deserve it.’”  

Quallen writes in his current column that it is “almost achingly obvious” that “no student should have to occupy a building named in honor of someone who enslaved his ancestors.”  Using fellow students as a front, he questions why “had such a name stood for so long.”  Quallen has previously called on the University to rename Mulledy Hall after the slaves sold by its namesake.

At TGA, we don’t have a big problem with people who want to rename the building.  Frankly, we don’t see it as that important an issue.  We’re concerned with more pressing matters, like rising tuition, illiberal administrators, feminist hysteria, political professors who care more about indoctrination (see our piece on the Diversity Requirement), and the degradation of Georgetown’s Catholic identity.

That said, we know this whole issue is less about not honoring a man who sold slaves than it is about perpetuating the narrative that Georgetown is a racist, oppressive place, and that America is such a horrible, no good, horrible, horrible, horrible country.  This story is pushed incessantly in order to guilt society and our institutions into providing special treatment and more resources to various identity groups who behave like professional victims.  For that reason, we’re inclined to agree with President DeGioia in keeping the name while remembering and not shying away from our University’s history and the actions, both good and bad, of its various leaders. 

There’s another piece to this story we think worth considering, and it comes from a commenter to Quallen’s column, who writes . . .

“If you truly think that ‘no student should have to occupy a building named in honor of someone who enslaved his ancestors’ . . . [t]hen you should also think that these same students should not have to attend a university named after a town that was named after George II of England.  He was a proponent of colonialism and most likely committed war crimes during the seven years war!  Nor should they have to live in a Washington D.C. named after our great founding father because he was a slaveholder as well!” 

One might add that we should get rid of our school colors, the Blue & Gray, since they remember both sides in the Civil War.  And we should probably get rid of that Old North plaque memorializing the time President George Washington spoke to students from its steps, because, you know, he had slaves too.  John Carroll had two black servants, (one free, one slave), so we should remove his statue and rename the John Carroll Scholars Program.  Of course, if we’re to be consistent, we should most of all, as the previous commenter noted, get rid of Georgetown’s name.  Perhaps Michael Brown University would make people feel better?

Here’s the thing:  Mulledy was wrong.  He regretted it.  And he still did a lot of great things for Georgetown, and no doubt many others, both white and black, before he died.  He also played a key role in Georgetown's history at a time when the University was struggling.  If we’re to take one act of an individual and use it to define his or her entire life, then we should never name anything after anyone, since no one is perfect, including great men like Martin Luther King Jr., who we think deserves his monument on the National Mall, despite the fact he plagiarized his PhD dissertation and had numerous extra-martial affairs. After all, one may still be highly-regarded and worthy of recognition based on the bulk of their life's work, rather than one or two personal failings.