Yale’s ‘Hidden Curriculum’
What the attempt to keep the Army out of New Haven reveals.


Picture from an institution in the fall term of 2007.

Robert Burt, the Alexander M. Bickel Professor at Yale Law School, recently said that he was “disappointed” by an appeals-court decision that blocked the school’s efforts to ban military recruiters from its campus. “There’s no challenge left,” Burt told The Yale Daily News. “We fought [the government] as far and as powerfully as we could and we lost.”

The ruling Burt regretted followed the decision announced last year by the Supreme Court in Rumsfeld v. FAIR. (“FAIR” stands for Forum for Academic and Institutional Rights.) In an opinion that even the David Boies Professor of Law at Yale, Robert Post, conceded was “wickedly smart,” Chief Justice Roberts said that the Solomon Amendment, which obliges universities that accept research money from the U.S. government to permit representatives of the U.S. Armed Forces to recruit on their campuses, does not violate the universities’ First Amendment right to free speech.

Professor Post, however, was unconvinced by Roberts’s reasoning. The decision in Rumsfeld v. FAIR would, he said, have a detrimental effect on the universities’ “hidden curriculum,” a curriculum that is no less important, he maintained, than their “formal curriculum.”

Of course the fact that Yale Law School even exists today, as an institution dedicated to the rule of law, is due in part to the fact that American soldiers, sailors, Marines, and airmen have stood up to tyrants, Hitler and Stalin among them, who have aspired to rule the world. But putting that aside, what exactly is the “hidden curriculum” of the universities, the purity of which will be sullied if men and women in uniform are allowed on campus? Some recent developments illuminate it.

Harvard’s Roscoe Pound Professor of Law, Roberto Mangabeira Unger, demonstrated a core teaching of the “hidden curriculum” when, in September, he published Free Trade Reimagined, his latest diatribe against economic freedom.

In the same month, Princeton’s Class of 1943 University Professor of Religion, Cornel West, stood up for the aesthetic side of the “hidden curriculum” when he released his new hip-hop recording, Hip-Hop CD Never Forget.

The moral relativism of the “hidden curriculum” — its multicultural insistence that all cultures are created equal except for that of the West, which is suspect — was highlighted when, in September, a Harvard education Ph.D., Deborah Bial, was awarded a “genius” fellowship by the MacArthur Foundation for her educational work, which consists in banding students together in “multicultural teams, or ‘Posses,’” and dispatching them to colleges and universities.

Stanford contributed to the multicultural component of the “hidden curriculum” when its Center for Comparative Studies in Race and Ethnicity recently named its 2007-08 fellows, among them Roselyn Lee, whose contribution to knowledge is “Gendered and Raced ‘Bodies’ on the Net: Revealing and Challenging Social Identity Threat in Computer-Mediated Communication.”

At Harvard, the historical approach favored by the “hidden curriculum” is on view this month in a Civil War exhibit at the Fogg Museum intended to coincide with the inauguration of Harvard’s new president, Drew Gilpin Faust, an historian. The exhibit consists of engravings from Harper’s Magazine on which an artist, Kara Walker, another MacArthur Foundation “genius,” has superimposed “black figures in silhouette.” “We’ve been taught that the Civil War resolved racial tensions in this country,” explained Harvard’s Susan Dackerman, who helped organize the exhibit. “But you can also argue that the Civil War and the way the war was written about and portrayed has institutionalized our fantasies about race, violence, and sexuality.”


What do these disparate strands of the “hidden curriculum” have in common? The best way to answer the question is to compare them to the teaching they implicitly reject, that of the ancient Greeks, who invented the theory of education that for more than two millennia prevailed in the West.