This fall, students at Yale University fielded the first Republican candidate in 20 years for Ward One alderman of New Haven, Conn. Ward one encompasses the majority of Yale’s central campus. Desperately seeking to overthrow the secure Democratic incumbent, Sarah Eidelson, student volunteers for the underdog Republican, Paul Chandler, canvassed campus with posters, fliers, and the like. However, their actions were met with administrative reproach and threats of discipline.
Yale officials asked Ben Mallet, a sophomore at Yale and Chandler’s campaign manager, to take down Republican campaign signs across campus. For failing to do so in the less-than-24-hour period requested, for postering in his dormitory, and for hanging a banner from his window without permission, he was sent to the Executive Committee, or ExCom, Yale’s disciplinary-review board.
I spoke with Mallet to confirm the reports. “We started to put up leaflets, put up posters, as did our opponents,” Mallet tells me. Posters of both campaigns were strewn throughout the campus’s residential colleges. Then Richard Schotten, the master of Mallet’s residential college, e-mailed Mallet directing him to take down all the posters because his office had not approved them. “Eidelson’s campaign wasn’t disciplined by Yale at all,” Mallet says.
Yale’s undergraduate regulations contain a full paragraph of explicit rules governing posters. “Posters may not exceed a size of 8.5 by 11 inches,” the regulations say. “Their use must be confined to regular bulletin boards, kiosks, and display cases. No more than one poster announcing the same activity may be placed on the same bulletin board or in the same area,” and posters may not announce positions or opinions.
I asked Richard Lizardo, currently a junior at Yale, whether students follow these regulations. “I am literally in front of a bulletin board with a poster twice the regulated size. . . . Oh, wait, now I’m looking at two other overly large posters,” he said. When I asked him whether students follow the other poster regulations, he said, “No, definitely not.” Another student, sophomore Dimitri Halikias, who had no stake in either campaign, tells me that the poster policy “is violated daily.” As to whether or not signs express political positions, Halikias says: “Last year it was impossible to go five minutes without seeing a ‘Yale for Obama’ sign, so I was shocked to learn that there was even a rule about expressing political opinions on posters.”
Separate from Schotten’s e-mail to Mallet, Associate Dean for Student Organizations John Meeske contacted Mallet and Chandler in the evening in late October requesting that they remove, by 8:30 the next morning, all posters in the administrative building where Meeske worked. Mallet failed to do so, and Meeske reported him to ExCom.
In another incident, Schottenfeld entered Mallet’s room, accompanied by a police officer, to remove the campaign banner hanging from Mallet’s window. He had previously asked Mallet to take it down himself. After removing the banner, Schottenfeld referred Mallet to ExCom.
I asked Mallet if he knowingly violated undergraduate regulations. “I don’t contest my guilt,” he says. “I did break the regulations. I only contest the fairness with which the regulations were enforced as well as the behavior of the administration throughout the process.”
Sarah Eidelson confirmed to me that her campaign was never contacted by the administration for poster violations and was not taken to ExCom. But she claims they made sure to follow regulations, with the possible exception of yard signs (she was not sure because she’d spent all of Election Day at the polls). “In the past election [in 2011], the administration made their policies about signage clear, so I tried to make sure we were not in violation of any of them,” she says.
Other students say, however, that the Democratic campaign violated undergraduate regulations in various ways: They put up posters larger than 8.5 by 11 inches, they put up large yard signs on Yale’s campus, and they posted within dormitories. Mallet says that Eidelson’s campaign “put up these enormous yard signs, bigger than our rally signs, all around university property” on the day of the election. “Because we had the administration breathing down our necks . . . I had decided to not use yard signs.”
Administration officials declined to speak about any individual case, though Paul McKinely, Yale’s director of strategic communication, offered general comments: “We routinely ask students to remove posters and banners for all kinds of different things. Trying to advertise a performance or a social event with a student group, students often, in ignorance of the rules, put up signs, usually on entryway doors and hallways.” The question nonetheless remains: Why was Mallet sent to ExCom while the Democratic campaign was left alone and while so many other students and groups are not punished for daily violations of the poster rules?
For Mallet, having received various e-mails from administration officials, significant punishment was a worry. The dean of Davenport College, Ryan Brasseaux, told him his punishment could be probation but also warned him not get his hopes up because it could be worse, perhaps suspension. “I was told to prepare for the worst and, for at least a few weeks, didn’t know what was going to happen,” Mallet says.
The proceedings of the Executive Committee are confidential, and Mallet adhered to his confidentiality agreement, expressing only his opinions and verifications of information that is publically known. We know that Mallet was not ultimately put on probation; nor was he suspended or expelled. However, Yale made him stand and defend himself before ExCom — when it did not require any representative of the Democratic campaign to do so — for the crime of violating regulations that both campaigns disobeyed and that the student population continually ignores.
“I just want to be sure that something like this doesn’t happen again,” Mallet says, “and that the administration doesn’t think it can get away with this kind of blatant selectivity.”
— Alec Torres is a William F. Buckley Fellow at the National Review Institute.