Politics & Policy

God and Woman at Yale

Yale has replaced “Lux et Veritas” with “Diversity and Sustainability.”

Two summers ago, I undertook one of the easiest fundraising campaigns ever: raising money for a student-organized conference promoting women leaders at Yale. I have yet to find a more politically correct and broadly accepted cause. The university-wide support for women was thoroughly impressive, with the contributions of over a dozen Yale departments and institutions totaling thousands of dollars.

That experience leads me to question the recent allegation that Yale violates Title IX. A complaint to the Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights (OCR), filed by 16 students and graduates on March 15, characterizes Yale as a “sexually hostile environment” — an environment that, as one of the complainants put it, “precludes women from having the same equal opportunity to the Yale education as their male counterparts.” It argues that the Yale administration has inadequately addressed sexual misconduct on campus, and it cites the university’s response to private cases — accusations of actual sexual assault — as well as public incidents — such as the offensive chants from Delta Kappa Epsilon (DKE) pledges on Old Campus last October.

On March 31, the OCR announced its plans to investigate Yale “for its failure to eliminate a hostile sexual environment on campus, in violation of Title IX.” The following day, Mary Miller, the dean of Yale College, wrote an e-mail to the Yale community stating that “Yale does not and will not tolerate sexual harassment” and that it was the university’s intention to cooperate with the OCR investigation. In the weeks since, Yale administrators have announced the establishment of a University-Wide Committee on Sexual Misconduct as well as an external Advisory Committee on Campus Climate. Administrators also hosted several “listening events” to solicit feedback from students. On May 17, Dean Miller reported the university’s decision to suspend the DKE chapter for five years.

Obviously, sexual misconduct is a serious issue, and offenders should be disciplined. But the characterization of Yale as a “sexually hostile environment” is profoundly inaccurate. If there is a campus more tolerant than Yale, I cannot imagine it.

To be sure, unmatched tolerance has unintended consequences. At Yale, the educational environment today is one in which all ideas are considered equal and tolerance too often means a lack of standards. Far more troublesome than the imagined “sexual hostility” is Yale’s departure from the idea that the purpose of an education is twofold: to transmit knowledge — including certain eternal truths — and to foster character development.

Instead, aimlessness characterizes the academic experience. Distributional requirements are minimal and shockingly flexible. There is no core curriculum to master. As for values, Yale now holds up the trio of tolerance, diversity, and sustainability. Is the extent of our moral courage displayed in the dining halls, where Meatless Mondays are offered, the ethics of paper cups and trays are put on trial, and politically correct coffee is the norm?

Today’s Yale answers questions with more questions and attempts to solve old problems with new committees. Skepticism — the essence of freedom of inquiry — is of critical significance in a free society. But it is not enough.

It is with this kind of appreciation of Yale’s flaws that we must approach the Title IX complaint. The claim that the OCR investigation “will challenge us to make Yale a model for cultural transformation” raises the questions: What culture? Transformation in what direction? Yale’s abandonment of its commitment to an education in which Western civilization is central in favor of a value-neutral buffet of ideas in which the truth receives little help has left it paralyzed by a self-imposed demand for political correctness. Any confusion in its treatment of sexual misconduct should not come as a surprise. Portraying Yale as a model for the rest of society to emulate is textbook arrogance.

In any case, is it really the proper role of government to promote laboratories of cultural transformation? Facing multiple wars and a national debt that exceeds $14 trillion, the United States has far bigger issues in play. If we truly want to help women, there are many important causes to work on beyond Yale, from human trafficking to illiteracy.

The argument that the complaint “should only serve to increase the pace” of changes to the sexually hostile environment it claims exists at Yale assumes that a government investigation will improve the situation. Since when has government intervention increased the pace of anything? When Eisenhower sent troops to Little Rock to enforce school integration?

But Yale is not Little Rock. Women are not denied access to classes, or organized sports, or other opportunities. The complaint at hand is, at best, an indictment of failed bureaucracies, not evidence of exclusion. To instances of sexual misconduct in the past, Yale has merely responded in a way natural for bureaucracies: slowly and not always successfully.

If task forces and unmitigated tolerance offered solutions, shouldn’t we expect the university, to borrow Ronald Reagan’s words, “to read the score to us once in a while”? Shouldn’t the feminists and multiculturalists report a decrease in behavior needing correction? Instead, alleged inequality grows greater, and committees more numerous.

The praise of the complaint by members of the Yale Women’s Center board is remarkable because the claim that the resources for those who have been sexually harassed or assaulted are inadequate may be interpreted another way: Perhaps the Women’s Center has failed as an institution. University administrators might rethink the role of the Women’s Center and consider devoting its resources to other initiatives to address sexual misconduct. The fact that Yale is quite unlikely to abolish the Women’s Center provides yet more evidence that it is not a sexually hostile environment.

The complaint unfortunately distracts us from larger related problems, including alcohol abuse — so often a factor in cases of assault — and the general crisis in higher education.

Men who state these facts risk of charges of sexism. The task falls to women, then, to stand up for God, for Country, and for Yale.

— Lauren Noble is a 2011 graduate of Yale University. She was the business chair of the Women’s Leadership Initiative at Yale. 

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