The Tom Wolfe novel-in-waiting that is the saga of Nicholas and Erika Christakis has come to a disgraceful close.
The Christakises, whose opposition to micromanaging students’ Halloween costumes launched a month of protests at Yale University last fall, will step down as the heads (the title was “master” until earlier this year — but, you know, trigger!) of Silliman College effective in July. Nicholas will stay on as a tenured professor, but Erika will no longer teach at Yale. The Christakises issued a statement via Twitter:
— Nicholas A. Christakis (@NAChristakis) May 25, 2016
Last October, in response to a directive from the powers-that-be at Yale University encouraging undergraduates to favor culturally sensitive Halloween costumes, Mrs. Christakis sent an email to students at Silliman College suggesting that it actually might not be the business of university administrators to approve Halloween costumes. “Nicholas says, if you don’t like a costume someone is wearing, look away, or tell them you are offended. Talk to each other. Free speech and the ability to tolerate offense are the hallmarks of a free and open society.”
The reaction was, of course, apocalyptic. For the next few weeks, protests, mercenary demands on the administration, harassment of the Christakises (caught on video) and, of course, calls for their resignation abounded. (Your humble correspondent even fell afoul of protesters during a brief campus visit.)
In December, Erika Christakis announced that she would not be teaching during the spring semester. Now comes this news.
And who can blame them? For seven months the Christakises have lived constantly under the heat lamp of unmitigated SJW fury. They’ve received minimal support from Yale’s administration or from their colleagues. The response of most members of the Yale community has been to hope the controversy disappears, rather than tell the overgrown toddlers masquerading as college students to grow up (or, barring that, transfer to Berkeley). Why should the Christakises voluntarily continue in this thankless babysitting gig? They deserve better. It’s an indication of their large-heartedness that they’re not scorching the earth on the way out. They’d be within their rights to do so.
Unfortunately, their departure means that the bullying worked, and the tactic is now certain to be reprised. Who will be the next Erika Christakis, at Yale or elsewhere? It’s only a matter of time.
Conor Friedersdorf has a rightly disgusted summation at The Atlantic:
Yale activists felt failed by their institution and took out their frustration on two undeserving scapegoats who had only recently arrived there. Students who profess a belief in the importance of feeling safe at home marched on their house, scrawled angry messages in chalk beneath their bedroom window, hurled shouted insults and epithets, called for their jobs, and refused to shake their hands even months later, all over one email. And the couple’s ultimate resignation does nothing to improve campus climate.
What a waste.
This situation is unsustainable. Either universities can reassert some institutional spine, or they can save everyone time and go ahead and promote Professor DeRay to the chancellor’s office. In the former case, these institutions might be salvageable. But in the latter, self-respecting students and parents should abandon $60,000-a-year safe spaces in favor of institutions that actually practice free and genuinely critical thinking. And in time they will.