The Corner

Culture

Yale Comes Down on the Side of Free Speech — and Mandatory Re-Education

First, the good news. It turns out that Yale has a bit more backbone than the University of Missouri and Claremont McKenna College, two schools that threw administrators under the bus in response to campus protestors’ absurd demands. Rather than fire Nicholas and Erika Christakas (Ms. Christakas came under fire for defending “offensive” Halloween costumes and Mr. Christakas was subjected to a now-famous temper tantrum from furious Yale radicals), Yale has issued a clear statement reaffirming their positions at the school. Via FIRE, here’s the Dean of Yale College’s email to students at Silliman College: 

We want to thank all of you who have been, and continue to be, in discussion about how Silliman College can move forward with a sense of shared values, as a community in which every person is respected and included. We thank all of you who join us in working toward this essential goal.

Both Nicholas and Erika Christakis remain committed to serving the college, and we fully support them in these efforts. They are exceptional teachers and scholars, with a longstanding and deep dedication to undergraduates.

We have met with Master Christakis, and we reaffirm our desire to have him lead Silliman College, making it a stimulating and inclusive place. We join him in his call for a spirit of generosity and a willingness to assume the best in others, even as we work to understand, honor, and discuss our differences.

By the standards of university statements in support of embattled professors and administrators (admittedly a low bar), this is about as unequivocal as it gets. Then, just as importantly, in a message to students Yale’s president reiterated the university’s “unshakeable” commitment to freedom of expression:

The very purpose of our gathering together into a university community is to engage in teaching, learning, and research — to study and think together, sometimes to argue with and challenge one another, even at the risk of discord, but always to take care to preserve our ability to learn from one another.

Yale’s long history, even in these past two weeks, has shown a steadfast devotion to full freedom of expression. No one has been silenced or punished for speaking their minds, nor will they be. This freedom, which is the bedrock of education, equips us with the fullness of mind to pursue our shared goal of creating a more inclusive community.

This is excellent, but soon after the capitulations begin — including a commitment to spend $50 million over five years to enhance faculty diversity. To be clear, this is money spent on top of decades-long efforts to scour the nation and the world for the best available minority scholars. Students have been storming administration buildings for years over faculty diversity, search committees engage in hand-to-hand combat over the best candidates, and $50 million — while a considerable expenditure – is but a drop in the ocean of money spent to diversify faculties. It turns out that one does not conjure world-class physicists out of thin air. And just so parents know how their tuition money is spent, Yale also pledges to “double” expenditures on the standard menu of cultural centers — the beating activist heart of campus radicalism. With this money, Yale is buying its meltdown.

But it’s not enough to spend millions more on diversity. No diversity program is complete without re-education:

Educating our community about race, ethnicity, diversity, and inclusion begins with the university’s leadership. I, along with the vice presidents, deans, provosts, and other members of the administration, will receive training on recognizing and combating racism and other forms of discrimination in the academy. Similar programs will be provided to department chairs, directors of graduate and undergraduate studies, masters and deans, student affairs staff, and others across the university.

In reality, this is sheer window-dressing. Subjecting already-liberal administrators to yet another set of PowerPoints on privilege is a complete waste of time. More distressing, however, is the pledge to expand and rework — among other things — “orientation” programs. Early re-education for college students often sets the parameters of acceptable campus speech, confusing students by labeling certain speech and ideas as outside the bounds of acceptable discourse without also instructing students on the meaning and necessity of academic freedom.

Overall, Yale could have responded with a bit more backbone to protesters’ overwrought, unreasonable demands. It will soon face another explosion. But as other colleges have demonstrated, it could have done much, much worse. Free speech endures, for now.

David French is a senior writer for National Review, a senior fellow at the National Review Institute, and a veteran of Operation Iraqi Freedom.

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