Magazine | August 1, 2016, Issue

Letters

Free Speech at Yale

Regarding the article “‘This Is Not a Debate’: Yale’s Fight for Free Speech,” (July 11), let me be perfectly clear: Yale University is committed to the free exchange of ideas and expression. Period.

In a speech to the incoming class of Yale freshmen and their families in 2014 — and in multiple writings and remarks since then, including my baccalaureate address this year — I have continually and emphatically reaffirmed Yale’s commitment to the principle of free speech as described by Professor C. Vann Woodward in the 1974 report of the Committee on Freedom of Expression at Yale: “Every member of the university has an obligation to permit free expression in the university. No member has a right to prevent such expression.” I reject the notion stated in the article that there is a “collision” between anyone’s belief in this principle and Yale’s devotion to diversity. Both are essential to the free exchange of ideas. Both are necessary to a university that seeks to be an incubator and reservoir of human thought and creativity.

Yale is a place where leaders are nurtured and ideas are forged and tested. We must teach, and we are teaching, our students that expressing those ideas and thoughts to one another — while sometimes uncomfortable — must be done without intimidation and without silencing the ideas and views of others. This is an educational institution, and while some students may try to refuse to hear provocative thoughts, our job is to enable them to listen and engage. And despite media reports to the contrary, Yale will continue to teach and enforce the principle that the answer to speech one finds offensive is more speech.

Peter Salovey

President, Yale University

Eliana Johnson responds: President Salovey declined to be interviewed for my article and agreed only to respond to a handful of questions via e-mail. He reveals in this letter precisely how he has contributed to the crisis of free speech on campus. The Yale administration operates with two faces: one turned outward toward alumni and other members of the general public, and one turned inward toward students and teachers on campus. Salovey has professed a commitment to free speech, while Yale College dean Jonathan Holloway has dismissed concerns about it entirely.

The idea that Yale’s commitment to free expression may come into conflict with other values — in this case, the administration’s desire to reassure restive students of its goodwill — is not merely, as Salovey suggests, a “notion stated in the article,” but an uncomfortable reality on which Woodward and his colleagues reflected 40 years ago. It is true today more than ever. The authors of the Woodward report called on the administration to communicate its “commitment to the principle of freedom of expression and its superior importance to other laudable principles and values.” Even in this letter — not to mention on campus over the last year — President Salovey has failed to do so.

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