In an indignant op-ed in today’s New York Times the rector and president of the Central European University, a private American-Hungarian graduate institution located in Budapest, denounces a move by Hungarian President Victor Orban to impose new rules on the university. The writer, Michael Ignatieff, thinks the American government and the EU authorities should rebuke and somehow counteract what he sees as an attack on academic freedom.
But America has trouble with academic freedom on a front much closer to home — if the term includes freedom for anyone to voice an opinion in the academy. Yesterday we featured We the Internet film-maker Rob Montz’s account of the collapse of free speech at Brown University (and linked back to an incredible debacle at Middlebury a month ago). Today Montz takes us to Yale and shows us what has become of one of the world’s leading academic institutions –starting with an uproar, unbelievably, about Halloween costumes.
In 2015, a video of Yale’s “shrieking girl” screaming at Professor Nicholas Christakis exploded across the internet. The cause was a letter his wife, professor Erika Christakis, had written questioning the university’s Halloween costume guidelines. The guidelines were designed to protect racial and cultural sensitivities on campus.
A year after the blow-up, Erika and Nicholas Christakis had both left their administrative positions and Erika (who is by no means conservative) had also ceased teaching her class on “The Problem Child” (though it was evidently more necessary than ever!). Montz takes up the story:
Even though Yale created more administrative posts to placate students, says Montz, nobody in the administration explicitly backed Yale’s supposed core values of academic freedom and open dialogue outlined in its own Woodward Report of 1974, a gold standard of academic principle.
A former Yale professor tells Montz, “students by and large are not there to learn.” Professor Amy Wax of the University of Pennsylvania – a Yale alumna – backs his view. The university even promotes itself as a good-time place. Last decade, while the Yale professor pool shrunk by 4 percent, the administration, providing more and more services to “look after” students, grew by 25 percent. The president himself has capitulated to the customer service mentality, says Montz.
“It is not about creating an intellectual space!” the screaming girl told Nicholas Christakis in November 2015. “It’s about creating a home here!” The Dean of Yale serenading newbies with a song and, “All you need is love. Welcome to Yale. Welcome home,” evidently agrees.
Carolyn Moynihan is deputy editor of MercatorNet.