Silence U Part 2: What Has Yale Become? | We the Internet Documentary


[ROB] Welcome to Yale. This place, one of the most prestigious universities in the world, birthed what’s probably the most famous clip of the campus free speech controversies. [ANNOUNCER] “Early last week, a student confronted a head of one of Yale’s undergraduate residents…” [ANNOUNCER] This insufferable brat… [ANNOUNCER] You can’t wear the Halloween costume you want… [ANNOUNCER] How much speech is too much? [ROB] I had a suspicion that the public backlash missed what that outburst really meant: that the fixation on free speech ignored a deeper, darker scandal afflicting Yale. So I went there, and I found my scandal. What do you really know about the place that produces the people that run our country? Halloween 2015. An administrative committee sends out an email urging students not to wear appropriative Halloween costumes, and outlining some extremely broad rules. Yale lecturer Erika Christakis pushes back. She worries about creeping censorship and notes that, ‘the ability to tolerate offense’ is a central feature of a free and open society. Her email prompts a…disproportionate response. (chanting and yelling) [STUDENT] So important to give students of color a chance to heal from all the pain that we’ve been experiencing this week. [GRACE] People were so caught up in their own political bubbles that th ey were unable to realize, ‘wait, maybe she has a point?’ That we don’t have to rely on higher authorities to tell us how we should be dressing. [ROB] An open letter, signed by more than 700 students and faculty, condemns Erika’s email as ‘racist.’ Curiously, the letter was written by an undergrad who, that very Halloween, violated the committee’s rules with his Aladdin costume. Activists flocked to the courtyard of Silliman, the residential community where Erika’s family lives, to chalk taunting messages. Nicholas, her husband, comes out to meet them. Word gets around, and he’s surrounded. Nicholas is the head of Silliman and a superstar professor at Yale. A bestselling author, Time 100 nominee, and a regular on the TED talk circuit. [DOUGLAS] I had met Nicholas because he was a big recruit. He has a whole half a floor downstairs. And Nicholas is a great scientist who’s probably saving thousands of lives in the developing world. [NICHOLAS] To whom should we give these interventions so that, if they adopt the intervention, the whole village will adopt the intervention? [ROB] These are moves of power. Not moves of reason. [GRACE] One time I had this facebook message and it just started off with, ‘Grace, as a queer woman of color, you should not think this way.’ Who are you to tell me what I should think, just because of who I am? That’s like the very behavior you are trying to fight against when you talk about white heterosexual privileged males oppressing you and telling you what you should think. That’s exactly what you’re doing on to me. [NICHOLAS] I had intended to stay for most of the symposium, but the events that have occurred in the last 72 hours make that impossible. So I’d like to just close by welcoming you to the William F. Buckley program on free speech today, and, alas, I have to go. [GREG] You would think, given the reaction to what she had written, that she had actually wiped out an Indian village. [laughter] [GREG] Okay, so I think that just made my point. [ROB] Yale is supposed to combat, not cultivate, such self-righteous intolerance. This is, after all, the place that produced the Woodward report, the 1974 gold standard defense of academic freedom, that famously called universities places to ‘think the unthinkable,’ and ‘challenge the unchallengeable.’ Yale has manifestly failed to meet that noble goal. Now, why is that? What has this place become? [WILLIAM] My students who are most intellectually engaged, most intellectually thirsty, they would tell me that they feel that there’s no place for them at Yale. Because students, by and large, are not there to learn. [AMY] Yale has become, sort of all-purpose entertainment warehouse. A place to have a good time, rather than receive an education. [WOMAN] He brings in a whole bunch of really cute baby animals, and you can pet them. [MAN] There was a food parade and the egg-nog was amazing! [MAN] Then I get to know my residential college dining hall staff, and they can really accommodate my needs. [MAN] Got my own loom studio. [ROB] There are still pockets of genuine undergraduate intellectualism at Yale, but the predominant campus culture seems to be, uh, well… (singing) We eat there and we study and we joke and relax, (singing) and go to Masters’ Teas and study breaks for nighttime snacks. (singing) Ooohh (sighs) [WOMAN] They need all those offices to keep the fun, you know, going. [ROB] Last decade, while the Yale professor pool shrunk by 4%, the administrative squid monster grew by 25%, sinking it’s tentacles into virtually every facet of undergraduate life. [AMY] Administrators aren’t that committed to the search for truth, and they have a lot of power. [ROB] The squid monster is hungry. And it started chowing down on the very heart of the university. To see exactly how, we go back to the start. [DOUGLAS] I have been told that there were four Dean-level people, who were actually in the courtyard, and you would have expected one of those people to intervene, to defend the core values of respect. That didn’t happen. [ROB] Not just any administrators. That’s Burgwell Howard. That’s the dude that wrote the original email warning against wearing offensive Halloween costumes. What you’re witnessing is a head-on collision between what Yale was, and what it is becoming. Between the champions of the Woodward report, who properly see the freedom to provoke as an essential ingredient of learning, and the champions of the Gilded Camp, who want to beat back any challenge to students’ egos with bureaucratic controls. And the customer service mentality dictates that the most powerful person at Yale capitulate to this cannibalism. [DOUGLAS] Obviously our administration has been afraid to say that the incident that happened in the Silliman courtyard is not representative of Yale’s values. [PETER] In a kind of fundamental way, we’re all on the same page. We have to be. To create a environment that is most conducive to education and learning. [PETER] We want to be able to listen to each other. Hear each other. Respect each other. [PETER] It’s a very constructive conversation. (loud unintelligible conversation) [ROB] Most Yale students were disgusted by what happened in that courtyard. But, with the brave exception of Grace, none of them would come on camera. They don’t want to jeopardize their ascendance into America’s ruling class. As one anonymous undergrad explained to me, ‘the reason no one will talk to you is that there is no professional benefit to saying controversial or interesting things.’ Such cynical careerist calculations leave the squid monster free to feast. The administration launches a 50 Million dollar inclusivity initiative that includes, of course, the creation of a new Deanship. Nicholas leaves Silliman. Erika resigns from the university entirely. [DOUGLAS] These people were thrown under the bus. Nobody in power really defended then. [ROB] And they’re replaced by a leadership that sticks to peddling cookies and puppies. The scandal isn’t the outburst. [ROB] The scandal is that she’s absolutely right. [JONATHAN] (singing) There’s nothing you can do that can’t be done. Nothing you can sing that can’t be sung. Nothing you can say, but you can learn how to play the game. It’s easy. (speaking) All you need is love. Welcome to Yale. Welcome home.

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