A few weeks ago, I noted the many fallacies inherent in, and the politicization of, Yale’s so-called “Week of Service.” This week brings a coda to the story. The “Week of Service” was co-sponsored by the Yale College Council, the official student government body, and Dwight Hall, the home of Yale’s “community service and social justice groups,” as the Yale Daily News tellingly put it. The service activities were blatantly political, including, for example, lobbying the legislature to pass a specific bill creating universal health care in Connecticut. And, of course, all were equally partisan: no conservatives or conservative causes mentioned.
One of the defenses offered of this kind of activity is that, technically, Dwight Hall is independent from Yale. Of course, that does not apply to the Yale College Council, so regardless of Dwight Hall’s status, Yale undergraduate organizations were being provided with financial support from the university and encouragement from high ranking officials at Yale, to lobby openly for legislation. This was a violation of the university’s rules for funded undergraduate organizations, and could be construed as threatening the non-profit status of Yale itself.
But, as this week has shown, Dwight Hall’s ties with Yale run deep. Yesterday, for example, students in Silliman College received a message — the second in the series — from the Master of the College, Prof. Judith Krauss, urging them to “Check out a great opportunity to give back: the Dwight Hall Senior Class Gift!” And why should students give to Dwight Hall? Because, “With your help, the Yalies of tomorrow can get the experiences they need to become leaders and advocates for the public good.” Amusingly, Master Krauss ends her missive by stressing that “Dwight Hall is an independent organization.”
So if it’s independent, why is Yale officially encouraging students to give money to it? Shouldn’t that be left up to the students? Why is Yale eager to encourage students to give to an organization that espouses a relentlessly political and partisan vision of service? Doesn’t that, yet again, imply that Yale endorses the causes this organization employs its money toward? And why does Master Krauss bestow her official blessing of “leadership” and “the public good” on these causes? Is that not a misuse of her office, which requires her to stand for her college as a whole, not to take official political positions which — inevitably — will not be shared by all her students?
What should Yale do? Stop it. Stop promoting service. If students want to do it — however they define it — on their own, that’s excellent. But any effort to promote “service” will be politically unbalanced. And even if Yale could somehow magically achieve balance, it should still not be in the business of funding — with dollars or encouragement — what amounts to political activity, be it liberal, communist, conservative, or libertarian.
What students do on their own time, with their own funds, is their business, as long as it doesn’t break the law. But universities have quite enough to do to educate their students. Instead of passing the plate for liberal “service” organizations, college masters — like the rest of Yale — should stick to the basics. That is, stick to the books, and the rich and apolitical social and cultural life that, at its best, makes college at Yale such a rewarding experience.