Commentary Magazine


Re: Fashions in Forbidden Speech

David’s post below certainly shows the chill on speech that politically correct social theories can exert. For those concerned about this trend, Peter Berkowitz’s Wall Street Journal piece about Yale should be a must read. In short, some Yale students—upset at some students’ loutish behavior—have sparked a federal investigation into whether the university harbors a hostile sexual environment. What Berkowitz doesn’t say is that the investigation is only one of many now underway at America’s most elite universities.

Yale President Richard Levin has made conflict avoidance the hallmark of his two-decade tenure. The university’s lawyers now direct policy more than faculty. The Yale Corporation, nominally Yale’s governing body, has been more than willing to subordinate free speech to political considerations, a practice that has led Yale now to find itself ranked among the worst universities in the country for free speech issues.

If there’s one lesson Yale should impart upon its students, it is that the proper response to any students’ insensitivity is argument, not lawyers. At Yale and after, students should not go running to Big Brother, and neither the administration (nor the Federal Government) should not allow itself to be used that way. Rather than legislate against the possibility that any Yale student will find his or her feelings hurt by another students’ words, Yale should simply encourage the students to respond with words of their own. Yale has no shortage of publications, after all. If Yale women feel themselves hurt by the speech of any Yale upperclassman, they should take to the pages of any Yale publication to name and shame those to whose loutish behavior they take offense. If I googled a potential hire and read that he had chanted, “No Means Yes and Yes Means Anal,” any further consideration of him would stop immediately.

Richard Levin may assess himself by the money he raises, but he is misguided. True leadership would have him stand up to the federal government and to the special interests for which there is always a reason to suppress free speech. And if Levin must direct Yale lawyers to take on the government in its various encroachments upon campus life, there could be no better use of 0.01 percent of Yale’s multibillion dollar endowment.

If administrators stopped trying to regulate every aspect of Yale life and the feelings Yalies should have toward one another, then Yale could trim perhaps two-thirds of its administrators and reinvest that money in education programs and research or, better yet, lower tuition to below inflation. Now that would be a legacy to be proud of.

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