I have written three times in the past couple weeks about the protests at Yale University, my alma mater, about the protests which erupted in the wake of a faculty member’s email basically arguing that administrators should not weigh in on the cultural sensitivity of Halloween costumes.
My first piece argued against the growing condemnation of “cultural appropriation” as a sin.
My second essay suggested that university administrators at elite schools might achieve more diversity of thought and experience by encouraging combat veterans to enroll. Whether such veterans were from the left or the right, at the very least they would serve as a reality check to some academic theories which have divorced themselves from the real world, and veterans would also liven up seminar discussions by injecting experiences and perspectives to which most students have never been exposed.
My third blog post argued that Yale University and its peer institutions should require students to write about when, if and under what circumstances should society, institutions, or the law curtail free speech. Students might provide a wide variety of answers to such questions, but the answer would both reflect and commit students to an intellectual environment protecting free speech and discourse, even if uncomfortable.
As protests morphed into something larger, student activists at Yale delivered a petition to University President Peter Salovey. From the Yale Daily News:
At close to midnight on Thursday night, roughly 200 students marched to University President Peter Salovey’s home on Hillhouse Avenue under a new name — Next Yale — wielding a new set of demands. The students said the new movement will hold Yale accountable to its students of color and that a diverse coalition of students crafted the new demands, which supersede those put together by the Black Student Alliance at Yale and presented to administrators more than a week ago. The new demands, which were read aloud to Salovey in front of his home, call on the University to develop ethnic studies, increase support for the cultural centers, address mental health issues for minority students and remove Nicholas and Erika Christakis from their respective positions as master and associate master of Silliman College. The students demanded an administrative response by Nov. 18.
The Yale Daily News now reports that Salovey has acquiesced to some of the demands:
Following University President Peter Salovey’s Tuesday announcement of an expanded role for Yale’s four cultural centers and a doubling of their budgets, students and administrators are discussing the ways in which specific changes can be made to improve the centers’ mental health resources, physical facilities, and staffing levels. According to Salovey’s campus-wide email, titled “Toward a Better Yale,” the University’s four cultural centers — the Afro-American Cultural Center, the Asian American Cultural Center, La Casa Cultural and the Native American Cultural Center — will each see their program budgets double to help them better support undergraduates and extend their resources to graduate and professional students. Addressing calls for better mental health resources catered to the experiences of minority students, Salovey also announced that mental health counselors from Yale Health’s Mental Health and Counseling department will schedule specified hours at each cultural center. Additionally, MH&C staff members will receive multicultural training, and the administration will also work to diversify the group of clinicians.
Let’s put aside the fact that Salovey appears to acquiesce to a demand that black students only want to see black psychiatrists. A more basic question is why the university should be funding any cultural center whatsoever. This doesn’t mean that cultural centers shouldn’t exist — they most certainly should — but if Yale wants to cultivate a new generation of student leaders and if those student leaders want to become activists in culture as defined by ethnicity and race, then why shouldn’t the students do the organizing themselves instead of expecting spoon-fed affirmation by university-salaried staff? Indeed, as universities produce more Ph.D.’s than the teaching market can bear, many Ph.D.’s instead enter the administrative track. As university administrations bloat, the growing layers of bureaucracy suppress if not drown out student initiative and space for students to demonstrate leadership and learn the basic business and organizational management skills that will best suit them in the real world.
So here’s a proposal: The space for cultural centers already exists. Let the students make of them what they will but the university should better apply its money to the central mission of the university — academics.