Sparks fly at open forum

A question-and-answer forum with President Richard Levin devolved Thursday night into a contentious dispute between Levin and nearly 200 students armed with questions about campus labor issues and other controversial topics.

Most questions centered on the ongoing contract dispute between Yale and its unions, particularly the unions’ attempts to organize graduate students and hospital workers.

The Yale College Council, which sponsored the forum, structured the discussion around questions that had been previously submitted. Before the event, YCC representatives said they expected to devote half the time to labor issues.

Audience members received red and green flyers with the words “Really?” and “I agree.” When students asked questions, audience members held up the green “I agree” signs. During Levin’s answers, the red “Really?” posters shot up. The mood became increasingly combative throughout the evening, and some students began hissing when Levin spoke.

Levin blamed the ongoing labor problems on the unions. If the unions were more concerned with their contracts rather than their own agenda and publicity, Levin said a deal could be reached in about a week.

“The unions made a strategic decision,” Levin said. “They did not want to close. They’ve basically run away from the bargaining tables since last May — The ball right now is in the unions’ court, not ours.”

Levin also said he did not think that a protest earlier in the semester, resulting in the arrests of 67 undergraduates, could be called civil disobedience.

“I don’t understand what was ‘civil disobedience’ about it,” Levin said. “It was, in other words, a public relations event.”

Students also asked about non-union matters.

Josie Rodberg ’03 asked how the University will ensure that more female and minority professors are hired and tenured.

Levin said the University had a special policy for recruiting minority and female professors.

“If there’s an outstanding African American in a field already filled by the English department, policy allows us to pursue that person anyhow,” he said.

Derek Lomas ’03 approached the dais with an initial remark before asking about technology.

“I feel like kind of a sellout here,” Lomas said.

“Is that because you’re a representative student?” Levin asked, provoking “oohs” from audience members.

During the open floor portions of the forum, several students asked questions about Yale’s investments and role in New Haven.

One student wondered whether Yale should disclose more of its investments.

Levin said that full disclosure “would hurt our investments” because the subsequent “gold rush” of copycat investors would “dilute [the University’s] opportunity to make money.” He said that the University discloses all investments required by law, but that there was no reason “to just go witch hunting” for possible investments that might be controversial.

Students also asked why the University did not donate money from the interest on its endowment to New Haven public schools — an issue union leaders raised in a controversial report last winter.

Levin said that Yale’s current system benefits New Haven.

“The city has no problem with the tax exemption,” Levin said. “It’s a non-issue — Yale contributes to New Haven more than any university to any other city.”

Students raised other issues, including the unionization of Yale’s graduate students, a minimum wage for University employees, and Yale’s position on the war in Iraq.

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