President George W. Bush ’68 announced on Friday that University President Richard C. Levin was one of seven members of a newly formed committee to look into possible intelligence failures in the war in Iraq. Later that same day, Levin gave a press conference to a small audience in Woodbridge Hall, while about 20 students huddled outside its doors, chanting, holding signs, and calling Levin an unsuitable candidate for the position.
We are confused by the seemingly meaningless protest. Although somewhat surprising, Levin’s appointment to the committee seems a smart decision, and we believe Levin will serve fairly and honorably in his position. Opposition to his appointment seems to contain more empty rhetoric than substance, and we can’t understand its vehemence.
Opponents to Levin’s appointment have used varied rationales. Some say his relationship to Bush is too cozy, noting Levin’s previous stay in the White House and Bush’s reciprocal stay in Levin’s home. Others have criticized his inexperience with intelligence issues. (In fact, only one of the seven people who have so far been named to the committee have previous intelligence experience.)
We are baffled by the misguided nature of the protest. It seems the students were protesting for the sake of protesting, without giving adequate attention to the issue. Indeed, there seems to be a general misunderstanding of Levin’s politics on campus. If all you know about Levin is that he is an economist and that he — appropriately, given his position as president of Yale — stood up for the University’s interests in last year’s strikes, it might be easy to assume he’s a steadfast conservative. But Levin is more liberal than he is conservative, and we’re not sure why campus liberals would oppose the selection of a fellow liberal to a committee to investigate gaps in U.S. military intelligence. We just don’t understand why Levin’s appointment, an honor for him and for the University, has spurred a round of liberal knee-jerk reactions.
Too much has been made of Levin’s personal relationship with Bush. We have serious doubts that Levin was offered this position because of a purported cozy relationship with Bush. Levin is a respected economist and academic, and as the head of a major university, has become an increasingly important national figure. It’s a shame that some students so virulently believe that Levin would unfairly influence the committee out of a perceived personal loyalty.
Levin did not seek out this new position, but he seems an excellent choice for it. He has served on numerous other commissions, dealing with issues ranging from baseball to the post office. Of course, those positions may bear little similarity to the one in front of him, where he and six to eight others will likely have to pore over pages of documents and fill in gaps where information is missing. It’s a difficult task, but an excellent one for an academic. Levin is extremely intelligent, and we believe his voice will be a valuable one on the committee.
Although the committee’s relative inexperience with intelligence issues is a fair criticism, in Levin’s case, his very removal from such issues only strengthen his position on the committee. On a committee full of those with former careers in government, Levin is a citizen instead of an insider, and will be able to hold the government accountable without any personal interests at stake. On the committee, Levin’s academic experience and intellectual approach will speak for itself. His politics have been unfairly vilified because of the University’s relations with its unions, but regardless of his personal politics, Levin will bring an intelligent and balanced voice to the committee. It’s too bad some students seem so opposed to that.