Next Thursday, for the first time in recent history, classes will be officially cancelled at Yale when Chinese President Hu Jintao visits campus to speak at Sprague Hall.
Due to security concerns surrounding Hu’s visit, most classes and academic appointments between 8 a.m. and 2 p.m. will be cancelled, Yale College Dean Peter Salovey and Graduate School Dean Jon Butler announced in an e-mail to students Tuesday night. When Hu comes to Yale, police will block roads and close buildings, making it difficult for students and faculty to maintain a normal schedule, the e-mail said. University Secretary Linda Lorimer said only about 200 students and faculty will attend the address in Sprague Hall, a venue which Chinese officials requested for security reasons.
“We did not go into these meetings thinking that canceling all classes was necessary,” Yale President Richard Levin said. “We knew that we would have a problem with classes in the immediate vicinity of Sprague Hall, but this really came out of the faculty discussion, that this seemed like the best solution.”
In a separate e-mail to faculty members, Butler and Salovey said instructors have three options for making up cancelled classes: rescheduling course meetings for the first day of reading period in December, scheduling course meetings 10 hours later on Sept. 8 or finding another date and time for the make-up course meeting that all students can attend.
In contrast to the six to eight months they had to prepare for recent visits by U.S. President George W. Bush ’68 and former U.S. President Bill Clinton LAW ’73, Yale officials received confirmation of Hu’s visit only about nine days ago after months of “strong signals” that Hu would accept the University’s long-standing invitation to speak in New Haven, Lorimer said. Consequently, even the highest-ranking Yale officials are still unaware of many details of Hu’s visit, including what subject the Chinese president will address and the exact nature of the disruptions to campus, she said.
“It’s like solving a quadratic equation when you don’t have several of the variables,” Lorimer said.
Officials at the U.S. Embassy in Beijing and the Chinese Embassy in Washington, D.C. said yesterday they are unfamiliar with what topic Hu will address during his speech at Yale and much of the itinerary for his 12-day trip to the United States, Canada and Mexico, but the Chinese Embassy confirmed Hu will attend a summit at the United Nations from Sept. 14 to 16 marking the 60th anniversary of the world body and will meet with Bush at the White House on Sept. 7.
“We don’t have a title or topic for his speech, but I think were expecting he’ll at least in part address the questions of Sino-U.S. relations,” Levin said.
Inside Sprague Hall, Hu will deliver a speech in Chinese which will simultaneously be translated into spoken English, Lorimer said. Lorimer said about 100 seats will be made available for students and at least another 100 for faculty members. George Joseph, Yale’s assistant secretary for international affairs, said Tuesday he expected invitations to faculty to go out Tuesday afternoon and student invitations to begin going out today, at the earliest.
While tickets to Clinton’s 2003 address in Woolsey Hall were distributed to students by a lottery, the University has crafted an exclusive guest list for admission to Sprague Hall for Hu’s address. The 12 residential college masters, deans of Yale’s major schools, and select faculty and students whose studies have focused on China will receive first priority on the guest list, Lorimer said.
For those not invited, the speech will be available live on Yale’s television network in Chinese and in English, and Butler and Salovey will also host a viewing of the speech on a large screen in Payne-Whitney Gymnasium.
Details of these events and a link to Hu’s biography can be found on a newly created Office of Public Affairs Web site. The site features China’s flag and national colors along with an overview of Yale’s historical ties to China.
With the exception of Martin Luther King Day, classes at Yale meet every day outside of scheduled vacation breaks. Visits to campus by Bush and Clinton called for similar security precautions, but did not disrupt campus the way Hu’s visit is expected to.
Many students said they thought canceling classes for most of the day was unnecessary, while others said they understood why security for Hu’s visit would have to be high.
“Some people were very shocked and think it’s ridiculous, and other people think it makes a lot of sense, with him being a foreign leader,” Claire Pavlovic ’07 said.
The U.S. Secret Service, University Police, New Haven Police and Connecticut State Police are working to secure the campus for Hu’s visit, but Yale Police Lt. Michael Patten declined to elaborate on which streets and buildings may be closed.