Branford master apologizes for altercation with student

Branford Master Steven Smith admitted he had “crossed the line” when reacting to a Men of JE prank in the Branford courtyard on Monday night, according to a statement sent to Jonathan Edwards and Branford students.

Smith has been accused of hitting Matthew Brimer ’09 with a plastic baseball bat while the freshman was participating in the Coalition of Midnight Assholes, an annual noise-making run organized by the Men of JE, a JE society that organizes acts of mischief. Brimer said Smith had confronted the COMA group immediately after they entered the main Branford courtyard, hitting him with a plastic baseball bat and grabbing from him a megaphone that had been duct-taped to his hand.

In the e-mailed statement, Smith did not discuss the incident in detail, but said he regretted what happened on May 1 and looked forward to better relations between the two colleges.

“While masters have a responsibility to respond to outside intrusions in their colleges, in this instance I crossed the line. I make no excuses and write to say as much,” Smith wrote. “In this instance I allowed my anger — thymos in Platonic terms — to get the better of me.”

Smith began his third five-year term as master of Branford this summer, when he was reappointed on the recommendation of a committee of college fellows led by Judith Colton, a history of art professor.

Silliman Master Judith Krauss, who chairs the Council of Masters, wrote in an accompanying statement that the council had taken the accusations seriously, reviewing eyewitness accounts of the incident and meeting with Smith and JE Master Gary Haller.

“As masters, we are expected to hold ourselves to a certain standard of reasoned and professional behavior even when confronted by disruptive student groups,” she wrote. “I regret that, in this instance, a line was clearly crossed.”

Haller said in an interview that he considered the matter resolved at this point. Brimer, who had previously said he would not file charges against Smith, said Thursday that Smith and Krauss’ statements were appropriate.

“The incident, if quite unprecedented, has been dealt with by the Yale administration in a dignified, professional and just manner,” Brimer said.

Brimer said he was frustrated by a petition, titled “Punish Master Smith,” that has been set up anonymously online. As a result of the petition, Brimer said, he has received numerous “abusive and defamatory” e-mails accusing him of responsibility for the petition, with which he said he has no connection.

In an email to the News, the authors of the petition said it was meant to call attention to the incident and that, following Smith’s apology, they decided to close the petition.

“Our intention from the beginning was to bring this matter the attention it deserved at a time when it was in danger of being swept under the rug,” they wrote in an e-mail signed “The Authors.” “We have no intention of continuing our campaign. Regarding Master Smith’s apology, it seems to have hit all the proper notes.”

Relations between Branford and Jonathan Edwards colleges have historically been tense, said Dani Lovell ’06, a former president of the JE College Council and a leader of the Men of JE. According to e-mails sent by Smith to Branford residents earlier this year, students from JE had placed prank posters in Branford, leading Smith to propose that the Branford College Council institute an “Adopt a JE Student” program.

“I regard JE’s action as a rather pitiful plea for attention, something like a child threatening to hold his breath,” he wrote. “Can Branfordians find it within themselves to come to the rescue [of] a small group of Yalies in distress who have been unjustly condemned to JE?”

The Men of JE’s campaign against Branford has deep roots. In 2002, the News reported that the group had posted hundreds of obscene flyers and spread Vaseline on the handles of doors throughout the college, according to the accounts of witnesses and participants.

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