Media attention helps keep us honest

Yale students are now playing host to droves of visitors — their parents. In the tours they give their parents of Yale, the students will probably mention the beauty of the scenery, the academic strength of their classes, the fellowship with other students, the fact that $40,000 a year is well-spent. That last quality may seem cynical, but in a strange way it rings true. Perhaps because it is an unspoken element that underlies Parents’ Weekend. Parents come to see what life students have forged for themselves, and students eagerly show their parents a good time to demonstrate, among other things, that their money is being put to good use. While this transaction-based view of parent-child reunions clearly makes up only part of the Parents’ Weekend picture, it brings to light an interesting issue: Getting a Yale degree is not only an education, it is also an investment.

The desirability of a Yale stamp on the resume may be debated, depending on the career in question, but arguing that a Yale degree doesn’t increase employment options at all is a stretch. The prominence of Yale in academics, and in the national collective mind, has many benefits, but also some drawbacks. Among these drawbacks is the fact that many Yale scandals have legs as national stories. It stands to reason that if many leaders and academics come from a school, the entire nation will be interested in what happens at the school, at least to a certain extent. Furthermore, if these stories reflect badly on the school or its students, the value of the brand, or our nifty “Lux et Veritas” logo, decreases. Many Yalies know that the controversy surrounding former Taliban diplomat Rahmatullah Hashemi was covered in various newspapers, but they may not know that The New York Times has written about the joys of the then-exclusive Berkeley dining hall. This is not even including the frequent retrospective looks at the Yale lives of now-prominent politicians.

This trend of media attention on a school has a few implications. The first is that Yale students have a collective responsibility to further the value of the Yale brand. Despite being vague, this directive holds importance for all Yalies. Clearly, the undergraduate experience is about experimentation and reaching past comfort zones. So each individual must limit his own personal action, and not seek to do this for anyone else. The line between experimentation and immorality may be thin, especially in a school that draws on diverse social, economic and national backgrounds to compose its student body, but the first step is simply realizing the effect we can have on our investments. While we may not be able to agree on what is good, we ought to agree that it behooves us all to reflect, in our own way, the moral standard of the Yale brand.

Another implication is that it behooves the administration to continue to reflect the image of Yale as a sound place to educate future leaders. With many students trying to lobby for changes in policy, it ought to be encouraging that enough activism can draw national attention and, consequently, put more pressure on the administration to change. The Graduate Employees and Students Organization strike made The New York Times. Again, not everyone may agree on what policy will best serve Yale’s future, and the role of the administrator is to decide this path judiciously. But then again, the national, even international, attention Yale receives makes lobbying the administration easier; if something becomes a spectacle at Yale, it has a good chance of being a subject of the national media.

With all this talk of marketing a brand by upholding a high moral standard or by encouraging the administration to change policies, the conventional path to “demonstrating excellence” still exists. Yalies who go on to become politicians or activists, study in graduate school, or become artists all add value to the Yale brand. But with blogs and online journals becoming widespread, the ease with which Yale stories — such as resume padding, drunk fights or student election scandals — make it to national attention can only grow. And since we pay not just for the classes but also for the increased employability, it can only help to be as responsible as we find possible, and to encourage the administration to do the same.

Dariush Nothaft is a junior in Saybrook College. This is his first regular column.


  • ClaytonBurns

    August 1, 2011, 8:30 PM
    Opinionator Exclusive Online Commentary From The Times
    Does Philosophy Matter?

    Stanley Fish is a professor of humanities and law at Florida International University, in Miami. In the Fall of 2011, he will be Oscar M. Ruebhausen Distinguished Senior Fellow and Visiting Professor of Law at Yale Law School.

    Your Submitted Comments Display Name Clayton Burns Location Vancouver
    If this column is meant to be provocative, it is not. It is an example of the soporific mode. There is no content. Any more than in a Marc Hauser video.

    Philosophers have a habit of talking as if their words had meaning. They are just filling up the page. For no known reason. If this column were to disappear, it would be as if a single grain of millet had failed to fall and had made less than no sound. Professor Fish has mastered the art of saying far less than he means.

    If philosophers mattered, they would have designed by now a high school philosophy course to replace the SAT in New York state. I would front-load the vocabulary. The Penguin Dictionary of Philosophy. Not edging up to “Cognition,” I would teach Mark Ashcraft’s beautiful text of that name.

    Julian Young’s Nietzsche biography, with “Thus Spoke Zarathustra: A Book for Everyone and Nobody” (Oxford World’s Classics), would be central. Students would focus minutely on the IPad App for “The Waste Land” and the Yale annotations. Not avoiding language like African killer bees, we would master the COBUILD English Grammar, “The Turn of the Screw,” “Heart of Darkness,” and “The Scarlet Letter.”

    Flat sentences are one thing. Atrocious paragraphs are another. I suggest meditating on Twitter in UK Telegraph’s phone hacking live news blog. Writing for the Internet means 5-6 paragraphs per screen, a little under 600 words, concrete style. Not only are your paragraphs templates for tedium, you are infecting your readers with this obsolete way of writing.

    A philosopher imagines that the real world is his tissue paper. To what use he intends to put it, I will not say. We thus need to distinguish between Philosophy–of supreme value–and its practitioners–among the worst examples of humanity on the planet.

    Solipsism is not my mode. Solipsism is my mode. If Zeno wanted to argue that our sense of hearing is not very acute, he might have been right. Philosophers and barn owls should change places.