Take a stand, President Levin

When we sat down to debate our first News’ View earlier this week, we turned, naturally, to you, President Levin — Yale’s leader. We wondered: What have you contributed to world and campus dialogue about the big issues and challenges of our time?

We couldn’t come up with a clear answer. Can you?

Consider this past month. Yale and Columbia both landed in the news — but for very different reasons.

By speaking out against Iran President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad during his visit to New York City, Columbia President Lee Bollinger triggered passionate international debate on everything from nuclear proliferation and anti-Semitism to free speech and social graces.

Meanwhile in New Haven, an endowment grew to $22 billion.

Bollinger made sure his voice was heard. And as a result, our undergraduate counterparts in Morningside Heights were engaged in the world and placed at the forefront of debate. We can recall at least one recent visit by a controversial foreign leader to Yale that seemed to incite more discourse among New Haven residents than your own student population.

A missed opportunity? We think so.

But hold the thought — and flashback to 1915. At the time, Yale President Arthur Hadley, on stage in Woolsey Hall, promoted, amid cheers, intervention in World War I. He encouraged students to join the military; he told reporters that Europe was in need of saving.

Or jump forward to 1969 as President Kingman Brewster campaigned for integration as the next step in higher education, criticized the military draft and voiced his distaste for the nation’s handling of the Vietnam War. Yes, some alumni scoffed — potential donations were lost — but Yale lived on.

In 2007, Yale’s leader seems hesitant to take a stand on much else besides the need for self-serving growth: As much as we admire you, President Levin, for your audacious vision, tangible successes in the sciences and 14 years (this month) of steady and tactful leadership — in the pantheon of Yale presidents you rank among the best — we are pleading with you to publicly tackle an issue without filtering it first.

Take your pick: the Yale-New Haven hospital unionization dispute, the Iraq War, China’s human rights violations, free speech on campus, voyeurism, the teaching of Western civilization, the United States’ proper place in the Middle East, women in the sciences, the state of city government. We want to know where you stand; and we want your stance to be genuine.

You have the ability, after all, to set the tone for the entire campus. Psychologists have been identifying this primal trait of community leaders since Yale College Dean Peter Salovey began work on his “Emotional Intelligence” construct. And today, we fear, the prevailing tone is fundamentally passive.

So in the next month, we hope you take strides — as only you can — to reactivate one of our university’s richest traditions: outspoken leadership.

The buck stops with you, President Levin, to ensure not just development at Yale, but discourse.

Comments