By banning exhibit, Salovey upholds Eli values

I was shocked and appalled when I opened the News yesterday. After Monday’s call for Peter Salovey to step down for his “hypocrisy,” I expected to find the entire newspaper comprised of guest columns and letters to the editor in defense of that noblest of mustachioed deans.

Although I had planned in this space to pen a column that would simultaneously chastise Rumpus for mocking my fedora, burn all bridges I had left to organizations at Yale and propel myself to international infamy and an interview on CNN, I am willing to leave it all behind to defend one of the greatest academic professionals I have ever known.

One of the features of Yale I adore most is the degree of autonomy that it offers its students. There are no RAs in our dorms, only freshman counselors who are more like older siblings than law enforcers. The fire code is not strictly enforced. The alcohol policy is quite liberal; I still remember the smell of beer overpowering the air as I walked through Old Campus on Friday nights during my freshman year.

Yale even finances student organizations through the UOFC and art projects through the Sudler fund. I have benefited from both during my time at Yale; to be sure, the projects would not have been completed without the official backing.

In fact, for one such film project, Dean Salovey himself took 30 minutes out of his schedule to play a part in the Van Hellsing saga produced by Archaeopteryx Beast Studios. As all of the lead characters wear large fake beards, it seemed necessary to include another person of such distinguished facial hair. On a lark, I asked Dean Salovey to join us, and he said he would be honored. Completely in character, and while wielding a plastic lightsaber, he helped fight off the forces of evil led by Lord Torrentius and Darth Raptor.

Maybe Dean Salovey was too busy being the Coolest Dean on Earth to read over every senior project proposal. Or maybe he believed that he could delegate the role to each department, where hopefully Yale professors would be able to make competent decisions.

Yale plays by the most ancient of all rules: no blood, no foul. There’s plenty of wiggle room for elbows and double dribbles, but when you show up with an art project made of blood, you have violated that rule. No matter what you think about abortion, a cube covered in human blood is generally prohibited (and always obscene).

I admit that I was concerned when the story broke that the University might allow Shvarts’ “art” to go on display. But I am extremely proud of Yale’s actual reaction. Leadership quickly confronted the artist and attempted to ascertain the truth. (Although, apparently the subjectivity of truth is also part of Shvarts’ project — along with moral bankruptcy.)

When Shvarts tried to wiggle her way past, the University held firm. Unless she put in writing that the project was creative fiction, nothing was going on display. Even the professors involved, who knew of the project and allowed it to proceed, have been disciplined.

Thank you Dean Salovey for laying down the law. In the process, the University taught us about the limits of freedom. As Supreme Court Justice William O. Douglas once put it, “My freedom to move my fist must be limited by the proximity of your chin.” Shvarts’ project certainly limited my ability to eat my lunch while reading the News last Thursday. When other people must be taken into consideration, unfettered freedom evaporates: For Shvarts to claim her project is art and yet to so utterly alienate her audience is for her to leave art entirely behind.

As a good Eli, Shvarts should comply with the administration’s demands rather than try to be a martyr for art. Salovey’s conditions are not unreasonable; Shvarts’ point could still be made if she admitted the exhibit was fake. If it is real and she has, in fact, been storing blood and tissue for nine months, then it should not be on display — for public health reasons, if nothing else.

Thank you, Dean Salovey, for preventing someone from putting blood in a box and then employing big words to pass it off as art. I am confident that as long as you are in charge, my pride in Yale and its values will remain strong.

Brian C. Thompson is a senior in Branford College. This is his final column for the News.

Comments

  • oh please

    Aliza got approval for her project from people who were representing Yale. It is stunningly hypocritical for Salovey to suddenly nix the project and prevent her from exhibiting her work because he suddenly feels "appalled."

    Since when do we care about the moral sense of a Dean? What about academic responsibility, legal considerations and artistic value? Why is no one thinking about those?

  • Anonymous

    Hear hear!

  • Ben Kisaz

    Mr. Thompson,
    I think you should consider joining the Salovey youth. Please respond here.
    http://thegarlic.org/node/10

  • Anonymous

    I don't see how it's hypocritical of Salovey… it's not like he approved the project. And all approval gets you is the guarantee that you'll get credit if you do the work you said you were going to do satisfactorily (I certainly don't expect my 40 page thesis to be put in the gallery, or to get published by the Yale University Press). As far as I know, the University isn't denying Shvarts credit, so they're being perfectly consistent.

    I don't even know what you mean by academic responsibility except a regard for freedom of inquiry… but that regard ends where public safety begins (possibly STD-infected blood= BIOHAZARD).

    Legal considerations? I promise you, the only legal consideration here is whether or not Yale could be sued for putting that biohazard up (Shvarts and her family can already sue them for allowing her to put her life and reproductive healthy at risk). The 1st Amendment only refers to Congress, not the Yale administration, and even if it did… its Yale's gallery, they can hang whatever they want.

    This really doesn't need to have anything to do with Dean Salovey's moral sense… public safety justifies not hanging the piece.

  • Anonymous

    What a myopic, unintelligent, and incredibly puerile response to Chase Olivarius-McAllister's call for Salovey's resignation. While I completely disagreed with some of Chase's arguments I found her approach incredibly cogent and respectful. No matter how much you hate Shvarts' piece to simply refuse to speak about intelligently fails to walk away from this experience with anything meaningful. We can all walk away from the most devastating events having learned something or having thought critically about it. But such terrible lines as "maybe dean salovey was to busy being the Coolest Dean on earth to read over every senior project proposal" or the incredibly sycophantic " Thank you Dan Salovey for laying down the law" is a waste of space in the YDN. It felt like a 14-year-old had written this op-ed which I don't appreciate when it comes to matters that are so delicate such as this. YDN I know you have someone out there who could've written a fantastic piece against the Queen of articulate radical feminist arguments herself, Chase. Thumbs down.

  • SM

    Never have I been prouder of Yale than when Dean Salovey drew the line and said such an abhorrent display would be not be tolerated on this campus. The responsibility of the academy is instruction, and part of instruction is the rigorous application of standards. The moral sense of Dean Salovey is to be applauded, for if we do not expect standards of morality from the stewards of education, we have no hope of seeing the educated exhibit any sense of morals.
    Academic freedom does not mean that anyone in the academy can do whatever they want and expect immunity from consequence or opposition. In making the hard choice of prohibiting Shvarts' display, Salovey has exercised the academic freedom for which his detractors so stridently clamor: The freedom to say "No. Yale will not stand by such things".

  • Thanks

    Dean Salovey was academically responsible, morally in the right and goes on as a great Dean. Thanks Dean Salovey and thanks to the author of this column, finally some normal people are writing for the news!

  • DoodleLover

    #1, I imagine that this infernal affair (no pun intended - I'm pro-choice!) proceeded under one of the following scenarios:

    1. Aliza got approval for her project by explaining that the whole piece will be a performance art, and that she never planned to abuse her body in the process. Then she went ahead and actually carried out the deed.

    2. Aliza got approval for her project by explaining that the whole piece will be a performance art, and that she never planned to abuse her body in the process. And it really was just performance art, and there was no blood - thus, no foul.

    In either of the above scenarios, Dean Salovey's actions were completely justified. First of all, it's very likely that the Yale administration still doesn't know for certain whether Aliza's project is fabricated - what, do you expect them to take her word for it? In this case, asking her to sign a statement claiming as such is a reasonable request, as it places the trust (and the inherent legal burden) on her.

    On the other hand, if the Yale administration HAS examined her work, then we must conclude that Aliza's project WAS fabricated. If her claims were true (if Dean Salovey actually knew that the cube was covered in blood), there is no way that he would have allowed it to go on display, no matter what kind of statement Aliza was willing to sign. Since there was no real blood involved, in this case, Dean Salovey has every right to ask her to sign a statement and make clear to the public that Yale is not knowingly exposing its students, professors and other guests to biohazardrous material.

    Now let's consider one last possible (and unlikely) scenario:

    3. Aliza told her faculty advisor(s) that she planned to carry on this project that could potentially do irreparable harm to her body WITHOUT consulting a doctor, and somehow, these professor(s) approved the project.

    In this scenario (even more so than the others), Dean Salovey not only has the right, but a responsibility to step in and say "enough is enough." The advisors and Dean Salovey both represent the university, but in very different capacities. You can't accuse him of hypocracy when, in fact, he merely exercised sound judgment and did his job. If the professors actually approved the project with the understanding that Aliza actually planned to inseminate herself and then take abortion pills repeatedly, that terrible judgment cannot be blamed on Deam Salovey.

    If you blame Dean Salovey for hypocracy on this ground, then you are suggesting that once a Yale affiliate makes a bad decision on behalf of the university, then the rest of the community cannot step in to rectify the situation without resorting to hypocracy.

  • Old Blue '73 (and Branfordite)

    Well, Brian, I don't suppose you and Chase are suite-mates in Branford.

    #4- "I found her approach incredibly cogent and respectful."

    How can you say calling the dean a liar, without any apparent evidence other than Shvarts' vague statement that the whole of Yale's disclaimer was "ultimately inaccurate", respectful? If Salovey could prove he was not lying, he would have a case of libel against her, though I doubt he's that small-minded a person. Her factual statement that Salovey was lying was unsupported speculation and therefore not only disrespectful but also irresponsible.

    Chase is entitled to her outrage. I gather from reading YDN this year and from reading her previous articles still available through this site that she is often outraged.

    There is room to disagree about Salovey's decision and how he handled it. It's hardly something outrageous. I happen to agree with it and with Brian.

  • A.C.

    "Shvarts’ project certainly limited my ability to eat my lunch while reading the News last Thursday."

    Comments like these are what's wrong with you and all the other morally righteous people on this campus. I'm quite certain that you enjoyed your lunch on Thursday, unless you had some particularly bad dining hall food. Can you stop pretending that other people's actions, even when they are literally harmless (and, especially, harmless to yourself)? Shvarts wasn't going to put up her exhibit in your living room; you were never going to have to see it. And if you were so disgusted by it, you should've stopped when you saw the YDN headline last week and you wouldn't have had to read about it.

    This is all the worst kind of "look at me!" egotism. Surely, if you're SO appalled by something SO horrible, you must be a good, sensitive person with impeccable morals. Forgive me if I'm not impressed. You sicken me more than Shvarts -- but at least I'm not silly enough to say that I'm going to lose my appetite over it.

  • Anonymous

    Wonderful column, Mr. Thompson! People like Chase and #5 are way too busy sounding like pedantic jerks to realize that NOBODY AGREES WITH THEM. Salovey totally did the right thing here, and if anybody is a hypocrite it's Chase. She wasn't so interested in free speech when those Zeta Psi guys took that photo. The administration did the right thing in that instance and in this one. Chase looked pretty childish and petty calling for Salovey to be fired. #5, get off your high horse, seriously.

  • Brian Thompson

    While I cannot claim to be uninfluenced by my values (although I am not a fan of the government telling people what to do with their bodies), I just want to specify that if anyone can read about 9 months of blood and tissue rendered onto a cube with saran wrap and not feel somewhat queasy, you really have nerves of steel that I never will. In all honesty I read the YDN over dinner and the thought of a giant cube covered in months of blood made me feel ill. I'm not claiming to have any moral highground, just a lack of intestinal fortitude.

    I strongly encourage continued debate via letters to the editor if you want to talk about these issues further, but calling me myopic and puerile on the YDN comments is also pretty juvenile, eh?

    But the real point is that Salovey is The Man, and I'm most ashamed that anyone would call for his ouster.

  • can haters please stop talking about chase

    "old blue" - chase isn't angry, now, ever, or as a person. she is delightful, but that isn't my point, or any of your business.

    She wrote a great piece. It was principled, it was respectful, it was smart.

    It is embarrassing that students pass ignorant and prejudiced judgment on each other and each other's work. It bodes badly for us all if an alumni does it.

  • Anonymous

    You don't have to call me by my number. My name is Colin Adamo. I don't hide behind the internet's anonymity. I just think this piece was written by a five-year-old with a red crayon. I was actually hoping that someone would argue the "points" Thomposon made here, but with some intelligence. It seems that all of those in opposition to Shvarts can't put together a coherent argument as to why. Just blind adherence to anything "the coolest Dean in the world" does.

  • marc

    Dean Salovey certainly should resign. Or perhaps crawl back into his cave…

  • @Colin A

    Maybe Dean Salovey didn't read over everyone's senior project proposal because he delegated those responsibilities to a set of advisers not of his choosing.

    Hence his disciplining of the adviser when they made the wrong call.

    PS: I suppose calling Dean Salovey a "liar" is about as "respectful" an approach as you calling Mr. Thompson's response "unintelligent" and "puerile".

  • '08

    #11,
    Most of my friends side with Chase and Aliza; I guess it's just a question of who's in your social group.

    Old Blue '73,
    Since when is being often outraged a problem? Considering how thoughtless we have all become, it seems to me to be a good thing. It's easy of you to just dismiss something by calling it "ideological" or clouded by "outrage" and irrationality and thus completely avoid looking at the CONTENT of what she is saying. Go on blinding yourself.

  • DueRigh t

    Amen, Brian! Well said!
    Congrats for having the necessary huevos, Dean Salovey. You didn't let the PC righteous folk keep you from doing what is right. Good job, sir.