Five Elis protest Negroponte

A small group of students staged a quiet sit-in at the “Studies in Grand Strategy” seminar Monday afternoon, protesting the appointment of John Negroponte ’60 to a teaching post at Yale beginning next fall.

Wearing business attire, the five protesters, all undergraduates, carried signs decrying Negroponte’s alleged cover-up of human rights abuses by the Honduran military while he was a ambassador to Honduras in the early 1980s.

Protesters stand outside the classroom in William L. Harkness Hall where they held Monday’s demonstration.
Vivian Yee
Protesters stand outside the classroom in William L. Harkness Hall where they held Monday’s demonstration.

“We came to expose … the existence of an elephant in the room,” the group’s unofficial leader, Fernanda Lopez ’10, said, “and to protest Negroponte as a symbol of historical revisionism.”

Negroponte — who has also served as ambassador to the United Nations, ambassador to Iraq, director of national intelligence and deputy secretary of state — recently secured a three-year appointment as the Brady-Johnson distinguished senior research fellow in grand strategy and lecturer in international affairs. He will arrive on campus July 1.

As students in the seminar entered the Hall of Graduate Studies classroom Monday afternoon, the protestors filed in one by one and made their way toward the back of the classroom, where they sat in silence, holding posters and signs in front of them.

Asked by “Grand Strategy” lecturer Paul Solman to introduce themselves, they remained silent but passed out a single handout listing their grievances. Only Lopez addressed the students, reading the signs aloud.

One poster, whose heading read “Elephant in the Room,” displayed copies of CIA documents describing torture techniques used in Latin America during Negroponte’s tenure as ambassador to Honduras. Others carried images of Negroponte and a protest in Latin America, topped with the heading “The declassification of Negroponte.”

As the nearly two-hour seminar proceeded, the protesters remained mute, watching the class, moving only to give up their chairs to students. Although Lopez raised her hand to speak at the end, history professor John Gaddis, who later said he disagreed with the group’s claims about Negroponte, did not acknowledge her.

Reactions to the quiet protest ranged from mildly curious to interested to dismissive. The seminar’s students seemed to treat the class like any other, remaining engaged in debate and attentive to the professors.

Solman commended the students for their activism.

“I’ve been waiting for this for 40 years,” he said as the protestors walked into the classroom. “This is what we used to be like in college, in the ’60s.”


  • elephantisnegroponte

    "Reactions to the quiet protest ranged from mildly curious to interested to dismissive." In the meantime: THERE IS AN ELEPHANT IN THE ROOM. That's perfect. The protesters didn't even need to say anything. The elephant WAS in the room, and nobody was talking about it. The injustice was splayed across the posters, but it was all totally dismissed.
    Kudos for doing it anyway!

  • the situationist

    the silence is deafening

  • Recent Alum

    How is it that these people were even admitted in the classroom? You only get into Grand Strategy by a competitive application process. It seems downright insulting to the dozens of students who would have really wanted to be admitted to this seminar but whose application was rejected to let in a bunch of loons attend the seminar in their place.

  • roflcopter

    grand strategy killed my father.

  • anonymous

    "The elephant WAS in the room, and nobody was talking about it."

    But that's not actually what happened.

    The professors acknowledged the protesters, allowed them to sit in for two hours on a closed seminar, and even invited the students to share their concerns (twice).

    The protesters had little to say about why they were protesting (only one spoke, responding to queries by saying, "See the op-ed we're distributing)" so a professor pressed them to read their posters aloud. The protesters did so without elaboration.

    Negroponte wasn't present (he isn't part of GS yet) and the class wasn't scheduled to be about him. Yet the professors still invited the protesters to speak about their concerns. As you can see from this article, one professor even welcomed the protest as a healthy exercise of free speech,

    It's fine to criticize Negroponte for his action/inaction in Honduras, but please don't misrepresent the response you received from the GS professors/class.

  • at least John Negroponte has a cool brother

    Negroponte's brother is the illest. Him and his wife are incredible artists and wonderful people. It's funny how one Negroponte's busy torturing people in Honduras and another is making incredible documentaries like "Jupiter's Wife."

  • elephantisnegroponte

    The response remains: there was an elephant in the room. No one denies that Professor Sulman proved open to discussion, even if Gaddis was not. What is clear is that the revisionism which overruns the margins of GS's cold war syllabus was addressed: the substance of what was exposed, or how it was exposed is irrelevant. The fact is that there was an elephant -the Cold War abuses- in the room. Period.

  • roflcopter

    I find your metaphor insulting. Elephants killed my mother.

  • Observer

    #1, 7: Grand Strategy is a close seminar. Only those who are enrolled in the seminar are typically allowed to participate in the seminar.
    In my opinion, the protesters should not have been let in, let alone allowed to participate. Moreover, seminars are typically about discrete topics (even if the topics may be broad), not about whatever the students enrolled in the seminar want to talk about. But if there is a Grand Strategy seminar that has to do in part with U.S. foreign policy with Honduras and one of the GS students who is actually enrolled in the seminar brings up Negroponte's actions at the time, and if then Gaddis interrupts to say that "We shouldn't talk about it", then there would be ground to complain. We are obviously a far cry from this scenario.

  • Interesting

    elephantisnegroponte, your first quote lauded the protesters but your second quote had information that only the protesters would know.

    In other words you are one of the protesters and are praising your own actions.

  • Observer 2

    forget the protest. why is government official who ignored or covered-up death squads and torture being given a teaching position?

  • GS alum

    #7: GS is not the right-wing indoctrination session that some people on this campus make it out to be. i'm a good left-wing/post-colonial-theory-loving/liberal/etc., and i got a lot out of that class.

  • Observer 3

    Good question, Observer 2! Why, indeed, is government official who ignored or covered-up death squads and torture being given a teaching position?

  • Let's be real

    Why? Because he was present for the US evacuation of Saigon. Because he was the Ambassador to Mexico who oversaw the implementation of NAFTA, the US Ambassador to the United Nations when the Security Council at arguably the most important time in the UN's recent history, the first US Ambassador to a free Iraq, the first Director of National Intelligence, and the Deputy Secretary of State. (Notwithstanding the fact that he was nearly unanimously confirmed by the Senate for those last positions-- and believe me, Iran-Contra was on the table and given careful consideration by the Senate.)

    No matter what your politics are, you can't deny that only a tiny handful of individuals have had a career in foreign affairs and public service as consequential or fascinating as his. You don't think he has learned some things, both good and bad, that he can share with Yale students who might also be interested in serving their countries? Does blame for all of the admittedly nasty things that happened in Latin America in the 1970s and 80s fall entirely on this man? Don't you think that the two decades of service after that have *some* value? Yale is not seeking to pass judgment on the Reagan Administration's policies. It is trying to add value and unique insight to the undergraduate experience by hiring a passionate believer in the relevance of diplomacy.

  • A Protestor

    It seems that the relationship between the protestors, the GS class and its professors has been somewhat misrepresented. The protestors were not "against" the GS class or the professors per se, nor were the professors or the class unreceptive to the protestors. On the contrary, the professors very cordially allowed us to carry out the sit-in and invited us to explain our posters, and we, out of a sense of decorum, felt it was not appropriate to use a great deal of class time speaking about our cause unless specifically invited, which we were not - at least not universally. The protest was merely meant to raise awareness within the Yale community and initiate a dialogue about the appointment of Negroponte, which we believe is a symptom of Yale's generally dismissive approach to Latin America's role in the Cold War. It was not an attack GS students or professors. In no way did we intend disrespect to any member of GS, and we thoroughly appreciate the respect that the professors demonstrated to us.

    As for your comment, "Let's be real", I'm not sure how passionate a believe in "diplomacy" Negroponte really is. Stephen Kinzer reported that a State Department Official once told him, "Giving him this job [UN Ambassador] is a way of telling the UN: 'We hate you.'" His diplomacy is the quiet type, and I for one don't believe that the length of service somehow warrants excusing human rights abuses. To take a cliched and somewhat drastic example, would you let a former Nazi come teach just because he had a long record of service?

  • elephantisnegroponte

    Now why would I need to be in the room TO HAVE AN OPINION about how things probably went down?
    "Interesting"… just use your logic/imagination. The fact that gaddis didn't acknowledge the protesters and that Sulman did is in the article. See, you can arrive at my own logical conclusions? That's called OPINION.

  • Y09

    For goodness's sake, the man wasn't the warden holding the keys to the prison! You embarrass yourself and undermine your argument by comparing the US Foreign Service to the Nazi regime.

    Countless Vietnamese sympathetic to the South were murdered when Negroponte and the rest in the Saigon embassy were forced to evacuate from its roof and cease protecting them. Is that his fault because he had been working to support the South Vietnamese government? Are you also going to hold the current US ambassador in Islamabad responsible for whatever nasty things the Pakistani government does to quell its insurgency?

    Your point has some validity inasmuch as the entire foreign policy establishment was involved in foreign policy, but to go to the lengths of crashing your peers' seminar that they had to do hours' of reading for so that you could push your tendentious point seems quite extreme. Woodbridge Hall has plenty of protesting space- you might have wanted to start there.

    But using the term "genocide" and making the Nazi comparison is your greatest sin. Find a better way of making your argument. Or better yet, spend your time fighting human rights abuses that are happening today instead of indulging your egos.

  • Y'10

    What extent of involvement do you need to accept his culpability? Warden of the keys? Some of the torturers/workers at the facility say he was. If you need him to be involved enough to be de facto running a country, he certainly disenfrachised its President (Suazo Cordoba) well enough do so. He was firing the national Honduran university's President, for goodness sake.
    Is the "great work" of US ambassadors going to be forever legitimated by the old "it's the US Foreign Service" American exceptionalist argument. Because, Y09, that sounds a tremendous deal like totalitarian adherence to these "great men" -sounds a lot like the Nazi regime. As a member of the US Foreign Service, Negroponte did lie to Congress too. Is that not grounds enough for impeachment? I guess not. It was Cold War, but we must -as some foreign policy-maker said, but certainly did not follow up on -rescue "choice from circumstance."
    What about protesting a war criminal from the 1980s satisfies the protesters' egos? Only someone with a tremendous appetite for self-aggrandizement could think to make that comparison. What exactly is so egotistical about it? It is far more egotistical -in my belief- to conform to a predetermined notion of "decorum" and "respect" (even when respect is undeserved) for the sake of preserving your sacred place within the safer status quo, where torture is never penalized among "buddies," and self-serving loyalty is enough to secure you an appointment back at Yale.

  • Anonymous

    Y09. The mere fact that you are hinting that the protesters should turn deaf ears and blind eyes to the screams of history’s victims is appalling. History is circular and although it is much easier…much more comfortable and convenient to claim amnesia, it is NOT the humane thing to do. An understanding of what happened in the past is imperative to avoid falling over the same stone in the future. It’s sad you think the measures taken by these protesters was extreme, it shows both lack of spirit and ignorance.

  • NotoNegroponte

    Y09 your comment was embarrasing! Please do us all a favor and go read a book.

  • Another GS-er

    I think the point that the more moderate voices here are stressing is not that you should hide your beliefs or not stand up for what you believe in, but that the "means" that these 5 chose did not match their stated "ends" or political goal. Were we students supposed to go talk to Pres Levin after you sat in on their class? Were you hoping we will show up again to another GS class? I think protesting publicly would make more sense than targeting a group of students who was just there to learn.

    And I agree-- you are not helping yourselves by placing all blame on one individual. You keep talking about the value of learning history, and what you learn from a true academic reading of history is that there is always going to be huge complexity and it's frustrating and certainly get emotional, but historical events are never straightforward. Even if you study the causes of WWI or WWII, the causes are extremely complex.

    Finally, you are most definitely not helping yourselves by comparing anyone to the ruthless and murderous Nazis. There is no moral comparison here. (Does that make those of us in the class, your Yale peers, "collaborators"? I think you can see how this line of reasoning is so alarming.) And for those of us who were taking Holocaust Remembrance Day extremely seriously, your cavalier use of WWII to serve your own argument is downright hurtful.

  • Anonymous

    Another GSer, if you believe that history can be reconciled with forgetting/ignoring/not talking about the war crimes committed in the 1980s, you're not doing much justice to your course.
    But that's besides the point. No one expects you to go and speak to the university president; it would be admirable if you did, but you're clearly too lethargic for that. Maybe they just wanted to make more conscientious scholars out of you. They might just have underestimated your dogmatism/willful ignorance. Whatever,they're smart. I just hope they find other better ways to address the issue.

  • Anonymous

    I say everyone read Arendt's Eichmann in Jerusalem: A Report on the Banality of Evil, there's a bit there for every side that's been presented here.

    To By Let's be real: Mr Negroponte certainly has held very high positions which would make him an asset to any educational institution. In fact, he is in a great position to teach the good AND the bad in international relations (and excuse me but accepting the violation of human rights is not "diplomacy").

    Those of us that know all the wonderful details about the United State's involvement in Latin America during the cold war might ultimately choose to simply look ahead like some here have suggested. But if the US hopes to be able to point fingers around the world, it's going to have to 1.lead by example and 2.admit its past sins. It must teach high school students everything about their great country, this information shouldn't be restricted for history majors in college. Certain things are independent of state borders or nationalities, such as human rights. Sometimes you have to stand up to your own country to remember humanity.

  • A Point of Clarification

    1) The word genocide does not appear to have been used here. Rather, the protestors used the phrase "Se busca por genocido," which in my understanding is a phrase commonly used in Latin America that carries significantly different connotations than "genocide" does in English. The protestors did not make up this phrase (I assume); they are using it in the context of the culture to which it here applies.

    2) I think it's a little silly to get so worked up about the Nazi comparison - the protestor even commented that it was a "drastic" comparison. Having been in several ethics classes, I know we often use hypothetical extreme "Nazi" situations to make a point clearer. It's easier to think about what you would do in a "Nazi" situation because it's such an extreme case, and it's then easier to think about whatever more complicated case you're presently considering. I'm pretty sure no one intended to say Negroponte = Nazi. Plus, it's a little indicative of what a privileged bubble you live in that you're quibbling over word/comparison choices rather than addressing the issue. In fact, I don't really see any comments offering arguments in favor of Negroponte's coming aside from "he has experience."

    3) Again, I may be off here, but it seems like most of the GSers missed the point of this protest. Their class is kind of the reason Negroponte is coming, isn't it? Their professors are the primary impetus behind his invitation, aren't they? Their class, and the professors who teach it, are an example of what's wrong with Yale history, isn't it? I think it makes more sense to do what these protestors did - i.e. confront what they see as the problem head on - rather than go stand in a courtyard and pass out fliers to people who aren't involved at all/don't care (and this did make it to the paper, which was probably even more effective).