In response to the complaint of a free-speech advocacy group, University President Richard Levin said he regrets the controversy surrounding the Freshman Class Council’s axed T-shirt design for the Harvard-Yale Game.
In a Dec. 18 letter to Levin, Adam Kissel of the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education said Yale College Dean Mary Miller acted inappropriately by ruling “unacceptable” an FCC T-shirt design that offended some members of the gay community. In Jan. 14 a letter to Kissel, provided to the News by FIRE, Levin said the members of FCC reached a decision to change the design on their own, but added that Miller had expressed concerns, which FCC members now say they interpreted as an order.
“As best as I can determine, it would have been possible, and not unreasonable, for some members of the Council to interpret Dean Miller’s counsel as a directive,” Levin wrote. “This we regret.”
When the Freshman Class Council selected a T-shirt that used an F. Scott Fitzgerald quote to describe Harvard students as “sissies,” members of the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Co-operative objected, saying the word was a homophobic slur. Dean of Freshman Affairs Raymond Ou informed Miller of the controversy, and she immediately deemed the design “unacceptable,” Ou said in November. Miller and Ou could not be reached for further comment Monday night.
FCC President Brandon Levin ’13 said he and the rest of the Council never spoke with Miller directly about the issue but that they received an e-mail from Ou detailing her concerns.
“We were under the impression that it was a directive,” Brandon Levin said.
In a letter sent to Richard Levin last month, Kissel, the director of FIRE’s Individual Rights Defense Program, accused the University of censoring the FCC.
“The world and the Yale community ought to be able to count on Yale College deans to respect freedom of expression enough to hold in abeyance any urge to censor,” Kissel wrote.
In his response to the group, Richard Levin said no school official should stifle students’ speech. Still, he said it was appropriate for Miller to advise FCC representatives about the impact of their choices, while maintaining the independence of the council’s ultimate decision. He added in an interview that different people involved in the decision about the T-shirts seemed to have different interpretations of what was said, and that some had clearly construed Miller’s suggestion as a command.
Earlier this month, Miller said that because the FCC is a University-funded group, its sponsorship of the T-shirt would have been inappropriate.
“Yale College did not endorse this T-shirt by facilitating its printing by an official organization within the college,” Miller said. “Nevertheless, the T-shirt certainly could have been made by another group and disseminated freely for the football game.”
Brandon Levin said he and the rest of the FCC executive board had moved to address the issue before hearing from the deans, and were in a meeting with the LGBT Co-op board when they received Ou’s e-mail. He said FCC never intended to upset anyone in the Yale community, and entered the meeting with the LGBT Co-op determined to reach a conclusion that was acceptable to everyone — even if that meant not printing the shirts.