ZELINSKY: A Marshall plan for free speech

On Point

The Yale Corporation recently announced the appointment of Margaret Marshall, LAW ’76, as a successor fellow to replace Fareed Zakaria ’86. This choice raises troubling questions.

Let me first say, I am happy Mr. Zakaria resigned — granted, he did so without showing remorse for his plagiarism or even acknowledging the scandal that led to his resignation. But at least it’s a start.

And Marshall is certainly qualified for the position — she has had an illustrious career in public service and has experience in higher education, including a previous stint on the Yale Corporation as an alumni fellow.

However, Marshall’s appointment sparks red flags regarding free speech and the Yale Corporation’s transparency.

Last fall, Marshall chaired a committee tasked with reexamining Yale’s sexual climate. Among other recommendations in the group’s final report, Marshall suggested that President Levin ban Sex Week from using Yale rooms or facilities. She also condoned disciplinary action against the DKE members who publically chanted crude jokes as part of an initiation in 2010.

In doing so, the Marshall Committee contradicted Yale’s commitment to freedom of expression — a commitment as old the 1975 Woodward Report. Marshall offered no philosophical justification for curbing Sex Week’s freedom of speech or the rights of the DKE brothers. Indeed, the report brushed away the issue of free expression in a cursory footnote that pretty much speaks for itself:

“We need not explore here the line between protected hateful speech on the one hand and incitement or threatening speech that appropriately may be the subject of disciplinary action by the University.”

Au contraire, Justice Marshall. If you advocate suppressing speech, you have an obligation to specify where the boundaries lie. Who decides what speech is okay and why? These are questions crucial to an academic environment built on the free exchange of ideas.

The report’s next footnote audaciously cited the Woodward Report as supporting Marshall’s paean to censorship. How’s that for Orwellian irony?

When you add the Marshall Committee’s report to Justice Marshall’s pervious public comments — that censorship might be necessary in non-American societies to shield people from dangerous speech — then the Corporation’s commitment to Yale’s ideals comes into further doubt. When you then include the fact that another Marshall Committee member, Kimberly M. Goff-Crews ’83, ’86 LAW, was hired as the Secretary of the Corporation and the Vice President for Student Affairs … well then we really need to wonder who in Woodbridge Hall cares about free expression.

But even ignoring Marshall’s philosophy on free speech, her appointment hinders the Corporation’s transparency at a time when that body already appears disconnected from campus. Justice Marshall is an insider: She received an honorary degree last year, spoke at the Law School’s graduation in 2010, and, as previously mentioned, has already served as a member of the Corporation. She is not new blood.

Admittedly, the Corporation has its hands full with the presidential search. Nevertheless, this is serious inside baseball. Marshall is the only current successor fellow to have already served as an alumni fellow of the Corporation. In the past few years, the Corporation has come under fire for not adequately consulting with the University community, on issues ranging from Yale-NUS to the new residential colleges. Selecting Marshall is a selection for the status quo of little transparency.

So what should the Corporation do? Reaffirming Yale’s commitment to the ideals of the Woodward Report would be a good start. Dean Miller’s recent email outlining the college’s policies on plagiarism serves as a model. Marshall’s appointment demands a similar letter on free speech. Beyond that, we — alumni and students — must be vigilant and demand accountability from Yale’s highest body.

Nathaniel Zelinsky is a senior in Davenport College. Contact him at nathaniel.zelinsky@yale.edu .

Comments

  • The Anti-Yale

    Good job. Gutsy column. Keep the pressure on.

    Perhaps a post a NUS would be more appropriate for Ms. Marshall.

  • River_Tam

    Nate, you have to tell us what the Woodward Report is. What percentage of your readers will know what it is or know anything about it?

  • lippolippi

    Hard to believe that I just read a Zelinsky article that manages to make me angrier at the topic than at the author. Kudos.

    “…the Coporation has its hands full with the presidential search.”
    Has its hands full waiting an appropriate amount of time to appoint “new” old blood to Woodbridge. Lorimer as interim; Salovey or, God forfend, Kronman as president after an “exhaustive” search.

  • ldffly

    Good job. Surely, it has been awhile since we could automatically trust a graduate of any law school to stand up for basic constitutional rights. Yet, this is a 1976 vintage graduate of of the Yale Law School who believes in fairly broad legal restraint on communication of ideas. Believe me, in 1976, that proposition was nearly unheard of on university campuses. Has Catherine MacKinnon done mind control on nearly everybody?

  • The Anti-Yale

    How MacKinnon? Pornography or work-place sexual harassment? Mind control?

  • SY

    “Marshall offered no philosophical justification for curbing Sex Week’s freedom of speech or the rights of the DKE brothers.”

    There is a lawful justification. Under Title IX, the federal government bought, and Yale sold, part of Yale’s First Amendment rights. Yale is not going to give up about $500 million in federal grants for DKE chants and Sex Week. The Woodward Report recommendations concerning (offensive or political) speech are philosophical for Title IX speech as the DOE determines it.