SCHWARTZ: Rebels without a cause


“It’s the principle of the thing!”

This is the last defense of the person who insists on feeling aggrieved even though he knows no one has done him any harm. It is the cry of the petulant child who has been given the bigger portion of the candy bar but resents that he was not able to hold the knife.

When a person complains about process but has nothing to say of substance, it is probably time to start ignoring her. These sorts of procedural complaints are precisely what seem to animate the students upset over the Yale presidential search. But in focusing on procedure, these students reveal a sad truth about our generation’s lack of direction.

This past Monday, the presidential search committee held an open forum in Battell Chapel and attempted to hear from undergraduates what students were looking for in Yale’s next president. Instead of providing actual views or meaningful suggestions, would-be student activists used the forum as a platform to prove how activist they are.

It makes perfect sense for students to want to influence the selection of Yale’s next president — but only if they have concrete ideas about what candidates ought to look like. Indeed, allowing for this influence was the point of the forum. Sadly, most of the students making noise over the selection procedure ideas are utterly lacking in concrete ideas. That’s a shame; I’m sure that thoughtful students could actually contribute useful perspectives to members of the search committee, but we don’t seem to be hearing those voices.

I can only imagine the frustration the search committee must feel when it turns to students to ask for their input, and then only receives input about how to better receive input. When student activists proudly explain to the News that they deliberately avoided offering “any sort of substantive suggestion” and that “what was important was not allowing the forum to go the way [the committee] wanted,” we should not take them seriously.

There is a time and place for complaints about procedure. Students have zero reason to believe that the search committee is some nefarious group seeking to undermine their interests. Let’s not forget that people get onto the Yale Corporation by donating massive amounts of time, talent and treasure to the university.

So why are students up in arms?

The truth is sad: a small number of students look wistfully at the confrontational campuses of the Vietnam era and wish they too could stand for something. But they lack concrete ideas of what to stand for and can’t seem to find worthy avenues to express their righteous indignation. Failing to find substantive issues for which to advocate, they fight for procedural reform.

The efforts of Students Unite Now are the symptom of a generational problem. Our generation hungers for meaning, but lacks actual aims. We look longingly at King and Churchill and wish to emulate their heroism, but we forget that their oratory and advocacy is not what made them great: It was the importance of their causes.

I have too many friends who are aspiring politicians and legislators, but who don’t have a clue what they want to legislate. Our peers try causes on like hats, searching for one that fits and feels right. We are trained to write neat narratives for our lives — to describe how sometime in middle school we happened upon injustice and became enraged and decided our life’s work. But far more often than not, these narratives are forced and trite. In pursuit of meaning, we abandon authenticity.

We were not all meant to fight great fights. Only some of us, and only occasionally, were meant to fall into them. We should live our lives as decently as possible, raising families and doing good, open to inspiration but never forcing its hand. For if we push too hard, we are no different than the child crying over his candy.

Yishai Schwartz is a senior in Branford College. His column runs on alternate Thursdays. Contact him at


  • The Anti-Yale

    ” the search committee must feel when it turns to students to ask for their input”

    The lofty committee deigns to stoop to conquer?

    In my day, students would not wait to be asked for “input”. They would DEMAND a voting seat on the committee.

    “Oh, but you’re a ‘ transient population’ ”


    We’re all “transient” on this whirling globe, not just at Old Blue.

  • yalemarxist

    > Our generation hungers for meaning, but lacks actual aims

    The only meaningful aim is the aim of revolution. All else will be washed away by history. Congratulations to these young activists for furthering the cause of the proletariat through their revolution against Yale’s presidential selection process.

    >We should live our lives as decently as possible, raising families and doing good

    The family will be abolished.

    • Quals

      This troll is far better than antiyale. Well done.

  • jorge_julio

    If Students Unite Now actually cared about improving Yale, or even improving the search process, why would they only make proposals which everyone knows the committee will never adopt? Open minutes for all meetings? A publicized short list of candidates?

    There’re so many concessions other universities have made to their students which Yale has not (i.e. Princeton put more students on their committee). Why SUN didn’t discuss these concessions, but instead asked for things which have never been adopted by any university, I have no idea. But it should call into question their commitment to anything other than yelling loudly and feeling good about yelling loudly.

    • bcrosby

      SUN is hardly asking for things which have never been adopted by any university. The request that a student sit in on and observe meetings of the Presidential Search Committee is hardly radical; schools like Princeton and Dartmouth actually have students sitting as voting members of their respective search committees. Similarly, the University of New Mexico, Mansfield University, and Drury University all released finalist lists during their recent presidential search processes; Missouri State and UW-Madison recently committed to doing the same. These are hardly radical, untenable, unheard-of demands.

      • ldffly

        I wouldn’t replicate anything done by a state university in Missouri.

  • ag658

    Schwartz, it is unfortunate that you are grossly misinformed about the action and that you clearly did not take the time to speak to students from Students Unite Now to get their input. It seems you’ve made the same mistake that you are accusing these students of, which is acting as a spectator and uttering “the cry of a petulant child” as opposed to becoming informed and engaging in conversation about what exactly is happening.

    The Presidential Search Committee made it very clear that they would not be answering questions at the open student forum and that they would be enforcing strict time limits on students’ time at the mic. The fact is, this was NOT the place for dialogue nor constructive feedback because the Search Committee explicitly said it wasn’t. “There is a time and a place to complain about the procedure.” Actually, in this case, there is no venue for voicing student dissatisfaction with the process (aside from the individual e-mail to Brandon Levin which is then relayed to Peter Dervan which then might possibly be brought up to the PSC, maybe). Therefore that venue had to be created by students.

    “I’m sure that thoughtful students could actually contribute useful perspectives to members of the search committee, but we don’t seem to be hearing those voices.” I saw many thoughtful students who contributed useful feedback at the forum but I didn’t see you speak. So before making that claim, make sure that there are thoughtful students with differing opinions to begin with. I am assuming that because you did not speak at the forum, you do not have thoughtful opinions you’d like to have voiced to the PSC.

  • ystudent06511

    What in the world… It’s not about principle, but yes, it is about process. Actual suggesttions won’t mean anything because the process precludes students from being listened to in any meaningful way. This is so unbelievably innane.

  • ag658

    And finally, and here is the part that you seemed to have missed due to your eagerness to jump on “would-be student activists” and also your lack of journalistic research, two days following the open forum a group of students who had spoken at the forum met with Peter Dervan, Franciso Cigarroa, Amy Hungerford, and Ana Pyle. And they not only submitted recommendations as to what to look for in a future president, but they had meaningful conversations with members of the search committee. I’m sure that’s hard for you to believe, but yes these students are very excited and willing to engage in constructive dialogue with the PSC, so when the opportunity was provided they took it. These same “would-be student activists” asked questions, received answers, and engaged with members of the PSC very calmly, again because this time talking **with** the PSC was encouraged as opposed to talking **at** the PSC. And, this may be even harder for you to believe since you seem to think these students could not possibly accomplish anything productive, at the close of the meeting Mr. Dervan remarked that this was “really one of the most constructive conversations we’ve had thus far.”

    So, Mr. Schwartz, I leave you with two recommendations: 1) If you have opinions about the PSC you’d like to communicate that are not in alignment with those of the students that spoke at the forum, then voice them. As in, speak up at these meetings rather than writing about them in the privacy and comfort of your own room. 2) If you want to write a credible work of journalism, do your research first.

    • Tribe

      I don’t understand. First you say that there’s no avenue for students to voice dissatisfaction with the process, and then you say you met with four members of the PSC and had a very productive conversation. You did the right thing and created the venue, and it sounds–while they should have created such avenues to begin with–like those PSC members were happy to oblige. So why is SUN demonizing the PSC? Why did the members of SUN not publicize this meeting (after the fact), and instead continue promulgating their image of a Yale Corp that wants nothing but to contemptuously ignore stakeholders?

      Better by far for you to create these kinds of opportunities and use them wisely than to adopt your own tone of contempt and hijack the few chances the student body has to express itself directly on this issue. Especially when that hijacking takes the form of lecturing the very trustees of Yale on “how things are done,” as if by default all of them are stupid, inexperienced, corrupt, or all three. Yishai has a point: the value of student representation is, perhaps, partly symbolic, but it really lies in the fact that students have some of the most valuable and direct insights to how Yale is operating and and how it can improve. (I even support having students on the PSC!) I hope SUN isn’t blinded to that by their own righteous indignation.

  • ystudent06511

    ^amen to above. The column is seriously weak and seriously destructive

  • marcd2015

    “I’m sure that thoughtful students could actually contribute useful perspectives to members of the search committee, but we don’t seem to be hearing those voices.”

    Exactly. Those protesting are not making concrete demands because, first and foremost, the current process does not allow for any student to have a voice in the search committee. We are not fighting for our voices alone, but for all voices within the student body, which have thus far been ignored.

  • leftatyale

    Mr Schwartz: Dialogue can only happen when more than one speaks and hears, and that was simply not present at the forum last Friday. Charles Goodyear’s closing comments was a clear indication of the lack of intention to reply, at least at the forum itself, to student concerns and questions. What you have also failed to capture are comments during the forum not affiliated with activist groups like Students United Now, for all my appreciation of their work, who spoke to substantive questions about issues they believe the next President should care about, and his/her qualities.

    Your criticisms of the concerns about procedure seems analogous to saying we should not deliberate/criticize how our political system votes in its President––how people are systematically disenfranchised from the electoral system––and only engage in debates about who he/she should be. I wonder why procedures do not matter, according to Mr. Schwartz.

  • River_Tam

    Activists in want of a cause.

  • The Anti-Yale

    “This troll is far better than antiyale. Well done.”

    Didn’t know was in a contest. Thanks for informing me. Is the critical criterion to be “entertaining”?

    • croncor

      I think the normal criterion for ranking trolls is the number of death wishes they inspire in people who read what they say. By this standard I think the Keane era will continue for some time.

  • SY13

    Yishai, unless I missed looking at a corner of Battell or you were sitting in the balcony, you weren’t at the forum. I’d suggest actually getting a sense of what happened at the meeting (or at least read the SUN document) before having Serious Feelings about them.

  • wellobviously

    Yishai, if SUN is a group of activists without a cause, you, dear sir, were a columnist without a column. This smacks of the kind of last minute regurgitation we get when a would-be polemicist’s deadline draws closer and he hasn’t yet started his piece. You probably should’ve just kept working on whatever problem set or reading response was distracting you from writing a decent column, because this is little more than misguided straw-grasping. You’re a better writer than this.

  • bcrosby

    This is a decidedly disappointing piece. Yishai, you and I don’t always see eye to eye, but I know you’re a lot more thoughtful than this. This feels like a selection of (often factually incorrect) cheap shots rather than a real engagement with many students’ (SUN members and not) very real concerns with the presidential search process. The thing is, I and a lot of SUN members DO have concrete ideas about what we’d like to see in a new president. But given the way in which the process has been set up, I see no indication that my ideas or values will be taken at all seriously in the process — Charles Goodyear essentially said as much at the town hall meeting on Friday! Without ACTUAL student power, without ACTUAL accountability, we may share our ideas or values all day long to no effect. That is not meaningful student involvement in the presidential search process.

    Let me add that I find your unquestioning confidence in the Presidential Search Committee quite disturbing. Picking a new president isn’t the sort of value-neutral enterprise you seem to present it as; folks’ conception of Yale as a university, employer, property owner, and investor are all tied up in the choice of president. And I am rather less convinced than you seem to be that the CEO of PepsiCo or the former head of Singapore’s sovereign wealth fund shares my values or vision for the sort of institution that Yale should be.

    • grumpyalum

      Let’s be honest: Yishai has traditionally defended every powerful elite that has an association with the US. Why would he question how the powerful do things? He’s a hack. It’s like having Trevor Wagener around again.

  • yalie1420

    “We look longingly at King and Churchill and wish to emulate their heroism, but we forget that their oratory and advocacy is not what made them great: It was the importance of their causes.”


    Are you serious? SUN is not trying to be Martin Luther King. SUN is concerned — and others should be concerned, too — that decisions are being made, decisions that will affect the students and faculty and workers at Yale, without the input of students or even faculty and definitely not workers.

    How many times in recent years has Yale been less than transparent in decisions that affect hundreds or thousands? Closing Commons for dinner. Opening Yale-NUS. Choosing a president. And every time, students, faculty, and workers have had almost no influence. SUN wants to change that.

    This is a Yale-specific issue, not a wide-reaching issue like racism and segregation. That doesn’t make it less worth fighting for.

  • DC14

    Yishai, I don’t know you and I will not presume to know anything about you (as you presume to know so much about me and other student activists who were there), but I will say that what you’ve written here suggests an almost willfully sheltered privilege that all too common on this campus, if you think there are no causes left to fight for that are as “important” as civil rights or Vietnam.

    Also, what is WITH yalies’ inability to analyze the structures of power in place here? The corporation “donating massive amounts of time, talent and treasure to the university” does nothing at all to ensure accountability to the views they have so benevolently solicited from the powerless groups the forums were created for.

  • BR2013

    All of you need to calm down.

  • perfume_blinders

    My question: Who divides a candy bar by cutting it with a knife?

  • ystudent06511

    You literally have no idea what you’re talking about. You weren’t even at the forums, as evidenced by the fact that you wrote they occurred on MONDAY.