Indigo Blue closure questioned

Despite a Sunday meeting arranged by the Chaplain’s Office, students remain upset at the decision to terminate Yale’s relationship with Indigo Blue.
Despite a Sunday meeting arranged by the Chaplain’s Office, students remain upset at the decision to terminate Yale’s relationship with Indigo Blue. Photo by Henry Ehrenberg.

Two weeks after the University ended its nine-year relationship with Indigo Blue — a nonprofit center for Buddhist life at Yale — students remain upset over its abrupt termination and the administration’s decision to cut ties with the program’s leader, former Buddhist Chaplain Bruce Blair ’81.

Though University Chaplain Sharon Kugler met with students on Sunday to discuss potential programs to replace Indigo Blue, nearly half of them walked out in the middle of the conversation, expressing dissatisfaction with the way in which Yale has handled the situation. Both Kugler and Blair sent emails to students previously involved in Indigo Blue last Tuesday stating their desire to focus on providing adequate resources for Buddhist students in the program’s absence rather than reasons for the its end. Blair told the News Sunday that he still will not discuss reasons behind the decision but that he hopes to work with the University to address the new programs and potentially re-establish a relationship in the future.

“[Not disclosing the reasons] provides an opportunity to resolve the issues, [and] the relationship be restored in some fashion,” Blair said.

Blair said he hopes to help address the current problems resulting from the program’s end — including the significant effect it has had on the Buddhist student community at Yale. The University abruptly cut ties with Indigo Blue and former Chaplain Bruce Blair on Sunday, Oct. 21, without disclosing any specifics surrounding the decision. He said he does not want the program’s closure to fall victim to “politics” or excessive speculation.

While he initially refrained from making a statement following the termination of Indigo Blue, Blair said he sent the email on Tuesday to address student confusion because he “felt like [his] silence was exacerbating things.”

At Sunday’s meeting, which was the first of three planned meetings between students and Kugler, students brought up concerns about the need for a new Buddhist shrine and their desire for a program with space for quiet contemplation — similar to Indigo Blue’s Stillness & Light, said attendee Geoffrey Liu MED ’15. The Buddhist Chapel, which was formerly housed in the Branford Memorial Room in Harkness Tower and renovated at the end of last semester, was closed and dismantled following Indigo Blue’s cancellation.

The meeting was capped at 20 students, six of whom were Chaplain’s Office peer liaisons, and five to seven students were turned away, as was Bruce Blair’s son Nate Blair. Roughly halfway into the meeting, eight students walked out citing dissatisfaction with the way in which administrators listened to student concerns, Liu said.

Liu said that in the discussion, Kugler stated that she refused to discuss the dismissal of Blair or reasons behind the termination of Indigo Blue, but explained that she did not initially inform students about Blair’s departure because she wanted to tell Blair himself first.

Kugler also raised the possibility of hiring a new Buddhist chaplain, said attendee Simon Song ’15, but she stated that the budget would only allow such a position to be part time, or 15 to 18 hours per week. Patrick Cage ’14, another attendee, said Kugler told them she would consider restoring Branford Chapel as a shrine but that she expected that hours would be restricted and that other groups would be granted rights to the space. He added that Kugler accommodated suggestions to establish a student-run version of Stillness & Light, but she said such a program could not run beyond midnight for security reasons.

Kugler deferred comment to University Spokesman Tom Conroy, who said he would not comment beyond saying “the Chaplain’s Office has ended its arrangement with [Blair] and his organization.”

According to Liu, Simon Song ’14, who was the first to leave the meeting, said during the meeting that he could not remain present and watch Buddhist students get increasingly upset at the tone of the meeting.

“The University has a different understanding of what is going on,” Song said. “We don’t feel the sincerity of the Chaplain’s Office to address student concerns.”

Despite the efforts made by administrators to facilitate a smooth transition after Bruce Blair’s departure, students said they are still upset at the abruptness and secrecy surrounding the decision.

Kerri Lu ’14, a student who attended many Indigo Blue events, said she has spoken with many other students involved in the program, but she has never heard of students having negative experiences with the former chaplain.

But four students interviewed said that they experienced negative interactions with Blair that caused them to stop attending Indigo Blue programs.

Shon Arieh-Lerer ’14, who attended several Indigo Blue activities his freshman year, said that after he accidentally set off an alarm in Harkness Tower one night, Bruce Blair yelled at him and used offensive language. Arieh-Lerer said that after approaching Blair several times following the incident, Blair eventually refused to speak to him again.

“He kind of turned me off of Buddhism, ironically,” he said. “I felt like what he was doing was trying to test my faith … like a cult leader.”

Julia Schlesinger ’15, a student formerly involved with Indigo Blue, said she believes Bruce Blair genuinely helped many students but that his “eccentric approach” may occasionally hurt sensitive students.

Friends of Indigo Blue, an organization started by students and alumni to support each other and request response from administrators, currently has 150 members on its panlist and 30 submissions of personal experiences with Indigo Blue.

Comments

  • nomegustas

    > Bruce Blair yelled at him and used offensive language. Arieh-Lerer said that after approaching Blair several times following the incident, Blair eventually refused to speak to him again.

    Huh, I thought I was the only one who had a bad experience with Blair. Back when I was still an undergrad, I had a run-in during Stillness and Light where Blair asked me to leave Battell Chapel because I was disrupting the mood of the space. I was crying in the back of the chapel because I was going through some emotional issues. (All better now!) I guess I was too loud for Blair and he asked me and a friend who was comforting me to leave. I figured the chapel would be a good place to seek comfort. Wrong. Where Blair and I had been friendly before, he turned cold. I didn’t go back to Stillness and Light again.

    The tea was gross anyway.

  • disneyguy

    Bruce Blair is a man with a temper who had no place interacting with students. I had nothing but horrible experiences interacting with him, and it comes as no surprise that the University decided to terminate its relationship with him for various undisclosed reasons. I’m sure some sort of scandal occurred, probably related to his ironic anger issue, and he was rightfully dismissed.

    I hope the University provides a place for Buddhist students to exercise their faith, but I hope they more rigorously vet the person they choose to hire to lead that endeavor. Yale has no place for temperamental people who are bad at communicating. The Buddhist community and the Yale community deserve better.

  • AnonymousUser

    I’m sorry you had bad experiences with Bruce. I certainly cried a lot in Battell and was never thrown out. In fact, Bruce is a major part of the reason I was able to deal with the immense challenges I was facing.

    If this was the reason for the rapid, unannounced — if it wasn’t some real scandal but rather one-sided accounts about which Bruce was never asked — then I’m utterly disgusted with how the entire situation was handled, without regard for the needs of currently practicing Buddhist students and without any replacement programming created. I also am surprised students weren’t asked or consulted in the process — for every bad opinion (which I’m sure you could find with every chaplain), I know of many many people who were immensely supported by Bruce.

    • disneyguy

      I certainly never voiced my concerns to anyone, and I’m CERTAIN that Yale conducted some sort of investigation into whatever may have caused his dismissal. I’m simply saying that if other people had similar experiences as I had with Bruce, then I’m not surprised it reached a point where the administration chose not to continue their relationship with him.

  • The Anti-Yale

    > Yale has no place for temperamental people who are bad at communicating.

    Ever heard of The Rev. William Sloane Coffin?

    The guppy-ization of clergy: The compulsion to turn divines into spineless powder puffs is one reason i never turned my M. Div. into a career.

  • niqnaq0

    “accidentally set off an alarm”
    i.e. got caught breaking in?
    i.e. got caught breaking into a consecrated place of worship?
    i’m no expert, but my limited understanding of religious buddhism is that this is on par with defiling someone’s dead ancestors.

    “cult leader”? i know that shock is important in journalism, but these seems a bit on the yellow side to me. it’s good to know though that i go to a place with as much religious tolerance as yale has. would someone quote something racist in the interest of showing “both sides of a story?”. i think not. so give buddhism the respect it deserves as a faith

  • BubbaJoe123

    It seems that the University’s and Blair’s decisions to not explain what led to dropping him is only exacerbating the problem. Clearly, Kugler and Blair know why this action was taken – why refuse to state it?

  • ccdms

    Focusing on what Bruce did wouldn’t take us anywhere. The only fact that I’m aware of is that the Buddhist community and its friends are suffering, and that the chaplain’s office is not showing respect to this fact.

  • somelonejunior

    I doubt students left the meeting because their questions about Bruce’s departure weren’t answered. It seems like they left because the Chaplain and the Administration were communicating to the Buddhist and Indigo Blue followers in a way that lacked sincerity, openness, and concern.

  • The Anti-Yale

    Has Yale no sense of shame? No sense of accountability to its students? (aka clients)

    It is utterly irrelevant what the former chaplain did or did not do.

    If his position is vacant it should be advertised as such and filled, not used to end the program abruptly in the middle of the school year with no explanation.

    The fact that this behavior is offered up to the community by the Chaplain-in-Chief of Battell makes the behavior all the more reprehensible.

    Where is the sense of outrage?

    It is times like this when the absence of a daily or weekly editorial in the YDN is a glaring weakness.

    Have the Henry Luce (TIME/LIFE) / William F. Buckley (National Review) heirs ever considered the need for such an improvement?

    Paul D. Keane

    MDIV80MAMED

  • niqnaq0

    of course we can’t blame the reporter for getting so much wrong, given that she did not attend the meeting, has never gone to an Indigo Blue event, and to the best of my knowledge has never met bruce in person

  • tisquinn

    PK, there were two op-eds last week, and an article on Monday of this week. While there has yet to be an editorial, it would be absurd for the News to publish a News’ View daily or weekly on the same subject. Let’s see what the rest of the week has in store before whining about an alleged lack of student response—so far, the YDN and student body seem to be doing just fine in expressing their outrage and sadness over the handling of this whole thing without encouragement from YDN comment boards. And in response to your question of “where is sense the outrage?,” remember that this is a Buddhist group. I would sincerely hope that Yale’s Buddhist community not violate their way of life in order to protest the dismissal of their Chaplain. Again, they seem to be doing a fine job making their voice heard in ways more in keeping with their faith, e.g., by walking out of a meeting. Further, the outrage by non-Buddhists is palpable here, ***on campus**,* if not everywhere, at least in many circles with which I am familiar. Alumni of the University’s professional schools are not always in the best position to judge the mood of the campus.

  • The Anti-Yale

    As a “divine” from Holy Hill, I am in a position to judge the response to the CHAPLAIN’S office behaving like Mitt Romney at Bain Capital , coldly axing a resource which isn’t “producing”.

    I spent 17 years at four different college’s. I have some experience with campus newspapers. op-eds aren’t the same as a newspaper’s editorial.

    The Daily Kent Stater managed to have an editorial every day, just like the New York Times.

    Most of the time they were perfunctory, but when suddenly that bucolic, anti-intellectual, football-breathing school became the most famous anti-war-protest school in the world after its students were butchered by bullets from Ohio National Guardsmens’ M-16′s, the rigor of having to put out a daily newspaper with a daily editorial for a residential campus of 18,000 students and another 9,000 commuters, paid off.

    That gutsy little paper deserves a Pulitzer Prize for keeping freedom of speech ALIVE when faculty and students were intimidated into shameful silence the year after the May 4, 1970 shootings until some of us got the courage to confront Nixon, when a new Kent state president (with a Yale degree) arrived on campus the second year, Septemebr, 1971 and we knew (or at least I knew) that a Yalie wouldn’t DARE suppress freedom of speech.

    YDN needs the rigor of producing a weekly (at least) editorial.

    As for your comment about Buddhism. Yes, It is counter to their philosophy to fight.

    The rest of us should do that for them.

    I may have white hair but I still know how to raise a fist in the air.

    • BubbaJoe123

      “I spent 17 years at four different college’s.”

      Given your grammar, it might have been a better idea to spend some of those years in a decent primary school.

  • zendog

    Looks like Yale ditched Blair just like he was kicked out of the New Haven Zen Center years ago. Why didn’t Yale do their homework on this guy? I’m surprised he lasted this long.

    No surprise that only a bunch of easily manipulated students are coming to his defense. Let me guess: he told you that everyone else is dangerous, what he knows is precious and should be kept secret, you shouldn’t trust any other adults? Did he keep you up until dawn rambling about nonsense saying the same thing over and over again, maybe even took you on some weird drive in the middle of the night? Did you ever see him get REALLY angry? Did you ever see him off his meds? Most people probably haven’t met that version of Bruce Blair, but a lot of us have (especially those who know him better than some quiet guy who serves tea and candlelight). Sorry kids, you’re in a cult. Look up the definition. Is he telling you what to say? Has he ever referred you to another Buddhist group in town to expand your practice? Is he the ONLY person you should trust?

    There are LOTS of Buddhists in New Haven and Yale. Now that Blair is gone maybe students will be able to meet them without being attacked.

    Remember this year when he announced that he had two new staff members? Doesn’t look like they lasted too long. I wonder why they quit so fast? Maybe they met the real Bruce Blair? Ask your friends if they have, too.

    • gliu

      I think one should be aware that when one slanders our chaplain one also slanders our faith.

      • zendog

        Does the same hold true for priests accused of child abuse? No, a person is not the faith. People are imperfect; our faiths are divine. To equate a person with the divine is ridiculous, needless to say blasphemous.

        • zendog

          Also, facts are by definition not slanderous. Check the facts and get back to us.

    • walterwhiteman

      Check the facts? Okay, I’ll try…

      “Now that Blair is gone maybe students will be able to meet them without being attacked.” When did that happen? Bruce “attacked” students trying to meet other Buddhists in town?

      “a bunch of easily manipulated students.” That’s slander, and you seem to be posturing as a defender of the students, too. Odd.

      “just like he was kicked out of the New Haven Zen Center.” He was kicked out? Please elaborate.

      “especially those who know him better than some quiet guy who serves tea and candlelight.” Right, he must be different from the guy who’s been doing this for nine years, who’s spent his time in the community helping homeless and was abbot of NHZC for years, and is generally well-liked and well-regarded by just about everyone who’s met him on campus?

      “Did you ever see him off his meds?” What medication? Proof? Facts?

      “Is he telling you what to say?” Nope.

      “Is he the ONLY person you should trust?” Not that I am aware of.

      “Why didn’t Yale do their homework on this guy?” Graduate of the school in 1981, has spent his time in the community helping many people, abbot of NHZC, approached Yale with the idea of I.B., has been there for nine years.

      “He told you that everyone else is dangerous, what he knows is precious and should be kept secret, you shouldn’t trust any other adults?” Nope, didn’t hear that one. I did hear him say he hadn’t any real clue, more often than not.

      “Did he keep you up until dawn rambling about nonsense saying the same thing over and over again, maybe even took you on some weird drive in the middle of the night?” Nope, when I stayed up it was of my own accord, and I never knew he even had a car.

      So…what facts didn’t I check?

      Zendog, although only a harmless comments forum on a YDN article, your comments approach the libelous. Look that one up.

  • tisquinn

    PK, I can’t thank you enough for your illuminating and relevant story.

    Good luck in the Vermont elections today. I hope you bring the wisdom of divinity to the Vermont legislature.

  • The Anti-Yale

    For what it is worth, Macauley observed, late in life,”I have come to the conclusion that sarcasm is the language of the devil.”

  • The Anti-Yale

    > PK, I can’t thank you enough for your illuminating and relevant story

    I believe I was giving a pep talk to YDN. A newspaper without an editorial is a bit limp.