SIVARAM: Questioning the lack of questions

Sudler Hall has the capacity to seat 200 people. So it felt strange to walk into a sparsely populated auditorium at 6:50 p.m. Monday, just ten minutes before the Yale College Council Open Forum with President-elect Peter Salovey was due to start. The News estimates only roughly 50 people attended the event; out of those 50, I’d estimate that the entire first row was comprised of YCC members.

I wasn’t entirely unsurprised by the thin crowds. People were probably busy cramming for that Con Law midterm and John Negroponte was lecturing over in LC; I’m sure a lot of people needed to attend their sections. Nonetheless, there’s still something puzzling about the small number of Yale students who attended the event — and stayed for a significant portion of it. After all, this wasn’t just another lecture; this was an opportunity to directly engage with the man tasked with leading starting summer this year.

Moreover, the small crowd seemed incongruous with past behavior on campus. My mind hearkens back to earlier this year when Yale was abuzz with impassioned undergraduate voices demanding their concerns be heard and their views represented on an issue that affected the entire Yale population — the presidential search. All through the summer, Yalies had challenged the administration for its involvement with Yale-NUS, a decision that they believed severely compromised our community’s principles. And this past fall, Students Unite Now (SUN) got 369 Yalies to sign a petition asking that the presidential search be made more open and accountable. Likewise, every week, campus publications are replete with strong voices berating the administration for not doing enough to solve wide range of problems; students consistently ask questions in the hopes of receiving answers.

However, Monday evening seemed like a case of cometh the hour, disappear-eth the man.

Only in rare circumstances do Yalies have a direct opportunity to put the President-elect of the University on the spot, forcing him to engage with our concerns. So I had hoped to see the passion of many op-eds and numerous Facebook statuses translate into a loud, raucous event. What transpired instead were six pre-prepared questions, a couple of unprepared inquiries and a few senior members of the Yale administration casting a quiet gaze over an intellectual atmosphere far disposed from that of a town hall.

The poor attendance at the event should lead us to question our own principles. Do Yalies seriously care about sharing their concerns? Or was all the petition-signing and rhetoric about our community principles that flew around Yale’s campus last fall just a fad we embraced because it had happened?

If its the former, and we really care about sharing our views, then the obvious question is whether we’re anything but armchair intellectuals who want our views to be known, but aren’t willing to engage in constructive dialogue about those views with the administration. Some Yalies might have been skeptical whether Salovey would have answered their questions honestly, leading them to stay home. There is something deeply intellectually dishonest about adopting this default attitude of cynicism. At Sudler Hall that Monday, Salovey directly engaged with all questions that students asked, and seemed candid about Yale’s limitations and failures.

However, if its the latter — if activism is a short-term mantra we embrace and abandon soon after — then we need to seriously think about tempering the culture of protest on this campus, and not letting it stride too far.

Don’t get me wrong: Yale is special because students aren’t just satisfied with the way things are; they constantly challenge the status quo. However, ever so often, situations crop up when we raise a hue and cry just because we can, not because we should. Oftentimes, we need to step back and recognize the immaturity of adopting default skepticism towards administrative intent.

Was the concern over the presidential search a case of protest for its own sake? Judging by the audience turnout for Salovey’s event on Monday, it may very well have been.

Anirudh Sivaram is a sophomore in Calhoun College. Contact him at anirudh.sivaram@yale.edu .

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