STERN: Conspiracy of silence

A Stern Perspective

There is a conspiracy afoot.

scott_stern_headshot_peter_tian“I expect the faculty members on the committee to consult broadly with students,” President Peter Salovey told the News last week about the advisory committee that will propose a name for Yale College’s next dean. “They will search for individuals who are committed to students and have an ear for student concerns.”

So — would students actually be members of this committee? Salovey couldn’t — or wouldn’t — say.

Indeed, though the News asked him multiple times, Salovey repeatedly declined to give a specific answer to the question of whether or not there will be a full student member on the advisory committee to propose Mary Miller’s replacement. And it’s not just Salovey. Senior Advisor to the President Martha Highsmith, was also vague in her answers to the News — “members of the advisory committee are likely to be individuals with broad perspective on the University, strong academic connections, and an appreciation of the complexity of the role…” she said.

I understand that this committee is not one whose membership President Salovey will choose lightly. And I believe that he has not yet chosen the specific individuals who will make up the committee. Yet it seems to me — from Salovey’s and Highsmith’s answers and from Yale’s pitiful history of student involvement — that at least one decision has already been made.

There is no student appointment in the works. Students will be excluded yet again from an important committee that tangibly affects their lives. And the administration won’t even do us the courtesy of saying so.

After all, Salovey told the News, “I hope there will be a great deal of student input as the advisory committee considers individuals on the faculty.” Reading between the lines, it would appear that students are to be outside advisors, not inside deciders.

By refusing to give a specific answer to this simplest of questions, the administration is intentionally attempting to stifle student dissent. Yale’s name is a lightning rod in the national press, and those high up in the administration know that a definitive “no” could spur angry columns, public denunciations, protests or — scariest of all — national exposure. It would appear that several administrators are refusing to give an unambiguous answer to an easy question because to do so might be unpopular. This is a roundabout attempt to silence the student voice.

It’s a calculated maneuver that goes all the way to the top. And we shouldn’t stand for it any longer.

I hope I’m wrong. I hope that Salovey — or someone — announces tomorrow that there will be students on the committee choosing the college’s dean, as there have been at pretty much every single one of our peer institutions. I hope that I look paranoid and juvenile. I hope that I’m jumping the gun. But I don’t think that’s the case.

I think there is very little chance that there will be a full student member. Many students agree. Meanwhile, the case for student involvement has been made so often and so eloquently that to explore this issue again in detail would be repetitive. Suffice it to say that students can be trusted to bring an important perspective, to think broadly and to maintain secrecy — just as they do on numerous other committees. A single student voice, sworn to confidentiality, on a committee that can easily out-vote it is not too high a demand for students to make. Indeed, considering how far Yale has to go to more fully include students in University governance, it is a pathetically small demand to make.

This is a decision that President Salovey can make on his own. He will decide who is on this committee; he will decide whether there is a full student member. To deny students a seat on this critical committee will reveal his true face, and that will be the spectral face of Richard Levin.

It is neither petulant nor petty to demand a voice, especially such a limited one. It is our duty as engaged members of the Yale community to question those in power, to wrest representation from those who make the rules that govern our lives. If history has taught us anything, it is that this chance to represent our own interests will not be forthcoming. We must demand our rights, and seize them while we still can. It will be easier to change a decision that has not yet been announced publicly than one that has supposedly been set in stone.

We’re ready. We’re ready for a good, old-fashioned, chanting, sign-waving fight. Continue to ignore us, and we’re gonna party like it’s 1969.

Scott Stern is a junior in Branford College. His columns run on Wednesdays. Contact him at scott.stern@yale.edu .

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