Students clamored for it, President Richard Levin, after initially opposing it, signed off on it, but in the end it was the faculty who erected a large roadblock to the Martin Luther King Jr. Day juggernaut. And rightfully so. The effort to cancel classes the Monday of MLK Day and turn it into a University-wide holiday in honor of the slain civil rights icon is wrongheaded as it stands.
While the faculty opposition turned on the loss of a day of instruction, neither the Yale College Calendar Committee responsible for crafting a workable schedule for the next academic year nor the students behind the proposal has dealt with the most cogent objection to the plan: It would privilege one national holiday above all others. This, not the faculty’s worries about disruptions to classes, is the reason to reject the proposal. Holidays should be an all-or-nothing affair. Unless the calendar committee can design a scheme for cancelling classes on Washington’s Birthday, Veterans and Labor Day — and any other national holiday that falls within the normal calendar — they should cancel classes for none.
Creating a University-wide holiday in memory of Martin Luther King would force Yale into the uncomfortable and unnecessary position of acting as arbiter of historical memory for all of its students. The University is not, and should not be, in the business of judging the relative merits of American holidays, which is precisely the message it would send by cancelling classes for one holiday and not for another.