To the Editor:
When I started Yale Law School two weeks ago, I was looking forward to becoming part of its esteemed academic community. Although frequently criticized for teaching its students how to think about the law rather than actually practice it, I found this one of the school’s most appealing features.
I wanted a school that would force me to question my basic assumptions about everything from the structure of our government to the decisions of our highest courts, but I was shocked last week when I discovered that many here were willing to continue this questioning without regard or respect for their classmates and students.
Last Tuesday, as many of us waited to learn the fates of our friends and relatives, a class was conducted exploring the question of what the United States might have done to deserve these terrorist attacks. The class focused on U.S. policy decisions in the Middle East and made sure, in the interests of fairness and academic impartiality, that the terrorists’ views and grievances were adequately represented and defended. Maybe in a week or a month from now this discussion might have been tolerated, but on the day of the attacks it was beyond inappropriate. In spite of the fact that students where shouting and crying, the class continued.
Unfortunately, the insensitivity did not end there. That night similar debates swept through the school with students, in the name of intellectual obligation, defending the terrorists’ position and, in some cases, the attacks themselves. Those who blamed Osama bin Laden and his terrorist organization were called racists by their peers, who criticized them for jumping to conclusions without definitive proof.
Around the school patriotism was also ridiculed as an academically untenable position, based on emotions rather than sound reasoning. The few people who expressed their resolution to unequivocally support their country were viewed as irrational fanatics. More typical was the answer of one student who, when asked by a classmate in the reserves if he would support him if he had to leave and fight, answered him with a list of intellectual reservations that compelled him to oppose military action.
Although in most cases an open intellectual discourse is to be admired and encouraged, there are situations when such discussion becomes callous and inappropriate. The danger of ivory tower institutions like Yale is that it will teach its students how to think, but in the process they may loose their ability to feel.
Marcia Yablon LAW ’04
September 19, 2001