This weekend, we are going to hear a lot of people lauding Yale’s accomplishments, among them former President Bill Clinton LAW ’73. The University has done much for the country, and today, thanks to its financial aid program, it is possible for individuals of diverse socioeconomic backgrounds to share in its richness. I concede that town-gown relations have a ways to go, and I hope the Rev. W. David Lee DIV ’93 is voted onto the Yale Corporation Board and can steer us towards new solutions. Still, Yale has much to celebrate, and, in these difficult times, the University can help prepare America for the challenges of the 21st century.
The terrorist attacks on New York City and Washington, D.C., the various genocides of the 20th century, and the AIDS crisis in Africa must prompt a new American engagement in world affairs. Yale can play a vital role in shaping our common future. This country needs new diplomats and more young talent in the CIA and FBI.
The U.S. State Department, for example, is no longer a big draw on college campuses, as promising graduates eschew the foreign service for careers in finance and law. That is partly because people traditionally view the State Department as elitist, bureaucratic, and irrelevant. But the organization has been diversifying for some time, and its new, high profile secretary of state, Colin Powell, has done much to refurbish the department’s image. Perhaps with the help of a publicity campaign or by using their voices as a rallying cry, Yale administrators and luminaries can help recruit the diplomats this nation will need.
Another way of rekindling campus interest in global affairs is to raise the specter of Yale projects like the Cambodian Genocide Program. Students could then be made much more aware of the vital role the University plays in fighting intolerance, wherever it may be. Ultimately, the only way to stop people like Osama bin Laden and Saddam Hussein, who exploit conflicts in the Middle East for personal political gain, is to press for the peaceful resolution of international disputes. We must always remember that today’s political conflicts breed tomorrow’s terrorist attacks.
What’s more, Yale can do more to help alleviate the AIDS crisis in both Africa and China, where the disease is now spreading rapidly. On this score, last year’s events were a source of both pride and shame. True, the University, which holds the patent for Zerit, an AIDS drug manufactured by Bristol Myers Squibb, did lean on that company to allow other firms to produce generic copies of the drug for South Africans. But it did so only after Doctors Without Borders, a group of Yale law students, Dwight Hall, and the Yale Daily News exerted pressure on the Yale Corporation to act. At a liberal arts institution devoted to the betterment of humanity, such an activist campaign should not have been necessary.
The world has looked very different since Sept. 11, and we must all do our best to fix it. I’m hoping that in the weeks and months ahead, Yale will rise to the challenge, as it has so many times in the past. For these certainly have been a fine first 300 years.
Matthew Nickson is a junior in Berkeley College. He is the President of the Yale Political Union.