This past weekend, the Dwight Hall Cabinet approved a statement calling upon Yale President Richard Levin to publicly denounce the arrests of leafletters at Yale-New Haven Hospital and to promise that those arrested will not face expulsion or dismissal by the University. The cabinet’s statement argues that the arrests represent more than a simple question of labor law. With the arrests, the hospital infringed upon one of the leafletters’ most fundamental rights: their freedom of speech.
The arrested students, employees and organizers were not harassing passers-by nor disturbing the hospital’s ability to provide health care. They were simply passing out literature, which the hospital has tolerated in the past. But on the same day the first arrests occurred, union members voted to allow their negotiators to call a strike. The timing and nature of the hospital’s action make its motivation quite obvious: The hospital hoped the arrests would disrupt the organizing drive at Yale-New Haven Hospital and interrupt communication between Local 34 and its hospital employee members. The hospital wished to quiet those who advocate unionization throughout the Yale community and made the arrests not because of the individuals’ behavior, but because of the ideas they brought with them.
Without a doubt, students who were worried by the removal of Light and Truth from freshman mailboxes three years ago should be even more upset by this incident. Not only are unwanted ideas being suppressed, but the people who argue for those ideas face prosecution. The Dwight Hall Cabinet feels that Levin must make it clear that such attempts to quash ideas have no place in an academic community where freedom of speech is absolutely essential. As a teaching and research hospital, Yale-New Haven’s success depends upon this freedom to share ideas. It is extraordinarily disappointing that such an institution could, out of fear, silence those ideas with which it does not agree.
While we fully support the cabinet’s declaration, we worry that a public statement from Levin is unlikely. In the past, Levin has used the independence of Yale-New Haven Hospital from the University to argue that he plays no role in affairs at the hospital and therefore has no reason to speak up. We strongly disagree with this reasoning.
First, as a member of the Yale-New Haven Board of Directors, Levin has some influence over hospital policy. In addition, the hospital’s previous violations of national labor laws and the recent arrests reflect badly upon each member of the Board of Directors, as the board seems unable to prevent the institution from engaging in immoral and illegal behavior. To prevent this taint from tarnishing his own reputation, Levin must distance himself from the actions of the hospital by denouncing the arrests.
More importantly, anyone who knows the history of Kingman Brewster’s presidency knows that the words of a Yale president travel far and wide. During the strife of the late 1960s and early 1970s, Brewster was a moral leader for the community and for the country. In fact, his words regarding the injustices of the American judicial system still resonate through discussions of criminal justice and civil rights.
Levin now occupies Brewster’s office and has the opportunity to emulate Brewster’s influence. Because Levin is the most prominent member of the Yale community, his words, like those of Brewster, carry moral authority throughout Yale and New Haven. His words can and do have power, even in those institutions that are not entirely a part of the University.
For too long now, Levin has shied away from taking a strong stance against the hospital’s vigorous and at times illegal efforts to fight unionization. Whether or not the hospital is part of the University, Levin has the responsibility to speak out against the immoral behavior of the hospital.
We believe that this moment represents an opportunity for the president. A public statement denouncing the arrests will allow Levin to utilize the moral authority that necessarily accompanies his position while also clearing the way for the new era of partnership that both the unions and the University desire. The declaration would be good for Levin, for the University, for the unions, and for the community.
Louise Davis is a senior in Saybrook College and Patrick Casey Pitts is a senior in Berkeley College. They are co-coordinators of Dwight Hall.