To the Editor:
Over the weekend, while parents and students attended panels and lectures on education and life at Yale, we learned a different — and much more discouraging — lesson about our academic community.
Before Dean Brodhead’s Saturday morning panel on “Education in Yale College,” we were detained by Yale police for peacefully distributing information to parents in the Woolsey rotunda. Despite the fact Yale’s Freedom of Expression policy protects the distribution of leaflets, we were told by police and University administrators that our presence constituted a violation of University law, punishable by arrest.
We certainly did nothing to disrupt the flow of the event, as it had yet to begin and most parents were drinking coffee and chatting. In fact, we only engaged with students and parents long enough to say “Here you go, sir/ma’am. Enjoy the panel.” There was no obstruction, and certainly no disorderly conduct. Most of the parents thanked us and (in a few cases) praised our writing skills and inquired as to our majors and the status of our midterms.
So, it was a shock to be accused of harassment and — even worse — disrespect towards Yale. Any parent reading our leaflets would have concluded the exact opposite: that we care about our University and its future. In an open letter to parents, we discussed the ongoing labor negotiations, the circumstances of work and education at Yale, and the potential for a positive and mutually prosperous relationship between Yale and the city of New Haven. Furthermore, our actions on Saturday (and throughout the fall) reflect a profound respect for Yale and an enduring hope that it can continue to improve itself as an educator, employer and public citizen. In fact, our goals very closely mirrored the sentiments of Dean Brodhead in his later address: that Yale’s great asset lies in its ability to create an environment of free discourse and critical inquiry.
Unfortunately, our detention represents only the latest instance in a number of drastic shifts in the opposite direction. Last month eight Yale employees were arrested for distributing information in their workplace and charged with criminal trespass. We were extremely discouraged to see this practice extend to undergraduates.
Yale is meant to be a place of free expression and free assembly, a place where one can respect the boundaries of decency while putting forward challenging ideas and new information. Our University strictly adheres to free-speech principles in its policy and public posture, but the events of this weekend (and of the last month) clearly expose how far we have to go before we can realize that ideal.
Alek Felstiner ’04 and Thomas Frampton ’06
October 14, 2002