Last Tuesday, we met with Yale President Richard Levin to talk about the approaching crisis on our campus. In the coming months, we see university’s role as an employer and a public citizen coming heavily into question, and we believe that the coming crisis will have a profound impact on our daily life and work. From dorms to dining halls, from academic departments to research labs to the streets of New Haven, people are talking about making Yale a true leader in economic justice and responsible citizenship. Last week, we presented President Levin with our vision of how Yale can take a leading role locally and nationally.
While President Levin agreed that we face a tremendous opportunity, he asserted that the campus was not in crisis and that he hadn’t seen any substantive change since the beginning of the school year. We respectfully called attention to the following points.
On Sept. 4, both of Yale’s recognized unions voted overwhelmingly to authorize job actions — possibly a strike — if the contract negotiations stall. This demonstrates to us that the service, maintenance, clerical, and technical workers at Yale University are prepared to stand up for the security and welfare of themselves and their families.
Since negotiations began last winter, the central recommendation of impartial labor consultant John Stepp — that the “University and its unions come to some understanding as to how the current organizing efforts will be conducted” — has been ignored or dismissed by University negotiators. Since the issue of organizing rights lies so close to the heart of these conflicting visions of Yale, we believe that it will not disappear. From both a practical and an ideological standpoint, it has to be seriously and publicly addressed by Yale University. The current evasive statements about graduate student unionization and health-care work in New Haven will not be sufficient, and force workers and community members towards further action.
Federal mediator Joseph Dubin has called the current state of negotiations “fruitless,” despite union offers to reduce their wage proposals. Given the results of the strike vote, and the general climate of necessary unrest, undergraduates need President Levin to take a pro-active position of leadership, thus preventing labor conflict and ensuring the equal partnership desired by all sides.
In the last month, employees and students at Yale have been intimidated by police and threatened with arrest for peaceably distributing information in the spirit of free debate. Eight Yale employees currently face up to a year in jail on charges of criminal treason. This cannot continue. Above all, our academic community values free expression and free exchange of ideas. President Levin has called it “the lifeblood of our democracy.” We certainly agree, and we urge him to condemn the recent infringements.
In the past months, literally thousands of clergy, community groups, elected officials, and other New Haven residents have risen up in favor of a deep, lasting institutional partnership with Yale, that encompasses good jobs but also extends to public education, homeownership, and job training. President Levin has called the relationship between Yale and New Haven “a model for the nation.” Now it is time for that model to be tested.
On Sept. 25, almost 700 people from all over Yale and New Haven submitted to arrest, expressing a commitment to changing our University and our community for the better. Thousands more witnessed. It was the largest act of civil disobedience in the last 30 years.
In addition, 67 undergraduates were part of that group, and over a hundred more stood in support — an unprecedented number in recent Yale history. If this is not a crisis, we don’t know what is. This offers us a landmark opportunity.
To that end, we delivered a letter to President Levin last Tuesday (signed by over a hundred undergraduates and campus organizations) inviting him to a Public Hearing on these issues. We feel that undergraduates in particular need a public forum to address this crisis in dialogue with President Levin. We also feel that, as the most powerful and influential actor in Yale affairs on and off campus, President Levin owes the Yale community an opportunity to speak out in public.
At Yale’s Tercentennial Convocation last year, President Levin laid out an inspiring vision for the future role of our university in society. In the next 300 years, he declared that we would “model freedom of expression and freedom of inquiry in a nation committed to freedom,” we would “serve as an engine of economic growth and prosperity for our society,” and we would “foster development in the community that surrounds us.”
We have embraced these goals, and we are prepared to do whatever is necessary to uphold them in principle and in practice. But the first step is a free and honest discourse on the problems we see, and on the ways we can realize the ideals our University is committed to. We were fortunate enough to speak with President Levin, and we believe that the rest of you deserve the same opportunity.
Julia Gonzales is a sophomore in Silliman College and Lauren Burke is a junior in Branford College.