President Richard Levin chose not to kill Sex Week last Thursday. He could easily have banned it. Instead, he decided to stand up for free speech on campus — we think.
In its report released last Thursday, the Advisory Committee on Campus Climate recommended banning Sex Week because its most recent iterations have not promoted healthy discourse on campus. The committee was wrong to propose a ban on speech it deemed titillating. Levin was right to push back against it. Yale must never censor speech simply because the administration finds it distasteful.
In his response to the committee and to Yale, Levin decided neither to ban nor to endorse Sex Week. He remained cautious about the future of the event on campus but offered an opportunity for students to create a framework in which the program could continue to operate. We welcome his attempt both to promote free discourse on campus and to provide a teaching opportunity.
We believe free speech is vital to university life. As a newspaper, we are especially glad Yale recognizes that. The Undergraduate Regulations state, “The history of intellectual growth and discovery clearly demonstrates the need for unfettered freedom, the right to think the unthinkable, discuss the unmentionable, and challenge the unchallengeable.” But we do not learn from free speech alone. The university should allow students to use whatever words they want but also encourage them to consider what those words mean.
By asking Sex Week’s leaders to reform the program, Levin has defended free speech, tried to step into the role of teacher and also raised some concerns about how far he will take that role. He allowed students to choose where to take Sex Week – or see it banned. Something is not quite right about Sex Week as it currently exists, he told us. Talk amongst yourselves and fix it.
Levin couched his criticism of Sex Week in vague ideas about corporate sponsorship and “private inurement.” That insufficient explanation confuses us. Other undergraduate organizations receive corporate sponsorship without raising eyebrows. We recognize that Yale has reasons to frown on Sex Week; the event has been a public relations nightmare since its inception. But if corporate involvement is the only reason Levin cites, he must be clearer about his concerns with the event.
He has been clear on one point: The revamped Sex Week design will have to meet his approval. We hope Levin is looking for one that aims to serve Yale – not just Yale’s public relations department. We hope that, now that he and Dean Mary Miller have asked for a proposal, they will listen to what we give them and remember that free speech and instruction go hand in hand.