Free speech at Yale — is free

In a recent column, Scott Stern ’15 responded to President Salovey’s freshmen address by dubbing it “offensive” (“A flawed speech,” Aug. 27). I would like to offer my own reaction.

Salovey explicitly said “the most troubling” affronts to free speech were those in which “speakers of various political persuasions have been shouted down and rendered unable to deliver remarks to campus groups who had invited them.” It is one thing to enshrine preemptive student protests as valid free speech, another to condone the silencing of dissent. Shouting down a speaker in person makes a political statement far more disturbing than anything Salovey said — it represents an obstinate refusal to hear disagreement and an unwillingness to formulate coherent, well-principled rebuttals. That kind of behavior is always antithetical to free speech, and has no place in an institution dedicated to the free exchange of ideas.

More broadly, to construe Salovey’s comments as primarily directed against student protest is to misunderstand Salovey’s intent. The speech made numerous references to how we — as students, friends and interlocutors — interact with one another on a daily basis. Salovey seemed far more concerned with fostering a climate of intense and sincere discourse among impassioned youth than with criticizing any particular ideology or protest movement. His characterization of alien ideas as potentially “disgusting” is instructive: free speech is not some romantic abstraction. Rather, it is the fierce, unwavering commitment to genuine discussion, no matter how ugly or repellent that commitment may seem.

That both Mr. Stern and myself are able to disagree publicly about a speech delivered by the president of this university suggests Yale has largely succeeded in upholding the values of intellectual pluralism. I think Salovey spoke not to lambast any significant lack of tolerance for diverse ideas, but to remind us of what true tolerance is, and why it is essential for a university’s mission. For that, he should be lauded.

Aaron Sibarium

Aug. 31

The writer is a freshman in Timothy Dwight College.

Rev. Shipman’s un-apology

During my time as a Jewish student at Yale, I never felt the sense of hurt and hostility that many Jews on campus now feel after Rev. Shipman’s incendiary comments regarding anti-Semitism in his August 26 letter to The New York Times. That discomfort is not addressed in Rev. Shipman’s letter to the Yale Daily News (“Letter from Shipman,” Aug. 29).

Coldly addressing “all who have been offended,” he presents a legalistically amended restatement of his original thesis accompanied by a prideful summary of his prior controversial stances which, of course, history has shown to be correct. While Rev. Shipman employs this tactic to divert the discussion to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the core issue is his disturbingly naïve view of anti-Semitism, not his politics. If, according to Rev. Shipman’s view, the antidote for anti-Semitism is a solution to the Palestinian question, then he should share with us the antidote for the Spanish Inquisition, the pogroms of Eastern Europe, and Hitler’s Germany.

What is most troubling about Rev. Shipman’s letter is the absence of a contrite apology to the Jewish community for the pain his words have caused. He may brush off his comments of Aug. 26 as an exercise in free speech on behalf of his personal Middle East agenda, but the fact remains that he used his official position as Episcopal chaplain at Yale to gain an audience for that agenda on the opinion page of The Times and in doing so has publicly damaged the well-being of the Jewish community at Yale and beyond.

This scar will not quickly fade, because no amount of parsing and explication can change the sad reality that Rev. Shipman’s toxic words have been distributed in over 1,000,000 newspapers and preserved for eternity in the digital world — with Yale’s name affixed.

Since Rev. Shipman appears to be incapable of saying he’s sorry, it is up to the Episcopal congregation at Yale, his bishop and the Office of the University Chaplain to step forward and begin the long process of healing the hurt and friction Rev. Shipman’s recklessness has caused. They must also address the “Shipman Question”: Is someone who has demonstrated such profoundly poor judgment and insensitivity fit to serve as a chaplain in the Yale community?

Michael M. Katz

Sep. 3

The writer is a 1976 graduate of Trumbull College.