Last Thursday evening, 200 students with the moniker “Next Yale” presented Yale President Peter Salovey with a list of demands. He promised a response sometime this week. As the administration ponders how to respond, it’s a good time to think about the purpose of Yale as a university, and how Next Yale’s demands relate to that purpose.

ColeAronsonWe are here because, apart from our career aspirations, we find the pursuit of knowledge to be a worthwhile vocation. As Michael Oakshott, the British political thinker, said to his students at the London School of Economics in 1939, “‘Society,’ no doubt, will make demands upon you soon enough … [But] you have come here to get acquainted with truth and error, not with merely what is and what is not serviceable to a lunatic productivist society.”

The boundary between truth and error remains, at the very least, difficult to see.

Whether our knowledge is limited innately or simply as a function of inadequate technology, we do not know. Our knowledge of the limits of human knowledge remains itself limited. And so we will have to be content to live in a good amount of darkness.

The University, with its commitment to scholarship, to teaching and to discourse, provides a place for those most committed to groping in that darkness. And though there may be occasional discoveries, both the most important answers and the questions most worth asking in the first instance remain fundamentally hidden. As a great teacher of political philosophy Leo Strauss wrote, “As long as there is no wisdom but only the quest for wisdom, the evidence of all solutions is necessarily smaller than the evidence of the problems.”

If this is true, then the proper attitude toward one’s opinions is a good deal of doubt. And therefore the proper attitude toward the marketplace of opinions is an open and tolerant one.

For as long as we think this, we should welcome disagreement. Not merely permit it in the public square, but seek it. We should, as Strauss writes, have the “boldness implied in the resolve to regard … the average opinions as extreme opinions which are at least as likely to be wrong as the most strange.”

Many have claimed that the debate at Yale is not fundamentally about “free speech.” Strictly speaking, they are correct. None of Next Yale’s demands would censor anyone. No speech would be disallowed that is currently permitted.

But the demands, if implemented, would narrow, not widen, our discourse. The demands also evince on the part of those making them an attitude hostile toward rigorous debate. Take the request for a “bias reporting system.” For fear of formal reprimand, students and faculty would likely self-censor. While everyone should support a University culture that abhors outright bigotry — “white girls only” parties and the like — there’s a good deal of controversy about what qualifies as. Any “bias” guidelines given would probably be construed widely, to encompass views without which any discussion would be impoverished. Imagine, for instance, that a professor argued that the breakdown of the black family has exacerbated poverty in the black community. Such a person might make the argument with total sympathy toward the black community. But, like former Assistant Secretary of Labor Daniel Patrick Moynihan when he made this very argument in 1965, such a person might be accused of bias or racism, instead of presenting respectable arguments in good faith. Accusations and name-calling would replace evidence and logic as the way to win a debate.

Similarly, removing the Christakises from their positions in Silliman would send the message that challenging unpopular views is to be discouraged. Many have said their job is, to borrow a phrase, not about creating an intellectual space — it’s about creating a home here.

But a home, especially at a university, shouldn’t be sanitized from difficult conversations. Those calling for the Christakises’ removal are claiming the opposite. They are upset about or offended by — that is, they vehemently disagree with — what Erika Christakis wrote in her email. (Of course, if Christakis had expressed equally controversial views agreeing with theirs, we would be hearing nothing about the “role of the master,” but never mind.) The University should encourage such disagreement. Christakis is simply adding her views to the debate. Let others support or oppose her.

A University is a community of those who want to reason together toward knowledge. Subjugating this process to subjective definitions of “bias,” and emotions more generally, will necessarily vitiate it. In order to pursue truth all the way, all must sacrifice their intellectual and emotional “safety” — euphemisms for complacency. If in the next Yale fewer make the sacrifice — and, therefore, engage in the process — it will be a far worse Yale.

Cole Aronson is a sophomore in Calhoun College. His column runs on Mondays. Contact him at cole.aronson@yale.edu .

  • ydnreader

    Well played

  • germ_16

    Well written and probably a brave thing to write during this time on campus, there are probably more students that think this way that are too afraid to speak up for fear of being branded racist… or perhaps, Uncle Tom. The nuanced details of what is considered “racist” or “bigoted” has to be fleshed out more in these discussions of free speech. The author rightly points out the subtle but much intended effects of the demanded bias-reporting system and the demand for the Christakises to step down.

    The narrative that the title of “Master” is racist is catching hold, and refusal to change it now will become evidence of their institutional racism. Another interesting detail that is looked over is the effect of the various “cultural centers” creating a sort of soft segregation based on race. In a sense, these activists are creating their own bogey men.

    Shouldn’t the charge of institutional racism be proven first before making any changes, or is that just my privilege talking? Several of these demands appear to be quite costly for the university, so I think it’s normal to question if they are worth the cost, or if they would even be able to achieve the goals that the activists want to achieve.

  • http://www.biocompta.com/ cmgoodman

    I second your thoughts about free speech and intellectual freedom on campus. I think it would be a tragedy, if the Christakis were forced or chose to leave Silliman College or the University. In addition to limiting their intellectual freedom, students might find they are silencing a health centered Sociology course, which would fulfill prerequisites for apply for medical school.

  • http://www.biocompta.com/ cmgoodman

    I would second these thoughts and I hope people will consider them seriously.

  • Uzi XIV

    Excellent article. Not that it matters to me personally but the article would probably be more convincing to the minorities if it were written by a fellow minority. That picture of a white face will probably shut down their brains entirely.

  • anubis

    name-dropping Oakeshott AND Strauss! Run, do not walk, to the nearest Steven Smith seminar

  • dzmlsience

    Quoting Leo Strauss and Daniel Patrick Moynihan is risky business on the modern American college campus. If you feel the impulse to quote Reagan or Thatcher, take a deep breath.

    Lastly, you are clearly a racist. Get used to it.

  • Ralphiec88

    Good to see a student with the courage to say what needs to be said right now.

  • David

    What I read in this article is a fear of empowered black voices. However, there’s so much smoke in this article it’s hard to find anything substantial to actually disagree with. Let’s go with the notion that Next Yale’s demands would “narrow, not widen” discourse. People of color at this university are complaining that their voices aren’t being heard. Their side of the conversation isn’t just narrow; it’s nonexistent. If Next Yale’s demands are met, and I believe that they should, all that would be narrowed is the discourse of the (white) people in power, who have gotten very used to ignoring or belittling black and brown voices. It would finally allow some equity in the conversation regarding racism.

    I agree that It’s high time we had a real debate in this school, but that would mean a debate where one side is not quite so heavily privileged by history, society, and overt institutional approval from the Yale administration (and the Yale Daily News).

    • David

      What is there to debate? You’re all here, on whatever financial terms you have, to select from the same degree programs, courses, clubs and other opportunities. I’ve yet to hear any exclusion identified. To be honest, I’ve heard essentially demands that your feelings be salved, and I am profoundly unimpressed.

      Voices are heard on campus including yours! Editorials are written in student newspapers. Other students will think whatever they think, and you shouldn’t be able to have the administration tell them what to think, any more than they tell you what to think. Many do not want to take a mandated diversity course or have their favorite faculty replaced by others of a different color, and why should they? They don’t owe you anything more than civility.

      So what really is there to debate? Enjoy the opportunities you came here for, brave the discomforts, work hard, earn your degrees and represent light and truth in your lives — the same as all students should do.

    • marcedward

      “What I read in this article is a fear of empowered black voices. However, there’s so much smoke in this article it’s hard to find anything substantial to actually disagree with. ”

      So you “read” something into this, you just can’t find it.
      Translation: you want to argue with what you wish the writer has said, not what he actually said.

    • Ralphiec88

      We hear the same kind of hubris from the extreme right: “if we’re getting flak we must be over the target”. No, actually you are hearing legitimate criticism. Instead of arrogantly dismissing that criticism as “fear of empowered black voices” (already an absurdity given that those voices come from students admitted to Yale), how about listening, and then bring facts to bear if you can? In short, put up some specifics of this inequity and not being heard or shut up. Don’t forget that one of your voices has been heard and seen around the world screaming expletives at a professor. Just because her views have been rejected as unreasonable and abusive does not mean that they haven’t been heard.

  • alumnaforstudentsofcolor

    Your immediate diversion to an abstract philosophical discussion (about nothing really) is a clear indication that you are afraid to have any conversation about the issues students of color are raising (racism at Yale), likely because you would then have to examine yourself and how you contribute to that racism.

    And heaven forbid that you have to make some changes in your life…like allowing resources for students of color (remind me again how this limits you in any way???), or actually stopping to think about the impact that the things you say have on those around you…to ensure that other demographics have the same opportunities and freedom on campus that you have. You don’t want any of the freedoms on campus to change because right now, your freedom comes first. Trying to ensure equality would tamper with your supremacy.

    Your racist arguments are not well-hidden.

    • dzmlsience

      Told ya! Racist!

      I was looking forward to this comment being the one where the actual grievances of the leftists on campus were enumerated. Some symbolic reference to an actual instance of racism at Yale. Anything? Anyone? Buehler… Buehler… Buehler?

    • vincent

      You are just proving Aronson’s point. He put forth a reasonable position regarding the merits and possible negative repercussions of Next Yale’s demands and, instead of engaging with his arguments, you instead attempt to silence the voice that articulated them by dismissing Aronson as a racist and a coward.

      Next Yale and its supporters have legitimate grievances and their proposed solutions deserve consideration. Do you have so little faith in the reasonableness of those proposed solutions that you think they can’t bear to be subjected to any kind of scrutiny? The capacity for self reflection and self criticism are hallmarks of a mature movement. Shouting down dissenting voices before they have a chance to be heard and considered might feel good and even be effective in the short run, but it is not a prescription for lasting positive change.

      • David

        Actually though Next Yale didn’t propose solutions for consideration. It made demands.

    • David

      The author is probably not trying to hide anything, and you do not justify calling his arguments a diversion. Since a point was raised about race, you expect everyone to answer it directly, or simply comply with demands.

      Yale and its students, I hope, are not so weak. You failed to identify any lack of opportunity or freedom on campus. And no we don’t have to examine our navels trying to find some guilt in ourselves. It’s up to you to make the point, and you didn’t.

    • marcedward

      I love it how when you have no argument you pull out that old Race Card in a lame/inane attempt to shut down discussion.
      Sorry kid, anybody can see you lack the wit to hold up your end of an argument. You can’t even put together two coherent paragraphs.

    • Larry Bartholomew

      What is the foundational concept of racism? Race. This concept is a social construct. It is an unnecessary construct. That is, there is nothing about our existence as humans that requires that we have a concept of race, and without the concept of race, racism would not exist. It could not exist. Thus, to rid the world of racism we must rid the world of the concept of race. If you remove the very foundation of what racism is based upon, it could no longer exist. This has an interesting consequence for the “resources” mentioned in your post.

      What would be the foundation of the programs funded by these resources you mentioned? Race. By creating programs specifically for “people of color,” these programs are institutionalizing the concept of race. It is engaging in the exact behavior which these movements claim to stand against. Through institutionalizing race, the concept of race becomes reinforced. When the concept is reinforced, it provides a foundation for the perpetuation of racism. Thus, this movement is making demands that are not only antithetical to being human (i.e., equality) but also inflicting self-harm. These programs would not remove oppression. They would actually reinforce it.

      Sorry, but the movement itself is racist.

  • ldffly

    Yes, let’s take the request to implement 5a and 5b of the demands.

    “a. The development of racial competence and respect training and accountability systems for all Yale affiliates
    b. The inclusion of a question about the racial climate of the classrooms of both teaching fellows and professors in semester evaluations”

    Think of some faculty names from the past. Can you imagine Jack Hexter submitting to this? How about Harry Frankfurt? Serge Lange? John Smith? Brand Blanshard? Wolfgang Leonhard? If I were told to submit to this, I would quit while making as big a storm as possible.

  • commenter123

    A very well-done piece, and the concerns regarding Next Yale’s asks leading to a politically correct “chilling” are salient and significant. Your model of free discourse needs to be nuanced a bit, though.

    For one, free speech models–those that find their footing in the thinking of J.S. Mill, really–that suppose the airing of ideas can lead us to the glimpsing of some eternal/essential/metaphysical truth need to be revised. These free speech models presuppose that the free speech sphere is inclusive–that is, that every rational being embodies the terms of citizenship necessary to permit her to speak and be heard. But “knowledge’ (Straussian “Truth”) cuts and excludes, and these models don’t take into account the way the terms of exclusion are ever in flux. This is not to say that students of color at Yale are altogether excluded from the realm of public discourse, but surely the struggle to be recognized, to be taken seriously, to speak in a way that one’s content of speech isn’t reduced to cultural tropes or stereotypes, is very different for students of color than for white students on our campus. If inclusion and recognition are necessary conditions for speaking freely and publicly, then it doesn’t seem as though many of the demands from Next Yale and a more liberated “market of ideas” are diametrically at odds with one another.

    That being said, Cole raises important points about certain aspects of Next Yale’s demands, and we must scrutinize each one specifically. Much like how the contours and demarcations of the “market of ideas” changes historically, so too does our understanding of “political correctness”–and it’s worth noting that political correctness has historically been the intellectual product of those who dominate WITHIN the sphere of the market of ideas. So long we accept politically correct precepts unabashedly and without critical thought, those excluded from the “market of ideas” will remain excluded and unrepresented. As a result, we must reject, or at least nuance, Cole’s oversimplification of how truth emerges, while also restraining ourselves from being overpowered by political correctness’s ever freezing tundra. This difficulty is one we must navigate together, with honesty and a sense of “charity of intentions,” as Cole articulated in columns past.

    • David

      From reading a rather long reply, I found only this single substantive idea questioning Mr. Aronson’s analysis (please alert me if I missed something):

      “… surely the struggle to be recognized, to be taken seriously, to speak in a way that one’s content of speech isn’t reduced to cultural tropes or stereotypes, is very different for students of color than for white students on our campus.”

      This may well be the case, in some interactions. Almost all Yalies will get to know you (speaking here to some unspecified student of color, esp. one participating in the recent protest activities) and color won’t have much to do with things from then on. Any prior assumptions based on color are readily replaced by actual experience with an individual. That’s the benefit of diversity isn’t it?

      You can’t make people like you, and one goes into almost any interaction with tentative expectations that are quickly modified as things develop. If we didn’t have diverse students on campus, perhaps it would make sense to simulate diversity with a course or department. But we have quite a bit of diversity on campus, and rather than hiring the administration to make the other students like you, in various clumsy and overbearing ways as you propose, you should do that yourself just like everyone else, one friend at a time. And there is way more than enough “critical mass” of black students for this to be a reasonable expectation.

    • dzmlsience

      “This is not to say that students of color at Yale are altogether excluded from the realm of public discourse, but surely the struggle to be recognized, to be taken seriously, to speak in a way that one’s content of speech isn’t reduced to cultural tropes or stereotypes, is very different for students of color than for white students on our campus.”

      What does this even mean? Can someone finally provide an answer to question: How are black people discriminated against or excluded from anything at Yale? Anything at all? Affirmative action ensures that more blacks are “included” in the student population than would be merited by achievement. More services are provided and attention given to their wants and needs on campus than any other group. Their feelings and sensitivities are assiduously taken into account before anyone speaks or acts.

      From my perspective, the greatest source of harm to this population is their infantilization by the liberals who infest academic bureaucracies. Treat people as equals and they will be equals. Treat them as entitled children and, well… see for yourselves.

      • Doc1943

        As an onlooker from afar, and having read much of what has been written the the YDN about this topic, the single example of “racism”
        I have uncovered is a sign at a fraternity party that welcomed
        “white girls only”. To me this does sound racist . I suspect there must be better evidence of racism at Yale than that,however.Perhaps I am mistaken .
        Checking a website that reveals the racial composition of 1200 universities in the USA, Yale “ranks” in the upper 15% in terms of “people of color.”
        The military academies and the elite eastern ( formerly women’s colleges) like Smith and Vassar rank much lower in this regard.
        Still, Yale admits about 7% blacks and the country as a whole is about 12% black.
        Could it be that the atmosphere perceived as racist here at Yale
        is in some way a perception colored by a feeling that “I am outnumbered here”?. I know a very intelligent Asian woman who chose MIT over Duke, Emory , and others, mainly because when she toured the various campuses she saw more people of color at MIT and on the basis of that vision alone decided that she would be, “by definition ” more welcome there.

        • branford73

          Your friend’s basis for choosing MIT over other colleges is certainly legitimate. But I daresay anyone qualified for and successful at getting into MIT would like choose it over just about any place else, unless he or she is a major athlete as well.

    • David

      Note that NextYale didn’t ask, but demanded. Their language was very clear. That should lead to their being ignored, according to norms of polite society. Expectations are a bit lower I guess, for whatever reason, and they may have gotten more attention than zero.

  • Wayne

    lolololololololololollololololololololololol I can barely take this article seriously.

  • andy 123

    Overall, a very well written article. I do take
    exception to one point you made. “Whether
    our knowledge is limited innately or simply as a function of inadequate
    technology, we do not know.” Actually, in the case at hand, we do
    know what is inadequate. The upbringing of certain students who
    completely lack civility and the ability to respectfully and rationally have a
    discussion with a professor. Normal people learn these skills at home
    before age 10 and in primary school.

    • bwayjunction

      I disagree. It was a piece of performance art for the rubes. She
      (and they) would never behave like that in their community. Just
      watch how Madea deals with that type of situation in any of Tyler
      Perry’s movies: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lpRB__a1nIo

  • yaleyeah

    The Christakisis do not have to leave for the damage to be done. Free speech took a big black eye, and the psychological impact is going to create silence next year when Halloween rolls around. There will be no debate about costumes from anyone who thinks it’s okay to be a little provocative. Who wants to run the risk of another drama explosion and drawing attention to themselves? This became a national story, and it did not present Yale in a good light. What I saw were students who openly questioned the 1st amendment right to free speech. They were clearly calling for censorship, and the kind that is creeping into the EU now. Witness the French protestors in Paris being arrested for criticizing Islam. The French have somehow been convinced that censorship is necessary, and they allowed hate speech laws to be passed. The dangerous road they are going down is a warning to all of us. We better pay attention. There are clearly those who agree in our midst.