Journalist and author James Kirchick ’06 on Sunday announced his candidacy for alumni fellow on the Yale Corporation in a Wall Street Journal op-ed, vowing “never to sacrifice free speech, academic excellence or the pursuit of knowledge on the altar of fashionable opinion.”
Kirchick, a journalist and author, is running on a four-pronged platform: reform the alumni fellow election; protect free speech; promote viewpoint diversity; and reduce administrative bloat. In an interview with the News, he called the trustee election process “undemocratic” and said he believes candidates should voice their stances on crucial issues in higher education. He opposed graduate student unionization and the University’s decision to change the title “master” to “head of college,” and he also said that the high numbers cited for campus sexual assault rates are often inaccurate. In his platform, Kirchick proposes that Yale cut administrative positions in the Title IX office and Office of Equal Opportunity Programs, as well as other affiliated positions, and use the extra funds to lower tuition and increase financial aid. He said he remains undecided about whether he thinks Yale should eliminate of the student income contribution.
According to Vice President for Communications Eileen O’Connor, Kirchick will have to collect 4,266 signatures from alumni — 3 percent of the total number of ballots distributed in last year’s election — by 11:59 on Oct. 1 to be eligible for nomination. The first three petition nominees that meet the criteria will be listed with short bios on the ballot, alongside candidates nominated by the Alumni Fellow Nominating Committee.
A petition nominee has not secured a spot on the ballot since local pastor Rev. W. David Lee DIV ’93 did in 2002. After a highly politicized election — which included media interviews, donors and split endorsements from elected officials and student groups — Lee lost to architect Maya Lin ’81 ARC ’86 in a landslide. The Corporation decided months after the controversial vote to continue allowing candidates to campaign for the position, but the University has since codified a rule that prohibits campaigning in the alumni fellow election.
Kirchick told the News he was “appalled” that Yale awarded the Nakanishi Prize for leadership in enhancing race and/or ethnic relations in the College to a senior who led the protests in the fall of 2015. In reference to the viral video of a confrontation between students and then-head of Silliman College Nicholas Christakis, Kirchick called the students’ “disrespect” a “radical departure” from the Yale he attended. In an article for the magazine Tablet, he wrote that Yale’s decision to honor the organizer of the March of Resilience with a major prize was a “fittingly disgraceful coda to one of the most disgusting chapters in Yale’s recent history.”
“Seeing the two students who were the ringleaders of that mob getting an award last year from the University upset me tremendously,” Kirchick said. “I figured if no one were to say something then I had to do it … There needs to be more trustee oversight and input from the alums.”
O’Connor said Yale does not comment on individual candidates but added that the University encourages debate from all sides and has never disinvited speakers scheduled to visit campus.
Kirchick is promising to lobby the Corporation to give all incoming first-year students a copy of the Woodward Report, Yale’s long standing policy on freedom and expression, and a statement from administrators reaffirming the University’s commitment to free speech.
He also criticized a Yale admissions officer’s post on the office’s website affirming the University’s support for student walkouts for gun reform and for social justice activism, saying that it was not her place to “tell which political movements [students] should be joining.” He questioned whether the admissions office would look favorably on a student who left school to participate in the anti-abortion March for Life.
Kirchick denounced what he perceives as exaggerated dialogue about sexual misconduct on campus. He pointed to “famous cases” of men wrongly accused of sexual misconduct, adding that Yale was not any more dangerous for woman than other parts of the country.
“Students make it sound like it’s intellectually dangerous because they might be represented with ideas that stir them; every fifth undergraduate male is a sexual predator just waiting to jump out,” Kirchick said. “I think those are both false assumptions.”
He questioned whether the University should be adjudicating cases of sexual misconduct or whether they should go to criminal court,.
A correspondent for the Daily Beast and columnist for Tablet, Kirchick is a visiting fellow at the Brookings Institution’s Center on the United States and Europe and Project on International Order and Strategy. At Yale, he was a columnist for the News, vice president of the Independent Party in the Yale Political Union and a member of the Dramat, the comedy group Fifth Humour and the Jewish society Shabtai.
Kirchick was awarded the 2007 National Lesbian and Gay Journalists Association Journalist of the Year Award.