In an editorial published on Tuesday, Feb. 9, the Yale Editorial Board demanded that “We must disentangle Yale from virtue in the public consciousness. We must desacralize the Yale degree,” and ended with the assertion that: “Yale cannot guarantee that all of its graduates do good. But it’s past time for Yale to reimagine itself — and for us to reevaluate our understanding of Yale.”
This disappointing editorial reveals quite a bit about the philosophy and agenda of what should be a more formative and less activist body. But it reveals several deep misunderstandings about the nature of character itself and its ties to our alma mater.
I’ll start with the last point, because it will come to encompass the first two, and, well, is the most important. And, it seems, in my last few contributions to the YDN, I’ve harped on such items as honor, maturity and now, character. The Editorial Board reveals its poor understanding of character — has it just now come to understand Yale does not make good character? Yet, even when realizing this, the Editorial Board concludes that Yale must be condemned because it has produced some people of questionable morals.
Character and credential are different things. The diploma does not measure the worth of a person any more than their gender, race or nationality. It certainly reflects academic achievement. And while the pursuit of knowledge can help forge virtue and character, it is by no means the best way of doing so. Character is a much deeper affair than the shallow nature (especially today) of the degree.
Character is forged through the practice of those virtues we have learned in the classroom or the dining room. It’s a part of the way we go about our lives, looking to do a good turn, being honorable, loyal and charitable. Built through constant effort, it lives by that old adage that “excellence is habit.”
Now, how does this tie into the history of our beloved Yale (because we should love that place which has nurtured our minds to the fullest)? One need only look to one of the most solemn places on campus, Woolsey Hall and Beinecke Plaza, to understand how Yalies practiced character. Etched into the marble walls, the names of scores of Elis who “true to [Yale’s] traditions” gave the “last full measure of devotion” in the service of the Nation. The glorification of war argument aside, on those walls are inscribed names of Yalies of character, of virtue, who took their knowledge, and nonetheless served a greater purpose. That’s why our other motto used to be “For God, For Country and For Yale.” We were committed to something greater — at least that’s how it used to be.
It is because of those people (and so many others who practice character in ways small and large) that Yale holds a singular place in the American public consciousness. To use the limited examples of little men like Sen. Josh Hawley (because that is what Hawley is, small, petty), to drag the sacrifice and effort of so many good Yalies is an injustice. Hawley and his ilk are but the exception to prove the rule, that extremely hard .0001 percent of bacteria that Lysol cannot kill.
This discourse — alongside other issues — reveals an anti-institutional agenda that aims to hand power from the administration and faculty to students. Students have become owners of truth. And adults willingly give over control to the mob of voices — as they have been doing for some time now — conceding until nothing remains. Like all human institutions, Yale is flawed. But its problems can be solved through reform, rather than complete redesign. Instead of dismissing, we should engage. Instead of demanding, we should negotiate. Instead of just feeling, we should also think. The administration should assert its position rather than bend over backwards to comply with student demands.
And to the Editorial Board: The sad thing is that this editorial is part of what is “de-sanctifying” the Yale degree.
CHRISTIAN WOLPERT GAZTAMBIDE graduated from Jonathan Edwards College in 2020. Contact him at email@example.com.