Last semester, the Yale Daily News published 25 gleaming profiles of “Yalies on Leave.” From scientific research to educational policy work, each gap year endeavor received dutiful praise from reporters. Last Monday, the Yale Daily News published an article titled “Whiffenpoofs travel to Florida amid pandemic.” Hardly a recognition of gap year achievements, the piece casts doubt on the Whiffenpoofs’ decision to rehearse and sing safely during their leave of absence.
Full disclosure: I was a member of the Whiffenpoofs of 2020 and now serve as co-chair for the Yale Singing Group Council, or SGC. In many ways, a cappella singing has defined my college experience. When the pandemic halted our gap year last March, I was devastated; taking a year off was not an easy choice, and losing the chance to perform full-time — my primary motivation — caused months of regret. I would love to continue singing at Yale as a senior. But the Dean’s Office has prohibited all on-campus performances this academic year.
Which brings us to the first problem with Monday’s article. “Last year,” the News writes, “the [SGC…] released an announcement requiring virtual rehearsals for a cappella groups.” While technically correct, this reporting ignores important context — our announcement simply reiterated YCDO policy. We did not make any new rules regarding on-campus performances. This helps clarify another part of our statement, included in the article, noting that “the SGC is principally concerned with non-senior singing groups that, unlike the Whiffs, fall under YCDO jurisdiction.”
The News correctly states that the Whiffs “need not adhere to student travel regulations set by the Yale College Dean’s Office.” But when referring to “other on-campus a cappella groups,” it cites “accordance with the [SGC’s] requirement,” suggesting that the Whiffs are going against SGC rules that might apply to them even as unenrolled students. Such is not the case. In fact, the SGC typically has no control over how member groups rehearse and perform. Our main responsibility is to coordinate a fair and efficient rush process. Last semester, the YCDO asked us to relay University policies to member groups; this should not be interpreted as separate rulemaking.
“Still,” the article continues, “the Whiffs’ travel itinerary to Florida — one of the states with the highest rate of COVID-19 infections — is a departure from the decisions undertaken by the rest of the a cappella community.” Yes, and so is the Whiffs’ tradition of taking a year off from school. If the News wrote an article each time the Whiffenpoofs diverged from on-campus singing group customs, it would need a lot more staff writers. It is unclear to me why such divergences are worthy of a headline.
How the Whiffs conduct themselves during a global pandemic, when group singing can contribute to increased viral spread, is certainly worth scrutiny. But the article only devotes two paragraphs to this topic, hardly making it the center of attention. It neglects to link the group’s publicly available statement on health precautions taken before the trip. Upon reading this statement, you will find that the group is behaving more responsibly than most students living in New Haven, with extensive testing, serious quarantines and zero outside contact. Even after acknowledging these sterling safety measures, the News cannot help but mention Florida’s infection rate, which it neglects to do in other gap year profiles.
When I was contacted by the News last weekend to provide a statement, the reporter asserted that the Whiffs’ travel was “sparking discussions in a cappella circles.” The published article, however, makes no mention of these discussions. I now find it hard to believe that this assertion was founded in fact. That the reporter mentioned it still does not come as a surprise. Too often the Yale Daily News attempts to create a story where there is none, to incite controversy when there is little. Hopefully, after reflecting on the problems with this article, the News will reassess its reporting standards, at least with regard to a cappella.
Over the past four and a half years, I have read the News almost every morning. It plays an essential role in holding Yale’s many powerful institutions to account. I also sit on its Editorial Board, which seeks to do the same. I am writing this letter because the last thing I want is further erosion of its credibility.
Even during an unprecedented time, the Whiffenpoofs are safely making the most of their gap year. As with the many other students on leave, that’s a story worth appreciating.
AIDAN O’CONNOR is a senior in Saybrook College. He was a member of the Whiffenpoofs of 2020 and is now co-chair of the Singing Group Council. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
To the Editor:
Today’s YDN article, “Admin shifts at least $150 million to Jackson Institute ahead of school opening,” contains many errors, starting with the headline. Critical investigative journalism is to be lauded. But it needs to be correct, and this article is not. As the Director of the Institute, the Vice Provost responsible for overseeing Jackson, and the Vice President for Development, we wish to set the record straight.
- The Jackson Institute was founded with a gift of $50M from John and Susan Jackson. Then-President Levin decided, in 2009, to match this gift using university funds. Most of those funds were already supporting the programs that were transferred into Jackson, such as the forerunner of the Global Affairs major, one of Yale’s most popular majors. Some additional programs, such as World Fellows, were transferred into Jackson subsequently, together with the endowments that supported them. The university has not shifted other endowments to Jackson.
- Through the generosity of donors over the last twelve years and the success of the Yale Investments Office, the total endowment for Jackson has grown to approximately $200M.
- The plan for transforming Jackson into a school has always been to raise the additional funds from donors. Following the advice of a faculty committee, we seek to raise an additional $210M before opening as a school in Fall 2022. So far, we have raised approximately $175M. We are delighted that donors see the value of the Yale Jackson School. None of this $210M will come from existing university sources.
- The YDN’s implication that university leadership somehow misled faculty about the funding of Jackson is incorrect.
The bottom line is that the Yale Jackson School is well on track to open on schedule in the Fall of 2022. President Levin’s initial investment of $50M will, by then, have grown to over $400M. Reporting that the university has shifted “at least $150 million to Jackson Institute ahead of school opening” is just plain wrong.
JIM LEVINSOHN is the Director of the Jackson Institute, PERICLES LEWIS is the Vice Provost for Academic Initiatives and Vice President for Global Strategy and JOAN O’NEILL is the Vice President of Development.