University Council to advise Salovey on status of free expression at Yale
The Council, Yale’s highest presidential advisory body, will meet with Salovey at the end of March to discuss “promoting a culture on campus in which all points of view are welcome.” A March presidential advisory meeting may be a reaction to several recent high profile events which occurred at the University over the status of free expression on campus.
Tim Tai, Photography Editor
The University Council, Yale’s highest presidential advisory body, will be in talks at the end of March with University President Peter Salovey over the status of free expression on campus.
Salovey told the News that the Council, which was established in 1947 as the only general volunteer leadership advisory body appointed by the Yale Corporation, will be asked to share their insight on the “free exchange of ideas” at Yale. The 30 members of the body, which includes General Motors chief economist Elaine Buckberg ’89 and U.S. congressional representative Sheila Jackson Lee ’72, are to provide ideas on how to improve free inquiry at Yale, according to Salovey. The Council will also produce recommendations on how to foster “productive, open conversations” across campus.
“We’ll be promoting a culture on campus in which all points of view are welcome,” Salovey said in an interview with the News.
While the Council has influence over administrative decisions, Salovey told the News that not every piece of advice they offer is able to be implemented — however, he added that the University administration has “tried a lot of things that they’ve recommended.” Previously, the Council has worked on a variety of campus issues, from improving sustainability at Yale to increasing workplace diversity.
Criticism from conservative leaders
The convening of the Council comes amid a string of accusations of the suppression of free speech made against the University by conservative leaders both on and off campus.
Two conservative federal judges made national headlines last October after they declared that they would no longer hire Yale Law graduates for clerkships positions due to what they believed was a lack of free expression on campus. The judges cited last year’s campus protests against speaker Kristen Waggoner for her connections to an anti-LGBTQ+ group, as well as student criticism over the administrative reaction to a 2021 email by a Yale Law student that used racially insensitive language.
In 2021, the University quietly added Pilar Montalvo to its Office of the Secretary and Vice President for University Life, where her role included a focus on issues of free expression on campus. The following year, Nina Fattore was asked to join Montalvo as a main point of contact for administrative support during campus rallies or protests.
“We can and will continue to expand our efforts to make the university’s free expression policies and procedures more widely known,” Montalvo wrote in an email to the News. “And that is in fact one of our office’s areas of focus.”
During last semester’s Buckley Program event featuring Mark Pompeo, Montalvo was in attendance to ensure that the talk ran smoothly, and ordered the removal of several non-Yale protestors who disrupted Pompeo’s talk. According to Montalvo, she regularly works with student groups and schools that are concerned about their events “running smoothly” in terms of safety and freedom of expression.
Montalvo did not directly answer an inquiry over whether she believes there is a threat to free expression at Yale.
“I think a lot of protests against speakers are viewed as cancel culture, whatever that means,” AJ Tapia-Wylie ’26 said. “I don’t think rightfully so. I think they’re students exercising their free speech, again something that they disagree with, that which I think again [as] I said is a healthy dynamic.”
Intellectual diversity at Yale
Yale affiliates skew liberal. During the 2022 midterms, the News reported that FEC and SEEC filings show that Yale and Yale-New Haven Health employees donated a total of about $1.6 million to Democratic and liberal causes. A 2017 survey by the Yale Daily News found that only 7 percent of faculty members identified as conservatives, while approximately 75 percent considered themselves liberal.
Members of the Yale community are not all convinced that these demographic splits have limited free expression in the classroom. Tapia-Wylie and Edward Blunt ’26 told the News that, regardless of their political affiliations, they both feel as though their professors have been respectful and welcoming of people’s backgrounds and beliefs.
“I’ve only had a handful of classes so far, but I’ve had no issue in terms of my professors being too conservative [or] too left wing,” Blunt said. “So I don’t think it’s an issue in terms of teaching.”
Blunt added that it is important to have ideological diversity, because people on different ends of the political spectrum “perceive problems differently.”
Lauren Noble ’11, who serves as executive director of the conservative-leaning Buckley Program, told the News that she believes that Yale is lacking in intellectual diversity.
“If all faculty share the same perspectives and students and faculty alike self-censor perspectives outside the campus orthodoxy, then even when ideas are flawed, there will be no one to challenge them,” Noble said.
Professor of psychiatry Wexler told the News that he believes that both conservative and liberal viewpoints are “strongly represented on campus.” He suggested that backlash over a lack of representation of certain viewpoints comes from whether those viewpoints are perceived to be treated with respect by the campus community.
“I don’t try to engage with spaces that won’t respect what I have to say or respect my identity, because I don’t think that’s constructive,” Tapia-Wylie said.
Since the Woodward Report
Sterling Professor of Theater Joseph Roach told the News that he recommends for the University Council to support the principles of intellectual freedom set forth by the Woodward report of 1974, which was approved by former Yale president President Kingman Brewster Jr.
Henry Chauncey Jr. ’57, who served as a University administrator under Brewster, explained that the former Yale president assembled a committee to create a free speech policy following several tense free speech crises in the 1970s. The report that was submitted, Chauncey told the News, said that free speech must be allowed in its entirety, even if the speech was deemed to make members of the University uncomfortable.
“If you believe the goal of a university is to seek the truth and disseminate it through teaching and publication, then you have to say that anyone in the university can say anything they want,” Chauncey said.
The Woodward report has become the guiding principle for free speech at Yale ever since. But maintaining its philosophy becomes tricky when taking into account Salovey’s push to promote a socially comfortable environment for students, Chauncey said.
Chauncey explained that the idea behind this push to accommodate members of the University community that might feel uncomfortable with certain ideas remains in conflict with the idea behind free speech.
Noble told the News that Yale plays a unique role in promoting free expression.
“Yale produces many of the nation’s leaders, in Congress, the courtroom, and the board room,” Noble wrote in an email to the News. “They’ll be responsible for taking into account the perspectives of a wide variety of individuals, not just those who share their world view. If Yale wants to maintain its reputation as a place where leaders are formed, it needs to shape students who can handle disagreement with civility and respect.”
The Woodward report was issued in December 1974.