Tag Archive: Silliman College

  1. YLS Dean examines free speech issues

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    Two Yale professional school deans spoke freely about the First Amendment and freedom of speech at the School of Management Monday afternoon.

    Yale Law School Dean Robert Post LAW ’77  and SOM Dean Edward Snyder discussed how organizations, including private universities, regulate speech without infringing on First Amendment rights. The discussion was part of a “Convening Yale” speaker series at SOM featuring Yale’s leading researchers.

    Post, who is an expert on constitutional law, addressed a full classroom of 60 SOM students. He emphasized that the First Amendment has a political focus which does not include a non-political environments like schools or companies. Post also shared his thoughts on the Citizens United U.S. Supreme Court case, Edward Snowden and the controversial letter that the University of Chicago sent to incoming freshmen defending free speech on campus.

    “Yale cannot violate the First Amendment in any way because we are a private organization,” Post said.

    Post said he disagreed with the conventional view that free speech creates a marketplace of ideas in which the truth can be pursued and instead argued that only people who specialize in a field can pursue truth in that subject. The discipline needed for such specialization, he added, requires a regulation of knowledge and speech.

    The purpose of the First Amendment, in Post’s view, rests on the notion that everyone has the right to his or her own political opinions. However, Post said that a total freedom of speech is impossible and undesirable in other realms of life beyond politics. An organization’s leader cannot sacrifice the organization’s larger purpose for its employees’ unrestrained freedom of speech, he said.

    Applying this argument to organizations like Yale, Post said Yale and most universities should regulate speech in a way that facilitates the education of its students.

    “The kind of freedom that is required to serve the purpose of critical education is not freedom of speech, which implies a political foundation, but instead academic freedom,” Post said, adding that academic freedom requires the regulation of speech. For instance, Post said that a college course needs to accomplish some end, and the professor must guide the discussion to reach that end.

    After the talk, Post said in an interview that the classroom is only one of the many domains within a university and that speech regulation in a classroom setting cannot be applied to other settings like residential colleges. Referring to last year’s Halloween controversy in Silliman College, Post said residential colleges require more protection, given that they are living spaces.

    Post also commented on the University of Chicago letter, which denounced trigger warnings and intellectual safe spaces.

    “This letter is very much premised on the freedom that someone would have as a political actor,” Post said. “That’s not the way we teach classes, not the way we judge the speech of professors when we tenure them or don’t tenure them, not the way any sane person would conduct education. We care very much that our students feel included… it’s also a matter of encouraging the students to speak their mind.”

    Yet freedom of speech is not always guaranteed in the political realm, as Post acknowledged in discussing the release of classified government information by Edward Snowden. Post said Snowden was contractually obliged to keep information secret in his position at the Central Intelligence Agency. Defenders of Snowden cannot justify his leaks using the First Amendment, Post said.

    Post also said that the Citizens United Supreme Court case was wrongly decided because it permits corporations to weigh in on political discourse in a manner that marginalizes individual voices.

    “If I don’t think the government is responsive to public opinion, but to those corporations, then my freedom of speech doesn’t mean anything; there is no reason to protect the speech at all,” Post said.

    Post also criticized the way universities implement Title IX regulations, which he said are really about equality of the sexes. Post said in an interview that people often misread Title IX as the “anti-rape law,” but in fact it was designed to ensure equal access to education.

    Post added that universities put disproportionate resources into punishment rather than enforcing equality.

    While the talk was not specifically tailored to SOM students, SOM professor David Bach said it is essential for future managers to understand the First Amendment.

    “Part of our interest is to give our students guidance on what kind of environment they should foster later on in the workplace,” Bach said.

    Certain parts of the talk raised concerns among audience members. For example, Norma Gibson SOM ’17 said she was worried that the homogeneous academic leadership at most universities stifles diversity.

    Gibson added that unlike the sciences, where an idea can be empirically wrong, subjects like history and art tend to allow and welcome more controversy, thriving with more robust freedom of speech.

    “If your academics are primarily white men, then what do you get? You get more white men,” Gibson said. “If the academics assessing truth are homogenous in demographics or ideologies, the result is a self-perpetuating cycle of ideas rather than true academic discourse.”

    Economics professor and Nobel laureate Robert Shiller spoke previously in the “Convening Yale” series, and former Head of Silliman College Nicholas Christakis is scheduled to speak on Nov. 8.

  2. A Thanksgiving Roast

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    A few Fridays ago, crowded in a dusty and dimly lit Silliman common room, I celebrated Thanksgiving. I sat with fifteen friends, surrounded by cheap electric candles and stale gingerbread crumbs. In the spirit of the season, we had prepared a roast – not of some hapless bird, but of each other. The rules: none. The limits: infinite. To the tune of Miley’s melodic mumblings, we took a wrecking ball to social normalcy for some ninety minutes.

    It soon became a wrestling match of the wits – one snappy one-liner following another. We thanked each other for the little things: for the resident athlete’s three blaring alarms, set to 6:00 each morning; for the midnight theft of chocolate-covered almonds; for the stream of show-tunes sung at full volume (oh, you do a capella? We had no idea.). In short, for the little absurdities only your closest friends endure.

    “Hey, Hayley, your chiropractor called – yeah, he just wanted to say you don’t actually have a spine,” my friend crooned as she recalled my, ahem, reflective (indecisive?) nature. The room burst into laughter, fingers snapping with approval. It was funny, and it was true. But this collective wit served as only a light veil for criticism, a term often reserved for harsh professors and bitter peers. If Yale is a community of scholars, why indulge in bad Regina George impressions?

    A roast is an exercise in forced social transparency – it’s an aggressive loudness, not in sound but in thought. It is a communication of the inner narrative, unmuted and uncut for the rest of the world.

    A week earlier, I had sat on a bench outside JE and called my mom for the first time. We had relied until then on monosyllabic texts and kitschy cat photos to verify the other’s existence. She had called me, once, when I was in class, to confirm that I wouldn’t be coming home for Thanksgiving. I texted back “yes.” When she answered my call, after the first ring, I heard squeals of delight and a voice several octaves higher than its usual timbre.

    “Oh, sweetie, I’ve just…I’ve been so worried – you know, I didn’t want to bother you. I know you have so much going on,” she said.

    Ten minutes after exhausting the howareyourclasses and howareyourfriends and howistheweather, my mom stops to blow her nose. In the silence, I am left to imagine the scene: the tissue falling to the ground, settling atop a mountain of other tissues. I see my mom, pressing her flip-phone to her right ear, leaning against her bedpost with her head hung and a ziplock bag of Twizzlers in hand. Feet crossed, without a bra. I smell the aged cat piss that hangs in the air around her. I hear my grandfather’s cane glide across the wooden floor downstairs as he refuses to close the bathroom door, even when he shits.

    I hear and see and smell all of these things, and so does she. But, before either of us can verbalize them, we drown the other in small talk’s cacophony. I listen desperately as she described her new diet for Quentin, our cat. (Only one low-sodium meal a day, and no more “human food” at dinner. Results forthcoming.)

    I wait for my mom to ask why I called. She doesn’t. I pause before hanging up, and mumble the question I’ve had for thirty minutes.

    “It’s dad’s birthday today, yeah?” I ask.

    “Yeah,” she says. Another pause.

    “How old would he have been?” I ask.

    “…fifty-seven,” she says.

    Over the summer, I had read Roberto Bolaño’s 2666 while perched on my childhood bed. I remember Bolaño writing about semblance — this idea that we are left only with a funhouse likeness of reality, a distorted after-image and nothing more.

    This idea terrifies me. I want reality in all its ugliness. I want my friend to call me spineless, because I am (sometimes). I want my mom to talk about more than our cat. I want to know how old my dad would have been, if he had made it past my fifth birthday.

    So I propose a toast to the roast. To ugly truths draped in humor and to relationships bound by honesty. Giving thanks has never been so satisfying.