We asked candidates their views on free speech. The university told them they were obliged to shut up.
Yale University in New Haven, Conn. Photo: iStock
Lauren Noble and
With free speech under attack on campuses nationwide, university trustees have generally remained on the sidelines. Yale seems determined to keep them there. The William F. Buckley Jr. Program recently began an effort to encourage a more open process for electing alumni trustees, known as fellows. So far we’ve gotten nowhere.
Last year we invited the three candidates for alumni fellow to participate in a web forum on free speech and diversity of thought. To our surprise, not one responded. Then we received an email from Kimberly Goff-Crews, Yale’s vice president for student life, explaining it was “university practice that Alumni Fellow candidates do not campaign in any way” but “stand for election solely based on the biographical statements in the Alumni Fellow ballot.” This she described as “both a constraint placed on candidates, and a promise made to them in terms of the demands of the election process.”
This year we penned an open letter to the trustees asking them to encourage candidates to participate in our forum. More than 400 alumni have signed on. So far Ms. Goff-Crews hasn’t budged. In an interview with the Yale Daily News, she repeated, almost word for word, last year’s assertion that campaigning is forbidden. University administrators also canceled the Daily News’s scheduled interviews with the trustee candidates.
The executive director of the Association of Yale Alumni, Weili Cheng, defended the gag rule. The Daily News reports “she feared that campaigning might lead to conflict in the alumni community” and quoted her as saying: “Look what happened with the presidential campaign.”
But the current process is unfair to the candidates and the alumni. If university administrators will not provide the basis for both groups to help ensure an informed choice of trustees, what is the purpose of having an election?
In decades past, candidates for alumni fellow did offer their ideas and opinions on major issues facing the university. In 1972 the candidates included John H. Chafee, the Navy secretary and future senator from Rhode Island, and Lloyd N. Cutler, who served as White House counsel to Presidents Carter and Clinton. Chafee focused on the need for Yale to “remain free from restrictive pressures—pressure to support currently popular ideas, pressure to be more ‘relevant,’ and pressure from government.” Cutler emphasized the importance of maintaining an “academically free institution.”
A recent editorial in the Yale Daily News argued: “We do not pick leaders based on credentials alone; we elect them based on their character and values.” We could not agree more and hope our petition will convince the Yale Board of Trustees to change its policy. But given the way university governing boards across America have been behaving, we are not optimistic.
Ms. Noble is founder and executive director of the William F. Buckley Jr. Program at Yale. Mr. West is dean emeritus of New York University’s Stern School of Business and a board member of the Buckley Program.
Appeared in the Apr. 26, 2017, print edition.
Class Editor’s Note: It is possible to earmark a gift to Yale for the Buckley program. Just mention to the development office that you would like the gift to support the Buckley Program (reference number is 30522).
A class essay condemning rape was ‘unnecessarily provocative,’ the Title IX coordinator allegedly said.
The campus of Yale University in New Haven, Conn. Photo: Beth J. Harpaz/Associated Press
Yale’s president, Peter Salovey, took to these pages last October to affirm that “we adhere to exceptionally strong principles of free expression.” He invoked Yale’s exemplary 1974 Woodward Report, which states that the university’s educational mission is inextricably bound up with “the right to think the unthinkable, discuss the unmentionable, and challenge the unchallengeable.”
A February lawsuit tells a different story. Tucked inside the amended complaint, Doe v. Yale, is the extraordinary claim that Yale punished the anonymous male plaintiff for writing a class essay in which he condemned rape.
Like dozens of lawsuits now working their way through state and federal courts, Doe v. Yale alleges that university officials grossly mishandled sexual-assault allegations. According to the complaint, a university panel found in spring 2014 that Doe had engaged in sexual intercourse with a woman without her consent. He alleges that the woman expressly consented and on that evening she harassed him. He adds that Yale’s disciplinary procedures were stacked against him and administered by biased officials who presumed his guilt.
This case is unusual in several respects. Doe advances one relatively new and one completely novel legal theory. The relatively new one revolves around Title IX, the 1972 federal law that provides that “no person” may be discriminated against based on sex in educational programs that receive federal assistance.
In April 2011, the Education Department’s Office for Civil Rights issued a “Dear Colleague” letter declaring that Title IX imposed a duty on colleges and universities receiving federal funding—as virtually all do—to investigate, prosecute and adjudicate sexual-assault allegations and impose punishments where appropriate. The letter also directed schools to reduce due-process protections for the accused, typically men.
Doe insists that Title IX must protect men as well as women. In punishing him for sexual assault on the basis of allegations that were either unfounded or refuted by facts to which both sides of the dispute agreed, the lawsuit argues, Yale discriminated against him on the basis of his sex in violation of Title IX.
The novel legal theory flows out of a reading of “state action” doctrine developed by Jed Rubenfeld of Yale Law School, who served as Doe’s faculty adviser during the university’s sexual-assault proceedings. Doe argues that through the “Dear Colleague” letter, the Education Department conscripted Yale to enforce criminal law—thereby transforming the private university into an agent of the government.
That would subject the university to constitutional limitations. Thus Doe alleges Yale violated his 14th Amendment rights to due process and equal protection of the law.
This case also involves free expression because it began, Doe alleges, with Yale’s draconian regulation of his speech. According to his lawsuit, in late 2013 a female philosophy teaching assistant filed a complaint with the university’s Title IX office about a short paper Doe had written. In the context of Socrates ’ account in Plato’s “Republic” of the tripartite soul, the paper argued that rape was an irrational act in which the soul’s appetitive and spirited parts overwhelm reason, which by right rules.
According to the lawsuit, Pamela Schirmeister, Title IX coordinator and an associate dean in the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, summoned Doe to her office and told him his rape example was “unnecessarily provocative.” She ordered him to have no contact with the teaching assistant and directed him to attend sensitivity training at the university’s mental-health center. She also informed him that he had become a “person of interest” to Yale, which meant that the university had to intervene to ensure he “was not a perpetrator himself,” in the lawsuit’s words. A few months later, the same Title IX office initiated the sexual-assault investigation against him.
Through a spokeswoman, Yale described the lawsuit as “legally baseless and factually inaccurate” but declined on confidentiality grounds to address any specific factual allegations.
If the lawsuit’s account is accurate, Yale has reached a new low in the annals of campus policing of speech. Surely no female student would incur criticism, much less censorship or punishment, for providing weighty philosophical authority in support of the proposition that rape is wrong.
If Doe’s story is true, Yale is no longer satisfied in enforcing correct opinions. To utter the correct opinion, Yale also demands that you be the correct sex. Far from protecting the right to “discuss the unmentionable” in accordance with the Woodward Report, Yale is stretching the boundaries of censorship by abridging the right to discuss even the uncontroversial.
Mr. Berkowitz is a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution, Stanford University.
An unorthodox professor explains the ‘new religion’ that drives the intolerance and violence at places like Middlebury and Berkeley.
03:27 / 04:22
When a mob at Vermont’s Middlebury College shut down a speech by social scientist Charles Murray a few weeks ago, most of us saw it as another instance of campus illiberalism. Jonathan Haidt saw something more—a ritual carried out by adherents of what he calls a “new religion,” an auto-da-fé against a heretic for a violation of orthodoxy.
“The great majority of college students want to learn. They’re perfectly reasonable, and they’re uncomfortable with a lot of what’s going on,” Mr. Haidt, a psychologist and professor of ethical leadership at New York University’s Stern School of Business, tells me during a recent visit to his office. “But on each campus there are some true believers who have reoriented their lives around the fight against evil.”
These believers are transforming the campus from a citadel of intellectual freedom into a holy space—where white privilege has replaced original sin, the transgressions of class and race and gender are confessed not to priests but to “the community,” victim groups are worshiped like gods, and the sinned-against are supplicated with “safe spaces” and “trigger warnings.”
The fundamentalists may be few, Mr. Haidt says, but they are “very intimidating” since they wield the threat of public shame. On some campuses, “they’ve been given the heckler’s veto, and are often granted it by an administration who won’t stand up to them either.”
All this has become something of a preoccupation for the 53-year-old Mr. Haidt. A longtime liberal—he ran a gun-control group as an undergraduate at Yale—he admits he “had never encountered conservative ideas” until his mid-40s. The research into moral psychology that became his 2012 book, “The Righteous Mind: Why Good People Are Divided by Politics and Religion,” exposed him to other ways of seeing the world; he now calls himself a centrist.
Paul Gigot says there is a clear disconnect between Wisconsin and New York City.
In 2015 he founded Heterodox Academy, which describes itself as “a politically diverse group of social scientists, natural scientists, humanists, and other scholars” concerned about “the loss or lack of ‘viewpoint diversity’ ” on campuses. As Mr. Haidt puts it to me: “When a system loses all its diversity, weird things begin to happen.”
Having studied religions across cultures and classes, Mr. Haidt says it is entirely natural for humans to create “quasireligious” experiences out of seemingly secular activities. Take sports. We wear particular colors, gather as a tribe, and cheer for our team. Even atheists sometimes pray for the Steelers to beat the Patriots.
It’s all “fun and generally harmless,” maybe even healthy, Mr. Haidt says, until it tips into violence—as in British soccer hooliganism. “What we’re beginning to see now at Berkeley and at Middlebury hints that this [campus] religion has the potential to turn violent,” Mr. Haidt says. “The attack on the professor at Middlebury really frightened people,” he adds, referring to political scientist Allison Stanger, who wound up in a neck brace after protesters assaulted her as she left the venue.
The Berkeley episode Mr. Haidt mentions illustrates the Orwellian aspect of campus orthodoxy. A scheduled February appearance by right-wing provocateur Milo Yiannopoulos prompted masked agitators to throw Molotov cocktails, smash windows, hurl rocks at police, and ultimately cause $100,000 worth of damage. The student newspaper ran an op-ed justifying the rioting under the headline “Violence helped ensure safety of students.” Read that twice.
Mr. Haidt can explain. Students like the op-ed author “are armed with a set of concepts and words that do not mean what you think they mean,” he says. “People older than 30 think that ‘violence’ generally involves some sort of physical threat or harm. But as students are using the word today, ‘violence’ is words that have a negative effect on members of the sacred victim groups. And so even silence can be violence.” It follows that if offensive speech is “violence,” then actual violence can be a form of self-defense.
Down the hall from Mr. Haidt’s office, I noticed a poster advertising a “bias response hotline” students can call “to report an experience of bias, discrimination or harassment.” I joke that NYU seems to have its own version of the morality police in Islamic countries like Saudi Arabia. “It’s like East Germany,” Mr. Haidt replies—with students, at least some of them, playing the part of the Stasi.
How did we get here, and what can be done? On the first question, Mr. Haidt points to a braided set of causes. There’s the rise in political polarization, which is related to the relatively recent “political purification of the universities.” While the academy has leaned left since at least the 1920s, Mr. Haidt says “it was always just a lean.” Beginning in the early 1990s, as the professors of the Greatest Generation retired, it became a full-on tilt.
“Now there are no more conservative voices on the faculty or administration,” he says, exaggerating only a little. Heterodox Academy cites research showing that the ratio of left to right professors in 1995 was 2 to 1. Now it is 5 to 1.
The left, meanwhile, has undergone an ideological transformation. A generation ago, social justice was understood as equality of treatment and opportunity: “If gay people don’t have to right to marry and you organize a protest to apply pressure to get them that right, that’s justice,” Mr. Haidt says. “If black people are getting discriminated against in hiring and you fight that, that’s justice.”
Today justice means equal outcomes. “There are two ideas now in the academic left that weren’t there 10 years ago,” he says. “One is that everyone is racist because of unconscious bias, and the other is that everything is racist because of systemic racism.” That makes justice impossible to achieve: “When you cross that line into insisting if there’s not equal outcomes then some people and some institutions and some systems are racist, sexist, then you’re setting yourself up for eternal conflict and injustice.”
Perhaps most troubling, Mr. Haidt cites the new protectiveness in child-rearing over the past few decades. Historically, American children were left to their own devices and had to learn to deal with bullies. Today’s parents, out of compassion, handle it for them. “By the time students get to college they have much, much less experience with unpleasant social encounters, or even being insulted, excluded or marginalized,” Mr. Haidt says. “They expect there will be some adult, some authority, to rectify things.”
Combine that with the universities’ shift to a “customer is always right” mind-set. Add in social media. Suddenly it’s “very, very easy to bring mobs together,” Mr. Haidt says, and make “people very afraid to stand out or stand up for what they think is right.” Students and professors know, he adds, that “if you step out of line at all, you will be called a racist, sexist or homophobe. In fact it’s gotten so bad out there that there’s a new term—‘ophobophobia,’ which is the fear of being called x-ophobic.”
That fear runs deep—including in Mr. Haidt. When I ask him about how political homogeneity on campus informs the understanding of so-called rape culture, he clams up: “I can’t talk about that.” The topic of sexual assault—along with Islam—is too sensitive.
It’s a painfully ironic answer from a man dedicating his career to free thought and speech. But choosing his battles doesn’t mean Mr. Haidt is unwilling to fight. And he’s finding allies across the political spectrum.
Heterodox Academy’s membership has grown to some 600, up about 100 since the beginning of March. “In the wake of the Middlebury protests and violence, we’re seeing a lot of liberal-left professors standing up against illiberal-left professors and students,” Mr. Haidt says. Less than a fifth of the organization’s members identify as “right/conservative”; most are centrists, liberals or progressives.
Balancing those numbers by giving academic jobs and tenure to outspoken libertarians and conservatives seems like the most effective way to change the campus culture, if only by signaling to self-censoring students that dissent is acceptable. But for now Heterodox Academy is taking a more modest approach, focusing on three initiatives.
The first is its college guide: a ranking by viewpoint diversity of America’s top 150 campuses. The goal is to create market pressure and put administrators on notice. The University of Chicago currently ranks No. 1—rising seniors, take note.
The second is a “fearless speech index,” a web-based questionnaire that allows students and professors to express how comfortable they feel speaking out on sensitive subjects. Right now, Mr. Haidt says, there are a tremendous number of anecdotes but no real data; the index aims to remedy that.
The third is the “viewpoint diversity experience,” a six-step online lesson in the virtue and practice of open-minded engagement with opposing ideas.
Heterodox Academy is not the only sliver of light. Following the Middlebury incident, the unlikely duo of Democratic Socialist Cornel West and conservative Robert P. George published a statement denouncing “campus illiberalism” and calling for “truth seeking, democracy and freedom of thought and expression.” More than 2,500 scholars and other intellectuals have signed it. At Northwestern the student government became the first in the country to pass a resolution calling for academic freedom and viewpoint diversity.
“What I think is happening,” Mr. Haidt says, is that “as the visible absurdity on campus mounts and mounts, and as public opinion turns more strongly against universities—and especially as the line of violence is crossed—we are having more and more people standing up saying, ‘Enough is enough. I’m opposed to this.’ ” Let’s hope.
If you’re not a student or professor, why should you care about snowflakes in their igloos? Because, Mr. Haidt argues, what happens on campus affects the “health of our nation.” Ideological and political homogeneity endangers the quality of social-science research, which informs public policy. “Understanding the impacts of immigration, understanding the causes of poverty—these are all absolutely vital,” he says. “If there’s an atmosphere of intimidation around politicized issues, it clearly influences the research.”
Today’s college students also are tomorrow’s leaders—and employees. Companies are already encountering problems with recent graduates unprepared for the challenges of the workplace. “Work requires a certain amount of toughness,” Mr. Haidt says. “Colleges that prepare students to expect a frictionless environment where there are bureaucratic procedures and adult authorities to rectify conflict are very poorly prepared for the workplace. So we can expect a lot more litigation in the coming few years.”
If you lean left—even if you adhere to the campus orthodoxy, or to certain elements of it—you might consider how the failure to respect pluralism puts your own convictions at risk of a backlash. “People are sick and tired of being called racist for innocent things they’ve said or done,” Mr. Haidt observes. “The response to being called a racist unfairly is never to say, ‘Gee, what did I do that led to me being called this? I should be more careful.’ The response is almost always, ‘[Expletive] you!’ ”
He offers this real-world example: “I think that the ‘deplorables’ comment could well have changed the course of human history.”
Ms. Weiss is an associate book review editor at the Journal.
Appeared in the Apr. 01, 2017, print edition as ‘The Cultural Roots of Campus Rage.’