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Richard Gilder Center for Science, Education, and Innovation
How Colleges Stack Up on the Payoff for Students
One of the most important measures of a college is how its students fare in terms of graduation rates, salaries and debt repayment
Yale University topped the outcomes list in part due to its financial-aid policy.
Yale University topped the outcomes list in part due to its financial-aid policy. Photo: Craig Warga/Bloomberg News
By Melissa Korn
Sept. 27, 2016 10:37 p.m. ET
Students choose a college for all kinds of reasons—from the courses it offers to the quality of its football team—but in dollars and cents, the best measure of a good college is what happens after graduation.
Can the new grads find jobs? Can they repay their loans? Will their diplomas open doors—or shut them?
While exercises in intellectual exploration are valuable, and a truly integral part of the college experience, these student outcomes matter. And with student-loan debt in the U.S. totaling $1.3 trillion and the average debt burden for those who received loans topping $28,000, outcomes matter perhaps more than ever before.
That’s why The Wall Street Journal/Times Higher Education College Rankings weighted outcomes as the most important factor in our overall ranking, with a hefty 40% of the total score. Outcome scores are derived from graduation rates and academic reputation, as well as measures of loan-repayment rates and graduate salaries that take into account the educational performance, financial backgrounds and other characteristics of a school’s student population.
Explore the Full College Rankings
Peter & Maria Hoey for The Wall Street Journal
Read more at WSJ.com/CollegeRankings
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“College is about opening the door to economic independence,” says Anthony Carnevale, director of Georgetown University’s Center on Education and the Workforce. “You’re going to have to have a career someday. You’re going to do this for four or five years, but what you’re going to do for the next 45 years is intimately linked to that.”
Yale is No. 1
By our analysis, Yale University is the best U.S. college in terms of student outcomes. A whopping 97% of its first-time, full-time students graduate within six years and 95% of those with federal loans were paying back some of the principal three years after graduation. Within 10 years of starting school, median salaries for Yale graduates who got federal aid and are therefore in the government’s College Scorecard database top $70,000.
Jeremiah Quinlan, the dean of undergraduate admissions at Yale, says the school’s stellar performance is due in part to its generous financial-aid policy. The school says about 83% of undergraduates graduate debt-free. Those with loans generally have low balances.
“At Yale we are deeply committed to making our world-class education affordable for all students,” Mr. Quinlan says.
Tied for second place in our outcomes ranking are Princeton University and Stanford University, both wealthy schools with large financial-aid budgets, meaning graduates don’t take on much debt. Students at such elite schools also have well-paved paths to high-earning careers, thanks to generations of alumni connections at big corporations.
Columbia University and Duke University tied for the fourth spot in the ranking.
Beyond raw numbers
There’s a reason why these rankings don’t just score schools based on a straight analysis of graduate salaries. Such a measure may reflect how many investment banks and consulting firms show up for on-campus recruiting sessions. But it doesn’t reveal the true return on investment, the extent to which a student is doing better—or worse—than they would have if they hadn’t attended that particular school.
In other words: Outcomes must be measured with some understanding of the inputs. Schools with many students from economically disadvantaged backgrounds are working with a population that mostly doesn’t have personal connections to hiring managers at Goldman Sachs or McKinsey. So it’s a big win for a school with a large share of first-generation college students to report that graduates actually do land those jobs and are in good standing on repaying their loans.
Our value-added measures of loan-repayment rates and salaries were calculated by comparing predicted salaries and repayment rates—based on factors like students’ SAT scores, family income and an institution’s population of first-generation students—and the actual outcomes. We used a landmark 2015 Brookings Institution analysis of value-added college outcomes as a guide on this measure, recognizing that high graduate salaries alone don’t indicate school success.
“If you’re Harvard, and you take all the best students, and they get all the best jobs, you’re not necessarily taking them on much of a journey,” says Phil Baty, the Times Higher Education rankings editor. (Harvard University landed at No. 14 in our outcomes ranking, in part because only some 85% of students with federal loans were paying back some of the principal three years after graduation. Few had loans to begin with.)
One example of outcomes strength is the University of Virginia. It tied for 56th in our overall ranking, but comes in at No. 32 on outcomes thanks to a cap on loans it expects students to take out, a solid proportion of graduates who enter engineering and business fields, and among the best six-year graduation rates of any public institution.
The role of reputation
One word of caution when looking at our outcomes table: Salaries vary widely by major. But the federal College Scorecard on which much of this analysis is based doesn’t break down salaries for particular majors, limiting how we could collect such granular information.
“That’s very rough stuff,” Georgetown’s Mr. Carnevale says of the lack of specificity in the scorecard data on salaries. But he says it spurs prospective students and their families to “realize this is something they should be asking about.”
Finally, the outcomes ranking includes a measure that isn’t purely quantitative—academic reputation. The results of this measure, derived from a survey of academics associated with U.S. institutions and conducted by Times Higher Education and Elsevier, favor schools with the most recognizable brands. Academics were asked to identify the U.S. schools they feel have the best reputations for teaching. An institution well-known regionally but not nationally may not score as well as schools with broader prominence.
Ms. Korn is a Wall Street Journal reporter in New York. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Beckie Strum, a writer in New York, contributed to this artlcle.
Corrections & Amplifications:
Some of the rankings mentioned in this article may have changed slightly due to subsequent adjustments to the data. For the latest rankings for 2016, see WSJ.com/graphics/college-rankings-2016/. (Sept. 28, 2016)
1 day ago
Given that Yale, and other top schools all offer aid generous enough that students need not take out loans unless they choose not to work in the summer or take term-time employment, I do not know why the military academies were not included in this survey. Moreover, most of the top schools view themselves as offering a liberal education, not as trade schools offering terminal degrees. Most of their students go to a professional school or graduate school after undergrad. The normal business route is to work for a few years and then go to B school Medical school is four years. Many professional schools do not offer the generous aid packages that the top undergrad schools, so students might, as is their right, not pay their undergrad loans until they get out of professional school and into the workforce. For students getting a PhD, five to six years is the norm to complete classes and their thesis.
5 days ago
I think you also have to look at what school job recruiters go. They know which school have quality programs. This is really missing in your survey. If I wanted to hire a top notch accountant I would certainly look at the University of Illinois or University of Michigan over Stanford.
1 day ago
@RONALD MOONIN Stanford does not have an accounting major.
WILLIAM A TAYLOR
WILLIAM A TAYLOR
5 days ago
When it was discovered that people with degrees made more money than people without, nobody bothered to notice that the choice of degree made a huge difference. “XX Studies” programs produce indebted baristas, for example.
Since then, the discussion has grown more and more incoherent because nobody can even agree on the purpose of education. Democrats are convinced that the purpose of education is to provide safe jobs for academics who indoctrinate young people in liberal dogma.
Ivy league colleges have utterly different objectives from stem schools, for example. It’s far too long to post here, but “The Purpose of Education – University Goals” at http://www.scragged.com/articles/the-purpose-of-education-1-university-goals discusses competing convictions about the purpose of education.
What do you think is the purpose of education?
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Campus political correctness spurs Alumni to tighten purse strings
As part of a growing backlash against political correctness and limitations on free speech on American college and university campuses, an increasing number of alumni are dropping financial support for their alma maters.
WASHINGTON, August 23, 2016 – When alumni receive letters soliciting contributions from their alma maters, more and more of them are either declining to contribute or cutting back the amount of their gifts. This attitudinal shift is part of a growing backlash against political correctness on the nation’s college and university campuses. Of particular concern to alumni donors are the imitations on free speech that are being imposed on a growing number of college and university campuses.
It’s clear there is an increasing awareness of the dangers of recent trends. In March, the American Association of University Professors (AAUP) issued a report arguing that the Federal law known as Title IX, which bans discrimination on the basis of sex, has been stretched beyond its intended boundaries to punish language and ideas that are Constitutionally permitted.
The AAUP report cited examples of abuses such as the case of Patty Adler, a professor at the University of Colorado at Boulder, who had long taught a popular sociology course called “Deviance in U.S. Society.” Adler’s Dean threatened her with forced retirement after some students complained about role-playing exercises in her class. The threat was ultimately rescinded, but a disillusioned Adler chose to retire. In another case, Teresa Buchanan, a Louisiana State University professor, was fired over the objection of a faculty committee, because some students complained about her use of profanity.
According to AAUP,
“Overly broad definitions of hostile environment harassment work at cross purposes with the academic and free speech rights necessary to promote learning in an educational setting. Learning can be best advanced by more free speech that encourages discussion of controversial issues rather than by using punitive administrative and legal fiat to prevent such discussion from happening at all.”
Today, more than half of America’s colleges and universities have imposed restrictive speech codes. According to Newsweek,
“American college campuses are starting to resemble George Orwell’s Oceana, with its Thought Police, or East Germany under the Stasi. College newspapers have been muzzled and trashed, and students are disciplined or suspended for ‘hate speech’ while exponentially more are being shamed and silenced on social media by their peers. Professors quake at accidentally offending any students and are rethinking syllabi and restricting class discussions to only the most anodyne topics.”
Examples of abuse abound.
- A Brandeis University professor endured a secret administrative investigation for racial harassment after using the word “wetback” in class while explaining its use as a pejorative.
- At Amherst College, students called for a speech code that would have sanctioned some students for making an “All Lives Matter” poster.
- Activists at Wesleyan trashed their student paper and pushed to get it defunded after it published an article critical of the “Black Lives Matter” group.
- At the University of California system, some groups supporting Israel demanded that opposition to Zionism and criticism of Israel be labeled “anti-Semitism.” In this case, the university deplored anti-Semitism but declined to broaden its definition.
- Students at Emory University protested messages in support of Donald Trump which were chalked on campus sidewalks as an attempt to intimidate minority groups.
Not only are students and faculty members having political correctness imposed on them. Guidelines issued at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill in its Employee Forum sought to help staff avoid “micro aggressions,” by cautioning them against using allegedly offensive phrases such as “Christmas vacation,” “husband/boyfriend” and “golf outing.”
With regard to “gender” microaggressions, the guidelines discourage comments such as “I love your shoes” to female colleagues, or otherwise complimenting the appearance of women. The guide also discourages staff from inviting others to play a “round of golf,” which “assumes employees have the financial resources/exposure to a fairly expensive and inaccessible sport.” At faculty award ceremonies, says the guide, honorees should not be asked to “stand and be recognized” for their achievements, which assumes “that everyone is able in this way and ignores diversity of ability in the space.”
At Princeton University, the Office of Human Resources has issued a list of gender-inclusive style guidelines. The word “man” can no longer be used, in order to foster “a more inclusive community.” Instead of “man,” employees are told to use words such as “human beings, individuals or people.” Instead of “man and wife,” the acceptable terms are “spouses” or “partners.” The term “manmade” should be replaced by “artificial, handmade or manufactured.” The term “mankind” should be replaced by “humankind,” and “workmanlike” should become “skillful.” The list is a long one.
“Microaggression” is usually defined as unintended slights directed toward vulnerable groups. In reality, “microaggressions” often carry political implications and serve as a pretext for silencing political dissent. At an event last year titled “Managing Microaggressions,” students at the University of Virginia said that identifying oneself as an “American” is a microaggression. Students at the University of Wisconsin said that calling America a “melting pot” or “the land of opportunity” is micro aggressive.
In a front-page report headlined “Amid College Protests, Alumni Are Less Fond and Less Giving,” The New York Times cited Scott MacConnell, a 1960 Amherst graduate, has now cut the college out of his will. In a letter to the college’s alumni fund, MacConnell wrote: “As an alumnus of the college, I feel that I have been lied to, patronized and dismissed as an old, white bigot who is insensitive to the needs and feelings of the current college community.”
Scott C. Johnson, who graduated from Yale in 1982, said he was on campus last fall when activists tried to shut down a free speech conference, “because apparently they missed irony class that day.” He recalled the Yale student who was videotaped screaming at a professor, Nicholas Christakis, accusing the professor of failing “to create a place of comfort and home” for students in his capacity as the head of a residential college. In Johnson’s view, “This is not your daddy’s liberalism. The worst part is that campus administrators are wilting before the activists like flowers.”
Last March, some Amherst alumni learned that a new director of the Women’s and Gender Center asked to be addressed as “they,” rather than “he” or “she.” Robert Longsworth, who graduated from Amherst in 1999, is the seventh in his family to have attended Amherst and was president of the New York City alumni Association and a class agent. He has now withdrawn because he feels the college has become
“…wrapped up in the politically charged mission rather than staying in its lane and being an institution of higher learning. When the administration and faculty and ultimately a lot of the student body spends a great deal of time on witch hunts, I think that a lot of that intellectual rigor is forgone… Friends who went to Hamilton, Trinity, Williams, Bates, Middlebury, and Hobart are not pleased at what’s happening on campus, and they’ve kind of stepped away. Refusing to write a check seems to be the only lever that can make a difference.”
The backlash against political correctness and the politicization of many colleges and universities is increasingly evident. In the case of Amherst, the amount of money given by alumni dropped 6.5 per cent for its last fiscal year, and participation in the alumni fund dropped 1.9 per cent to 50.6 per cent, the lowest participation rate since 1975. At Princeton, where protestors unsuccessfully demanded the removal of Woodrow Wilson’s name from university buildings and programs, undergraduate alumni donations dropped 6.6 per cent and participation dropped 1.9 per cent.
Elsewhere, 35 small, selective liberal arts colleges belonging to the fund-raising organization Staff (Sharing the Annual Fund Fundamentals), recently reported that their initial annual fund results for FY 2016 indicated that 29 per cent of them were running behind 2015 results in dollars and 64 per cent were behind in donors.
Fortunately, there are a few universities that have been doing their best to maintain academic freedom and free speech. The University of Chicago has taken the lead in defending free speech on campus. Last year, a special committee issued a statement noting the importance of civility but upholding “the principle that debate or deliberation may not be suppressed because the ideas put forth are thought by some or even by most members of the university community to be offensive, unwise, immoral or wrong-headed.”
If universities cannot be persuaded to embrace free speech and academic freedom as a matter of principle, perhaps alumni can push them in the right direction by withholding contributions until they do. All of us would benefit if such an effort were to succeed.
The College Formerly Known as Yale
Any renaming push on the Ivy campus should start at the top—with Elihu Yale, slave trader extraordinaire.
By Roger Kimball
Aug. 8, 2016 7:19 p.m. ET
The English novelist Kingsley Amis once observed that much that was wrong with the 20th century could be summed up in the word “workshop.” On American campuses today, I suspect that the operative word is “committee.”
On Aug. 1, Yale University president Peter Salovey announced that he is creating a Committee to Establish Principles on Renaming. There has been a craze for renaming things on college campuses the last couple of years—a common passion in unsettled times.
In the French Revolution, leaders restarted the calendar at zero and renamed the months of the year. The Soviets renamed cities, erased the names of political enemies from the historical record, and banned scientific theories that conflicted with Marxist doctrine.
At Princeton, Stanford, Georgetown, Harvard and elsewhere, students have demanded that buildings, programs and legacies be renamed to accommodate modern sensitivities. Amherst College has dropped Lord Jeffrey Amherst as its mascot because the colonial administrator was unkind to Indians. Students at the University of Missouri have petitioned to remove a statue of the “racist rapist” Thomas Jefferson. This is part of a larger effort, on and off campuses, to stamp out dissenting attitudes and rewrite history to comport with contemporary prejudices.
But isn’t the whole raison d’être of universities to break the myopia of the present and pursue the truth? Isn’t that one important reason they enjoy such lavish public support and tax breaks?
An 18th-century oil painting of Elihu Yale with a servant. ENLARGE
An 18th-century oil painting of Elihu Yale with a servant. Photo: Yale University Art Gallery
A point of contention at Yale has been the residential college named for John C. Calhoun, a congressman, senator, secretary of war and vice president. Alas, Calhoun was also an avid supporter of slavery.
Mr. Salovey is also perhaps still reeling from the Halloween Horror, the uproar last year over whether Ivy League students can be trusted to pick their own holiday costumes, which made Yale’s crybullies a national laughing stock. In the wake of that he earmarked $50 million for such initiatives as the Center for the Study of Race, Indigeneity, and Transnational Migration.
He then announced that Calhoun College would not change its name. Apparently, he has reconsidered. After the Committee on Renaming has done its work to develop “clearly delineated principles,” he wrote, “we will be able to hold requests for the removal of a historical name—including that of John C. Calhoun—up to them.”
I have unhappy news for Mr. Salovey. In the great racism sweepstakes, John Calhoun was an amateur. Far more egregious was Elihu Yale, the philanthropist whose benefactions helped found the university. As an administrator in India, he was deeply involved in the slave trade. He always made sure that ships leaving his jurisdiction for Europe carried at least 10 slaves. I propose that the committee on renaming table the issue of Calhoun College and concentrate on the far more flagrant name “Yale.”
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There is also the matter of historical artifacts. Earlier this year an unhappy employee at Calhoun College smashed a stained-glass window because it depicted slaves. He was dismissed but then, after a student outcry, rehired. In response, Mr. Salovey convened a Committee on Art in Public Spaces. Offending objects, he explained, including “certain windows,” would be “relocated” and “conserved for future study.” Wasn’t there a similar initiative in Europe in the late 1930s and 1940s?
Yale’s leaders have compared the renaming committee to the so-called Woodward Committee that, in the mid-1970s, issued on behalf of the school a ringing defense of free speech (“to think the unthinkable, discuss the unmentionable, and challenge the unchallengeable”).
A closer historical parallel, however, might be the Committee of Public Safety, which during the French Revolution worked overtime to assure that citizens lived up to its ideal of virtue. “Virtue” was a word always on the lips of the revolutionaries in France. They took the term from the man whom Robespierre called a “prodigy of virtue,” Jean-Jacques Rousseau.
In everyday life, acting virtuously means such boring things as being kind, honest and dutiful. For moral prodigies, such pedestrian examples are beneath notice. Rousseau, “drunk with virtue” as he put it in his “Confessions,” nonetheless shipped off to a foundlings home all five of the children he had with his semi-literate mistress. She protested, but Rousseau cared not for he had “never felt the least glimmering of love for her.”
Robespierre floated aloft upon a similarly callous intoxication. The Republic, he said, was founded on “virtue and its emanation, terror.” Hence the work of the Committee of Public Safety, whose chief handmaiden was the guillotine and whose activities depended critically on anonymous reports about those whose commitment to virtue was less than wholehearted.
Yale, though sitting on a tax-exempt endowment of $24 billion, does not have the guillotine. But like many institutions entrusted with educating America’s future leaders, it is hard at work undermining due process and fostering an atmosphere of anonymous accusation. In a campus-wide email this spring, Stephanie Spangler, a Yale professor of obstetrics and gynecology as well as “University Title IX Coordinator,” discussed the school’s plans to launch “on-line tools for reporting sexual misconduct anonymously.”
The right of due process and the right to face one’s accuser have been hallowed guarantors of liberty since the Roman Republic. They are enshrined in the U.S. Constitution. But those who are infatuated with their own virtue find it easy to dispense with such unwieldy constraints.
I suspect that Mr. Salovey believes he will be able to pacify the professional grievance-mongers on his campus by bribes and capitulations. He should remember what an earlier cultural provocateur, the Yippie leader Jerry Rubin, said: “Satisfy our demands, and we’ve got twelve more. The more demands you satisfy, the more we’ve got.”
The Committee of Public Safety came into being in April 1793. On July 28, 1794, Robespierre, the man who oversaw the murder of so many, was himself guillotined. Thus do revolutions consume their abettors.
Mr. Kimball is editor and publisher of the New Criterion and president and publisher of Encounter Books.
The Closing of the American Mind
There are dangerous signs that the U.S. is turning its back on the principles of a free and open society that fostered the nation’s rise.
Photo: Getty Images/iStockphoto
By Charles Koch
July 21, 2016 6:53 p.m. ET
I was born in the midst of the Great Depression, when no one could imagine the revolutionary technological advances that we now take for granted. Innovations in countless fields have transformed society and radically improved individual well-being, especially for the least fortunate. Every American’s life is now immeasurably better than it was 80 years ago.
What made these dramatic improvements possible was America’s uniquely free and open society, which has brought the country to the cusp of another explosion of life-changing innovation. But there are dangerous signs that the U.S. is turning its back on the principles that foster such advances, particularly in education, business and government. Which path will the country take?
When I attended the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in the 1950s, I quickly came to appreciate that scientific and technological progress requires the free and open exchange of ideas. The same holds true for moral and social progress. I have spent more than a half-century trying to apply this lesson in business and my personal life.
It was once widely accepted that progress depends on people challenging and testing each other’s hypotheses. This leads to the creation of knowledge that, when shared, inspires others and spurs the innovation that moves society forward and improves lives. It is a spontaneous process that is deeply collaborative and dependent on the contributions of others. Recall Sir Isaac Newton’s statement that he achieved so much by “standing on the shoulders of giants.”
Scientific progress in seemingly disparate fields creates opportunities for fusion, which is where the greatest innovations often occur. The British writer Matt Ridley has brilliantly described this process as “ideas having sex.” Today, this creation-from-coupling is evident in, for example, the development of driverless cars, which combine advances in transportation and artificial intelligence. When seen through this prism, the opportunities for life-altering innovation are limitless.
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Despite our enormous potential for further progress, a clear majority of Americans see a darker future. Some 56% believe their children’s lives will be worse off than their own, according to a January CNN poll. A Rasmussen poll released the following month found that 46% believe America’s best days are behind it. Little more than a third believe better days lie ahead.
I empathize with this fear. The U.S. is already far down the path to becoming a less open and free society, and the current cultural and political atmosphere threatens to make the situation worse: Growing attacks on free speech and free association, hostile rhetoric toward immigrants, fear that global trade impoverishes rather than enriches, demands that innovators in cutting-edge industries first seek government permission.
This trajectory takes the U.S. further away from the brighter future that is otherwise within reach. Resisting calls to exclude, divide or restrict—and promoting a free and open society—ought to be the great moral cause of these times. The most urgent tasks involve the key institutions of education, business and government.
(My italics) Education in America, and particularly higher education, has become increasingly hostile to the free exchange of ideas. On many campuses, a climate of intellectual conformity has replaced open debate and inquiry, stifling discussion on a host of topics ranging from history to science to economics. Dissenters are demonized, ostracized or otherwise treated with scorn and derision. This disrupts the process of discovery and challenge that is at the root of human progress. Holland embraced this philosophy—best expressed by the phrase “Listen even to the other side”—in the 17th century, contributing to it becoming the most prosperous country in the world at the time.
Similarly, in business the proliferation of corporate welfare wastes resources and closes off opportunity for newcomers. It takes many forms—direct subsidies, anticompetitive regulations, mandates, tax credits and carve-outs—all of which tip the scales in favor of established businesses and industries. The losers are invariably the new, disruptive and innovative entrepreneurs who drive progress, along with everyone who stands to benefit from their work. Just ask the citizens of Austin, Texas, who recently lost access to Uber after a campaign backed by its competitors in the taxi industry.
Government, which often has strong incentives to stifle the revolutionary advances that could transform lives, may be the most dangerous. The state often claims to keep its citizens safe, when it is actually inhibiting increased individual well-being. See, for example, the FDA’s astronomically expensive and time-consuming drug-approval process, which University of Chicago professor Sam Peltzman argues has caused “more sickness and death than it prevented.” These kinds of harmful barriers to life-enhancing advances exist at every level of government.
Unleashing innovation, no matter what form it takes, is the essential component of truly helping people improve their lives. The material and social transformations in my own days have been nothing short of astonishing, with a marked improvement in well-being for all Americans. If the country can unite around a vision for a tolerant, free and open society, it can achieve even greater advances, and a brighter future for everyone, in the years ahead.
Mr. Koch is chairman and CEO of Koch Industries and the author of “Good Profit: How Creating Value for Others Built One of the World’s Most Successful Companies” (Crown Business, 2015).
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How the Yale Halloween Vigilantes Finally Got Their Way
Nicholas and Erika Christakis step down from their administrative posts, closing a sorry chapter at the university.
June 3, 2016 6:18 p.m. ET
Nicholas Christakis and his wife, Erika, came to Yale University in 2013 with high expectations. At Harvard, the couple had held prominent teaching and administrative roles. At Yale, Dr. Christakis, a sociologist and physician, received a laboratory directorship and four appointments; Ms. Christakis, an expert in early-childhood education, became a seminar instructor. Two years after their arrival at Yale, Dr. Christakis and Ms. Christakis were awarded positions as master and associate master of Silliman College, Yale’s largest residential college. (I attend the university and reside at Silliman).
Last week, the Christakises resigned those posts.
Early-childhood educator Erika Christakis.
Early-childhood educator Erika Christakis. Photo: Axel Dupeux/Wall Street Journal
Their departure comes as no surprise. For seven months, the couple has been subject to bullying, harassment and intimidation. They inadvertently became a national media story last fall and catalyzed a month of campus protests, prompting Yale President Peter Salovey to tell minority students: “We failed you.”
The Christakises encountered a witch-hunt mentality on a contemporary college campus. It began fittingly on the day before Halloween, when Ms. Christakis questioned guidelines from Yale’s Intercultural Affairs Committee warning against “culturally unaware or insensitive” costumes. Ms. Christakis reasoned, in an email to Silliman residents, that students should decide for themselves how to dress for Halloween, without the administration’s involvement.
Student radicals of the 1960s might have recognized her note as a defense of free expression, but those days are long gone. Instead, Ms. Christakis was denounced as a proponent of cultural insensitivity. Irate students circulated petitions, wrote editorials and posted social-media tirades. They scribbled criticisms in chalk outside the Christakises’ home and posted degrading images of them online. Two student groups demanded their removal from Silliman.
In one incident captured on video, dozens of students confronted Dr. Christakis, berating and cursing him, while a Yale dean looked on. One student screamed at Dr. Christakis: “You should not sleep at night. You are disgusting.” Yale College Dean Jonathan Holloway did not help matters when, the next day, he offered his “unambiguous” support for the Intercultural Affairs Committee’s guidelines, calling their intent “exactly right.”
Though President Salovey rejected calls for the Christakises’ firing, animus for the couple simmered. In December, a crate appeared outside their Silliman office containing a sombrero and a Rastafarian wig—the sort of Halloween paraphernalia now taboo on college campuses. In January, a fake email purporting to be from Ms. Christakis objected to the administration’s safety ban on hoverboard scooters. The couple canceled teaching plans for the spring.
At Silliman College’s graduation ceremony on May 23, several seniors refused to accept their diplomas from Dr. Christakis or to shake his hand. Two days later, the Christakises announced that they would step down from Silliman. Many students celebrated the news on Facebook.
While the Christakises remain affiliated with Yale and could return to teaching, their resignations from Silliman had the air of a chapter closing in one of the more disturbing episodes of modern campus intolerance.
The Christakises made remarkably unlikely targets for purging by student activists. The couple has a long record of advocating for minority students, and the Christakises have devoted much of their academic work to highlighting health and development problems facing underserved communities.
In the months since the controversy erupted, the Christakises have met one-on-one with offended students. They have invited their critics over for a group lunch to “continue the conversation.” Though not always with success, the Christakises tried to improve a fraught situation, with little backup from the administration.
“We have great respect for every member of our community, friend and critic alike,” Dr. Christakis wrote in announcing the couple’s resignation from Silliman, effective in July. “We remain hopeful that students at Yale can express themselves and engage complex ideas within an intellectually plural community.”
On the evidence of the past year or so across American campuses, such hope is becoming ever more beleaguered. With luck, the sorry episode at Yale will cause students to spend less time vilifying professors and more time engaging with their ideas.
Mr. Young, a Robert L. Bartley Fellow at the Journal this summer, will be a senior at Yale University in the fall.
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