10 Sep 2012

Yale’s Disgraceful Record on Free Speech

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HuffPo used the beautiful interior of Yale’s Beinecke Rare Book Library as its illustration.

Yale made the the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education’s in-no-particular-order list of twelve worst colleges for free speech.

Talk about a chilling effect on speech, Yale has made its community downright frigid. We criticized Yale last year for censoring a book with cartoon images of Mohammed in an academic book about those very cartoons, and for quashing its Freshman Class Council’s T-shirt for the annual Harvard-Yale football match because the shirts quoted F. Scott Fitzgerald referring to Harvard students as “sissies.” Yale has kept busy since then. It censored the freshman class again, absurdly refusing to approve this year’s tees unless Harvard approved them, too (see Harvard’s entry). Under pressure from the federal government, Yale also suspended a fraternity for five years after the pledges’ satirical, juvenile, and intentionally offensive outdoor chants about sex were deemed to be “imperiling the integrity and values of the University community.” Yale raised eyebrows when it gave academic justifications for closing down the Yale Initiative for the Interdisciplinary Study of Antisemitism not long after the center came under criticism for holding a conference … about antisemitism. And after a committee recommended ending Yale’s annual Sex Week, the university forced the organizers to change the content of their festivities or else have no Sex Week at all.

Read the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education’s Yale page, and weep.

FIRE’s President Greg Lukianoff published a repackaged version of the same press release on HuffPo.

The critique of Yale is correct and damaging, except in the case of the final item, the so-called “forcing to organizers of Sex Week at Yale to change its content or have no Sex Week at all.”

FIRE seems to suffer from the characteristic liberal intellectual confusion over free speech.

The use of Yale University’s lecture halls is pretty strictly limited by the administration normally and conventionally. Students cannot borrow a lecture hall, during the hours that it isn’t being used for classes, to operate a business for private profit, to hold an organizational meeting, or to throw a party. If you were to ask, they’d tell you that janitorial services and utilities cost money, and there are security and insurance issues as well. If somebody falls down and bumps his head at your party or meeting, Yale does not want to be sued. Lecture halls are for classes, they would tell you, and you typically cannot borrow them.

Students who want to have some kind of organizational event, like Sex Week at Yale, do not normally get access to major lecture hall facilities. Yale granting that kind of access is a way of subsidizing and lending university support to an event, which could only be expected to happen if the university believed the event being held had some kind of educational purpose or otherwise represented a valuable contribution or worthy cause.

Why the university ever believed that sex toy demonstrations, bondage displays, and lectures by pornographers and porn stars represented any kind of appropriate beneficiary of that kind of access and support is unclear. My guess is that the university was scammed by extremist gender identity groups that it previously had confused with worthy causes.

Limiting access to university facilities conventionally so as to exclude sex technique demonstrations and celebrations of porn is not really limiting free speech, it is really just being more sensible about what kind of speech one treats as significant, it just means discriminating appropriately between substantive speech and porno.

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SDD

Yale is proud of being an institution so feeble that it’s “integrity and values” could be “imperiled” by some raucous humor?



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