God and clown at Yale

If you’re trying to understand the madness that has overtaken university campuses, Yale presents an important case study. My daughter Eliana takes a look at Yale’s ordeal in the current NR article “This is not a debate.” It’s a reported piece that seems to me to give readers the information necessary to understand the case for themselves.

For me the article has a personal component. Eliana takes the story back to Bill Buckley, founder of NR and author of God and Man at Yale, but it really begins with the shutting down of the scheduled debate between William Shockley and NR’s William Rusher in the spring of 1974. I was a graduate student in the English department at the time. Interested in the debate, I arrived at the event early and got a seat inside the auditorium that quickly reached capacity. Shouted down from the first moment by students acting in the fascist style to which we have now grown accustomed, the debate never got off the ground. The whole thing made me physically ill.

As Eliana explains, Yale righted itself by means of the December 1974 Report of the Committee on Freedom of Expression at Yale (known as the Woodward Report, after committee chairman C. Vann Woodward). Eliana’s article strongly suggests, however, that Yale is back in the mire.

Reading the article, I was interested to see who talked to Eliana and who didn’t.

Who talked? Yale’s great (retired) professor of history Donald Kagan. Along with Allan Bloom and Walter Berns, Professor Kagan quit Cornell in disgust after its famous disgrace in 1969. The article concludes with Professor Kagan’s comments on Yale’s current disgrace.

Geoffrey Kabaservice, an assistant professor of history, and Shelly Kagan (no relation to Donald, I think), a professor of philosophy, also spoke to Eliana, as did Steven Benner, a brilliant chemist who helped write the Woodward Report as a Yale undergraduate way back when.

Who didn’t talk? As I read the article, Yale Deans Burgwell Howard and Jonathan Holloway declined interview requests and President Richard Salovey declined to comment on the investigation of the spitting incident that is the most recent event in the current saga.

One prominent Yale professor has a foot in both the talk/not talk camps. The star of my class of English graduate students was David Bromwich, now a chaired professor of English at Yale. Professor Bromwich apparently declined an interview request but referred Eliana to his 1992 book Politics by Other Means, from which we may infer that he’s probably not thrilled by Yale’s current disgrace–of which he may also be an apt representative.

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