Yale University

Sound Off !

How Far is Too Far?

Stephen P. Passek

December 28, 2015

Category: Society > Campus Issues

Below is my letter to President Salovey in response to his letter of 11/17/15 to the Yale community. In my letter, I express my regret that Yale's response to the current turmoil on campus seems to mistake Yale's proper educational priorities.

In thinking further about this issue, I am reminded of a paper I wrote in Professor Stanley Mellon's class in French history some 50+ years ago. My topic concerned General Dumouriez and his relationship to the French Revolution, viz., was Dumouriez a patriot or a traitor. Dumouriez was an early staunch defender of the Revolution but later became disenchanted because the Revolution seemed to go far beyond the goals and principles of the early Revolution. I recall Professor Mellon making the comment during class to the effect that "the train of the French Revolution had swept by Dumouriez."

I worked virtually my whole career as a lawyer doing civil-rights litigation on the side of the plaintiff. In recent years, however, I find that the current version of the civil-rights movement seems to have swept by ... much like the French revolutionary movement had for Dumouriez. The question I addressed in my Yale paper then was whether the Revolution had gone too far and, accordingly, whether Dumouriez was justified in jumping off the train because the train itself had left the tracks. I concluded that it had.

It seems to be a pertinent time for us (circa 2015-16) to ask the question whether our current version of the civil-rights movement has gone too far from its founding principles. History often asks whether any revolutionary movement, even one that starts out on the side of the angels, might go too far for its own good.

Here is my letter to President Salovey.

Dear President Salovey,

I am a Yale alumnus, Class of 1964. I was disheartened by your recent statement “Toward a Better Yale” sent to all alumni. Your statement seems to be doubling down on the political correctness which is curtailing free speech not only at Yale but elsewhere in the country. Nowhere in your statement did you highlight, much less reject, the protesters disrespectful behavior (screaming, epithets, and demands to resign) toward Silliman Master Christopher Christakis because his wife, a Yale lecturer in "childhood education," expressed views (related to her academic area of expertise) that were displeasing to the protesting Yale students. Nowhere in your statement do you acknowledge that such behavior is antithetical to Yale’s promise to educate. Your failure to acknowledge the harmful nature of the protest (the substance of the protest is protected speech) is actually an educational failure because it allows these Yale students to believe that shouting down of free speech is acceptable at Yale and by Yale’s president. What is the likelihood now that another Yale professor or student would dare to speak a contrary position on these issues? Your statement’s claimed “commitment to free speech … [as] unshakeable” rings hollow.

The millions of dollars Yale now plans to spend making “a better Yale,” as outlined in your statement, would, in my opinion, be more appropriately spent on improving academics at Yale in areas truly critical to this country and our planet. While race and ethnicity are indeed currently debated issues, I strenuously disagree they are the “central issues of our era,” as your statement claims. Climate change, and its many implications, is to my mind the central issue of our era. In light of recent events in Paris and events in our country on 9/11, global terrorism must be considered another central issue of our era. Yale, with its significant but not unlimited financial resources, should be aware of its obligations as a world-class educational institution to maintain world-class priorities.


Stephen P. Passek, Yale ‘64