FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

The Storm at Yale: Frustration, Rage and Opportunity

A veritable storm of high-profile cultural issues has swirled around university campuses for more than a year, and the ultra-prestigious Yale University remains a lightning rod that keeps drawing thunderbolts. Recently, administrators made a controversial decision to retain slavery-championing John C. Calhoun’s name on one of its residential colleges. The ensuing student outrage was predictable—it represents behavior that has come to characterize modern university life—as is that rage and indignation have buried the opportunity contained in this potentially instructive moment.

Yale students—and students at every university—should be practicing the art of effectively venting their frustrations. If they’re frustrated, that’s good. Frustration highlights an opportunity.

Circumstances like these are chances to civilly and rationally confront issues while elevating the capacity to articulate their moral intuitions, and there should be no better space for such a civil, rational discussion than at an Ivy League university like Yale. The case the students have made so far evidently has not been persuasive enough to effect their cause—so now they face an opportunity to improve their arguments, strengthen their case, and sharpen their presentation. This is the very definition of a real-world teaching moment for students, one taking place in the safe, receptive, microcosmic world of an elite Western university. That’s one lesson held here. If your cause seems just, and your case isn’t made, make it better, with better facts and more professionalism.

This opportunity carries other lessons as well. Students are reported as suspecting that big-money donors to the university, including one alumnus who allegedly donated $250 million, may have influenced the school’s decision. Well, future leaders of America and the world, c’est la vie. There are other influences than one’s feelings, one’s beliefs, one’s arguments, and one’s ideology in making important decisions in any society, and money is a very, very big one. The privileges of Yale aren’t free, and a quarter billion dollars says a lot. Maybe it isn’t good that large financial donations sometimes influence certain decisions, but, right or wrong, it’s part of the playing field that future leaders and professionals will have to navigate.

Another lesson is that you don’t always get what you want, even if you are right. This is life, and learning it—and how maintain your composure when dealing with it—is exactly the kind of real world lesson that future leaders coming to elite institutions should be enthusiastic, not frustrated or discouraged, to encounter. Opportunity often shows up in overalls, or in a neat business suit, as the case might be.

What should not happen at Yale is another of the same kind of demonstration that students have relied upon over the last year. Students must favor reasoned cases and orderly arguments via the kinds of channels that make democracies both functional and prosperous over mere (or screeching) protests and lists of demands. Democracies do not progress on demands, for these are the tools of tyrants, be they mobs or dictators. Students at Yale and students across the country right now have an opportunity to practice pursuing their social and political goals in terms of negotiable objectives instead of uncompromising ultimatums.

Should those who championed slavery in bygone eras retain their names on university buildings? Perhaps the answer isn’t as clear as either students or administrators seem to think, but what is clear is that robust debates are resoundingly deserved on all such controversies. It’s likewise apparent that this is an opportunity to grow up. It’s an opportunity to receive an education and engage the world, even from within an ivory tower. Yale students will be future leaders. They can turn the tide of the current campus mentality of using offense to make litanies of demands and grow into the kinds of real leaders that effective modern democracies need. But this is a choice they alone can make.

 

James A. Lindsay holds a Ph.D. in mathematics and is the author of three books, including Everybody Is Wrong About God. Connect with him at @GodDoesnt. Peter Boghossian is an Assistant Professor of Philosophy at Portland State University and an affiliated faculty member at Oregon Health Science University in the Division of General Internal Medicine. He is the author of A Manual for Creating Atheists. Connect with him at @peterboghossian.

September 19, 2018
Bruce E. Levine
When Bernie Sold Out His Hero, Anti-Authoritarians Paid
Lawrence Davidson
Political Fragmentation on the Homefront
George Ochenski
How’s That “Chinese Hoax” Treating You, Mr. President?
Cesar Chelala
The Afghan Morass
Chris Wright
Three Cheers for the Decline of the Middle Class
Howard Lisnoff
The Beat Goes On Against Protest in Saudi Arabia
Nomi Prins 
The Donald in Wonderland: Down the Financial Rabbit Hole With Trump
Jack Rasmus
On the 10th Anniversary of Lehman Brothers 2008: Can ‘IT’ Happen Again?
Richard Schuberth
Make Them Suffer Too
Geoff Beckman
Kavanaugh in Extremis
Jonathan Engel
Rather Than Mining in Irreplaceable Wilderness, Why Can’t We Mine Landfills?
Binoy Kampmark
Needled Strawberries: Food Terrorism Down Under
Michael McCaffrey
A Curious Case of Mysterious Attacks, Microwave Weapons and Media Manipulation
Elliot Sperber
Eating the Constitution
September 18, 2018
Conn Hallinan
Britain: the Anti-Semitism Debate
Tamara Pearson
Why Mexico’s Next President is No Friend of Migrants
Richard Moser
Both the Commune and Revolution
Nick Pemberton
Serena 15, Tennis Love
Binoy Kampmark
Inconvenient Realities: Climate Change and the South Pacific
Martin Billheimer
La Grand’Route: Waiting for the Bus
John Kendall Hawkins
Seymour Hersh: a Life of Adversarial Democracy at Work
Faisal Khan
Is Israel a Democracy?
John Feffer
The GOP Wants Trumpism…Without Trump
Kim Ives
The Roots of Haiti’s Movement for PetroCaribe Transparency
Dave Lindorff
We Already Have a Fake Billionaire President; Why Would We want a Real One Running in 2020?
Gerry Brown
Is China Springing Debt Traps or Throwing a Lifeline to Countries in Distress?
Pete Tucker
The Washington Post Really Wants to Stop Ben Jealous
Dean Baker
Getting It Wrong Again: Consumer Spending and the Great Recession
September 17, 2018
Melvin Goodman
What is to be Done?
Rob Urie
American Fascism
Patrick Cockburn
The Adults in the White House Trying to Save the US From Trump Are Just as Dangerous as He Is
Jeffrey St. Clair - Alexander Cockburn
The Long Fall of Bob Woodward: From Nixon’s Nemesis to Cheney’s Savior
Mairead Maguire
Demonization of Russia in a New Cold War Era
Dean Baker
The Bank Bailout of 2008 was Unnecessary
Wim Laven
Hurricane Trump, Season 2
Yves Engler
Smearing Dimitri Lascaris
Ron Jacobs
From ROTC to Revolution and Beyond
Clark T. Scott
The Cannibals of Horsepower
Binoy Kampmark
A Traditional Right: Jimmie Åkesson and the Sweden Democrats
Laura Flanders
History Markers
Weekend Edition
September 14, 2018
Friday - Sunday
Carl Boggs
Obama’s Imperial Presidency
Joshua Frank
From CO2 to Methane, Trump’s Hurricane of Destruction
Jeffrey St. Clair
Maria’s Missing Dead
Andrew Levine
A Bulwark Against the Idiocy of Conservatives Like Brett Kavanaugh
T.J. Coles
Neil deGrasse Tyson: A Celebrity Salesman for the Military-Industrial-Complex
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail