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.

Weekend Edition
January 18, 2019
Friday - Sunday
Melvin Goodman
Star Wars Revisited: One More Nightmare From Trump
John Davis
“Weather Terrorism:” a National Emergency
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Sometimes an Establishment Hack is Just What You Need
Joshua Frank
Montana Public Schools Block Pro-LGBTQ Websites
Louisa Willcox
Sky Bears, Earth Bears: Finding and Losing True North
Robert Fisk
Bernie Sanders, Israel and the Middle East
Robert Fantina
Pompeo, the U.S. and Iran
David Rosen
The Biden Band-Aid: Will Democrats Contain the Insurgency?
Nick Pemberton
Human Trafficking Should Be Illegal
Steve Early - Suzanne Gordon
Did Donald Get The Memo? Trump’s VA Secretary Denounces ‘Veteran as Victim’ Stereotyping
Andrew Levine
The Tulsi Gabbard Factor
John W. Whitehead
The Danger Within: Border Patrol is Turning America into a Constitution-Free Zone
Dana E. Abizaid
Kafka’s Grave: a Pilgrimage in Prague
Rebecca Lee
Punishment Through Humiliation: Justice For Sexual Assault Survivors
Dahr Jamail
A Planet in Crisis: The Heat’s On Us
John Feffer
Trump Punts on Syria: The Forever War is Far From Over
Dave Lindorff
Shut Down the War Machine!
Glenn Sacks
LA Teachers’ Strike: Student Voices of the Los Angeles Education Revolt  
Mark Ashwill
The Metamorphosis of International Students Into Honorary US Nationalists: a View from Viet Nam
Ramzy Baroud
The Moral Travesty of Israel Seeking Arab, Iranian Money for its Alleged Nakba
Ron Jacobs
Allen Ginsberg Takes a Trip
Jake Johnston
Haiti by the Numbers
Binoy Kampmark
No-Confidence Survivor: Theresa May and Brexit
Victor Grossman
Red Flowers for Rosa and Karl
Cesar Chelala
President Donald Trump’s “Magical Realism”
Christopher Brauchli
An Education in Fraud
Paul Bentley
The Death Penalty for Canada’s Foreign Policy?
David Swanson
Top 10 Reasons Not to Love NATO
Louis Proyect
Breaking the Left’s Gay Taboo
Kani Xulam
A Saudi Teen and Freedom’s Shining Moment
Ralph Nader
Bar Barr or Regret this Dictatorial Attorney General
Jessicah Pierre
A Dream Deferred: MLK’s Dream of Economic Justice is Far From Reality
Edward J. Martin
Glossip v. Gross, the Eighth Amendment and the Torture Court of the United States
Chuck Collins
Shutdown Expands the Ranks of the “Underwater Nation”
Paul Edwards
War Whores
Peter Crowley
Outsourcing Still Affects Us: This and AI Worker Displacement Need Not be Inevitable
Alycee Lane
Trump’s Federal Government Shutdown and Unpaid Dishwashers
Martha Rosenberg
New Questions About Ritual Slaughter as Belgium Bans the Practice
Nicky Reid
Panarchy as Full Spectrum Intersectionality
Jill Richardson
Hollywood’s Fat Shaming is Getting Old
Nyla Ali Khan
A Woman’s Wide Sphere of Influence Within Folklore and Social Practices
Richard Klin
Dial Israel: Amos Oz, 1939-2018
David Rovics
Of Triggers and Bullets
David Yearsley
Bass on Top: the Genius of Paul Chambers
Elliot Sperber
Eddie Spaghetti’s Alphabet
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail