Yale professor resigns: Can ‘civil dialogue’ share space with student rage?

9 Dec 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

Do you know these planes? Kuala Lumpur has three orphaned 747s that nobody will claim.

New York — When Erika Christakis resigned her teaching post at Yale on Monday, she gently expressed her frustration with the current state of “civil dialogue and open inquiry” at one of the most esteemed institutions of higher learning in the nation. A white Ivy League lecturer has resigned following an uproar over an email she sent in October suggesting students should have the freedom to wear whatever Halloween costumes they like, including those that may be culturally insensitive.A Yale University faculty member who sparked protests when she said students should be free to push boundaries with Halloween costumes, even to the point of offense, resigned from her teaching position, the school announced Monday. “Her teaching is highly valued and she is welcome to resume teaching anytime at Yale, where freedom of expression and academic inquiry are the paramount principle and practice,” the school said.A Yale professor who argued for students’ right to wear culturally insensitive Halloween costumes and triggered outcry on campus has announced her intentions to resign from teaching at the university. In an attempt to locate the owner of the planes, airport officials placed an ad in Malaysian newspaper The Star today (Dec. 7), asking the owner to please retrieve the jets from the country’s largest airport. “If you fail to collect the aircraft within 14 days of this notice, we reserve the right to sell or otherwise dispose of the aircraft,” the ad says.

Christakis came under attack in October for her response to a request from the Intercultural Affairs Committee that students avoid wearing racially insensitive costumes, such as Native American headgear, turbans or blackface. The ad features photos of the abandoned jets—as if perhaps that would jog the forgetful owner’s memory—and states that funds will be raised by selling the planes to cover the existing tab, in the event the owner doesn’t turn up. The educator made waves ahead of Halloween after sending a lengthy letter to her students addressing a mass email from the college that raised concerns over appropriate dress options. “American universities were once a safe space not only for maturation but also for a certain regressive, or even transgressive, experience,” she wrote to her students in response in an email dated Oct. 30. “I wonder, and I am not trying to be provocative: Is there no room anymore for a child or young person to be a little bit obnoxious,” she added, “a little bit inappropriate or provocative or, yes, offensive?” The communique was quick to ignite protests across campus, as well as calls for both her and her husband, a fellow educator, to resign, which the school’s president promptly rejected. One video that emerged from the protests showed Nicholas Christakis being berated by a student for supporting his wife and in so doing failing to provide a welcoming home for students in the dormitory. The school also has been dealing with criticism over a residential hall named after John Calhoun, a prominent slave-owning politician, questions about how minorities are treated on campus and allegations that a woman was turned away from a fraternity party because she was not white.

Minority students and others, joined by faculty members as well, have not only aggressively challenged campus expressions they see as glib, demeaning, and sometimes downright racist, they have also demanded the removal of the honored names of slaveholders and racists on campus buildings. CNN reports the Boeings are listed in several aviation databases as belonging to Air Atlanta Icelandic, but the company said it sold those planes in 2008.

The controversial email came as racial tensions were already smouldering on the elite campus after a Yale fraternity was accused of barring black women from attending a party. Specifically improving diversity in the faculty, uplifting ethnic studies and also have sensitivity training for all Yale students and faculty,” student Katie McCleary told WFSB-TV. Some critics have expressed concerns that cultural sensitivities may have gone too far on campus, as The Christian Science Monitor reported last month: But many of the student’s expressions also shifted the conversation to another debate: whether college campuses are becoming “places of censure and prohibition.” As Conor Friedersdorf at The Atlantic wrote: “It ought to be disputed rather than indulged for the sake of these students, who need someone to teach them how empowered they are by virtue of their mere enrollment; that no one is capable of invalidating their existence, full stop; that their worth is inherent, not contingent; that everyone is offended by things around them; that they are capable of tremendous resilience…” The fundamental issue is plotting that point at which offense becomes unacceptably invasive to others, and that is a target that moves as society changes.

The planes have been at the Kuala Lumpur airport—the same airport where Malaysia Airlines MH370 departed from before disappearing on its way to Beijing in 2014—for more than a year. In July, Northwestern University professor Laura Kipnis, who writes about gender identity and sexual politics, was investigated after a sexual discrimination complaint was filed against her following an article she wrote about student-professor relationships. And in public reactions, these students often have been characterized as “coddled,” naive, and perhaps even dangerous “social justice warriors” bent on bringing down the hallowed traditions of open debate, a bedrock principle in the European West. About 75 percent of college teachers are non-tenured, according to National Public Radio, which may make them nervous about introducing provocative ideas, participating in campus protests, and having a voice at faculty meetings due to fears they may lose their jobs.

The same week that protests took place at Yale, students at Princeton stormed the university president’s office demanding, among other things, that the school disown former Princeton and US president Woodrow Wilson due to his “racist legacy”. But “free and unfettered” speech is increasingly coming up against a new generation of students, some of whom have an expectation that they have a right not to read or hear ideas that differ from their worldview or make them uncomfortable. A book by George Washington University Professor Catherine Ross called “Lessons In Censorship: How Schools and Courts Subvert Students’ First Amendment Rights” denotes how self-censorship in American public schools can go too far, examining how “well intentioned efforts to combat bullying and hate speech can violate students’ constitutional rights.” Some have described Christakis’s email as a moderate backing of free speech, but many students at Yale contend that after years of segregation universities continue to look at things from a Eurocentric perspective. What began in the 1990s as political correctness – a desire not to offend others – has now morphed into what one academic observer calls “empathetic correctness” – a desire never to be offended.

Georgetown changed the names of two buildings after students made similar demands, and Princeton and Harvard stopped using the title of “master,” an old shortened form of schoolmaster, to refer to the heads of resident colleges. In a video that went viral, one student unleashed a torrent of profanity at her husband, Nicholas Christakis, who was trying to defend the idea of free expression after his wife’s e-mail to students. “It is not about creating an intellectual space!” the student said. “It is not!

Our partners
Follow us
Contact us
Our contacts

About this site