Letters to the Editor

Readers weigh in on free expression, Yale’s mission statement, and more.

We welcome readers’ letters, which should be mailed to Letters Editor, Yale Alumni Magazine, PO Box 1905, New Haven, CT 06509-1905; e-mailed to yam@yale.edu; or faxed to (203) 432-0651. Due to the volume of correspondence, we are unable to respond to or publish all mail received. Letters accepted for publication are subject to editing.

I was struck by the wisdom of Peter Salovey’s Freshman Address (“Countering False Narratives,” November/December), in which he urged the incoming class to be wary of false narratives. Drawing on his mastery of psychology, he pointed out that all of us are strongly predisposed to accept accounts that align with the opinions we already hold, and to ignore or dismiss those that do not. If all of us—liberal or conservative—would be more cognizant of this inherent trait, and if we would most critically examine “news” reports that are compatible with our views, then we could drain some of the divisiveness that plagues our culture.

Philip Garvin ’69, ’70MFA
Larkspur, CO

Editor’s note: in our print edition, the letter above was mistakenly attributed to David F. Tufaro ’69, and the letter below to Philip Garvin ’69, ’70MFA. We regret the error.

I am responding to President Salovey’s November letter to alumni and his Freshman Address. As someone who was at Yale during one of the most tumultuous times in recent history, I struggle to understand the intolerance that exists on the Yale campus today and many other campuses across the nation.

The issues surrounding the Vietnam War and the civil rights movement in the 1960s were far more significant and contentious than any of the issues that our nation is dealing with today. In his attempt to deal with free expression today at Yale, President Salovey seems to miss this point. He sets up a straw man by stating in his letter to Yale alumni that “higher education confronts a dangerous false dichotomy where some wish to pit the principle of free expression against a commitment to inclusion. I believe we must sustain both.” Since inclusion is not a goal in and of itself of higher education, free expression cannot be abridged because of the sensitivity of some individuals. If the mission of Yale is to provide the best, broadest, and most challenging possible education and create an attitude of lifelong learning, then free expression has to be essentially left unabridged.

Mr. Salovey raises the issue of criticism by some that “college professors have uniform public views” but he does not address this. Is this one of the “false narratives” that he spoke of to the incoming freshmen? We know in fact that, in the political realm, Yale professors, as measured by how they vote and how they contribute to the political parties, along with those at most colleges and universities, are overwhelmingly liberals and Democrats. 

If Yale’s focus is to offer the best possible education and an opportunity for careful and critical thinking, then the absence of diverse viewpoints about the role of individuals and the role of our government in our society is a serious, serious problem. If people are intimidated about holding minority views on these important issues, as they in fact are, then this is of far greater concern than whether students are overly sensitive about how they are viewed by others culturally.

In sum, I think the problems at Yale reside in the failure to focus on its primary mission of educating students and successfully carrying out that mission.

David F. Tufaro ’69
Baltimore, MD

The right to be heard

Robert Post’s distinction between speech that is inside or outside of public discourse is a marvelous tool for analyzing what speech should be free and what speech should not (“The Supreme Court’s First Amendment Problem,” September/October). I certainly hope that his students end up in high judicial positions.

However, a different tool is necessary in order to dissect the fundamental error in the Citizens United opinion, wherein the Supreme Court ignored the fact that the right to speak includes the right to be heard. Please note that the right to be heard does not mean that a speaker has any right to be listened to, rather only that audiences not be prevented from listening.

By way of metaphor, let’s imagine a town hall meeting where one candidate can afford to buy a bullhorn and the other can’t. The bullhorn candidate is rude and constantly blares out dissenting ideas while the other candidate is speaking—behavior with which we have become very familiar during the recent presidential debates. The audience would not be able to hear much of what the soft-speaking candidate had to say.

Citizens United says that candidates with rich supporters (both individual and corporate) can buy more media time (louder and bigger bullhorns) than candidates without rich supporters. In practical terms this means that a few supporters can drown out speech uttered by candidates with many more—but collectively less wealthy—supporters. In short, wealth is now allowed to determine which ideas are available to be heard and which aren’t. This is not free speech but rather speech limited and constrained by wealth.

History shows that when any select group has a lock on ideas there is a loss of liberty. Let’s do what we can to break the lock of Citizens United. What American democracy needs most now is more educated citizens and fewer blaring bullhorns.

James Luce ’66
Los Altos, CA


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Bicentennial poster

I was delighted to see the reproduction of the 1901 poster celebrating Yale’s bicentennial, with alterations for the Alumni Weekly (“Happy Birthday to Us,” November/December). Many years ago, an aunt of mine pulled from a neighbor’s street trash one of the original framed posters. The poster had the same detail listing the presidents along the sides. The text in the center listed the events for October 20 to 23. I have never seen another sample of the 1901 poster.

David E. Breithaupt ’63
Savannah, GA


Applause for Murray

The last time I talked with [new residential college namesake] Pauli Murray (“New Colleges Get Heads—and Arms,” September/October) was at the old Chapel of the Cross in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, built in 1842. Raised in nearby Durham, she knew it well, having sat in the small balcony reserved for slaves years ago. She was an Episcopal priest, a lawyer, an author, an intellectual, and an unequaled and deeply knowledgeable spokeswoman for any endeavor that she chose to address. And she was a strong, gifted woman, singularly incisive in conversation on whatever engaged her. Pauli Murray is a unique part of the history of our country who will bring honor and distinction to the college that bears her name, and to Yale.

Joseph S. Pagano ’57MD
Chapel Hill, NC


More on mission statements

Peter Drucker, arguably the wisest authority on mission statements, liked them to be simple, clear, and operational. Why? So people can remember the mission (without looking it up) and everyone involved can say “This is my contribution to the goal.” 

Yale’s first mission statement met Drucker’s standards beautifully (“Mission Control,” September/October). The new one falls short. Its authors compounded their error with a common mistake. They created what Drucker called “a hero sandwich of good intentions.”

According to Drucker, the new mission statement should stimulate “the right action” at Yale. Instead, I suspect, it will just cause confusion.

D. F. Greene ’83MPPM
Baltimore, MD


Kathrin Day Lassila’s quiz on Yale’s mission statements reminded me of a lesson I learned from a Yale professor. While on rounds at Yale New Haven Hospital, a student began to present a patient by stating, “Mr. X is essentially a 62-year-old male with a complaint of . . . .” After the professor interrupted to question the use of the word “essentially,” he sent the student home. We learned that “essentially” adds no meaning, and deleting unnecessary words increases the power of sentences.

After using these lessons for decades, I offer a suggestion. Yale’s new mission statement reads: “Yale is committed to improving the world today and for future generations through outstanding research and scholarship, education, preservation, and practice. Yale educates aspiring leaders worldwide who serve all sectors of society. We carry out this mission through the free exchange of ideas in an ethical, interdependent, and diverse community of faculty, staff, students, and alumni.”

I suggest editing it to read: “Yale improves the world through research and educating leaders during the exchange of ideas between faculty, staff, students and alumni.”

I do not expect President Salovey to use these suggestions. My wife (an attorney and strong writer) rejects my edits and calls me the “space police.” But I am true to the lessons I learned at Yale. I am currently writing my first book, Training Well One: The Life and Death of a Marathoner, about cardiac arrests in runners. I frequently take two steps backward to remove words. Editors, feel free to eliminate “nonessential” words from this letter.

Jeff Shapiro ’80MD
San Carlos, CA


Calhoun, continued

I am a 1976 graduate of Yale College. During my undergraduate years, I was extensively involved in minority recruitment as the chair, for three years, of the Recruitment Committee of the Black Student Alliance at Yale. I was always proud to share my view of the progressive and inclusive atmosphere on the Yale campus.

After graduating from Yale, I spent three years at Harvard Law School. I recently returned from the Harvard Law Celebration of Black Alumni, a glorious occasion attended by approximately 800 of the 2,000 living African American alumni of the school. We celebrated the long lineage of black Harvard Law students and faculty, and Harvard Law’s role in advancing civil and human rights. The group was particularly pleased that the most recent law school shield, depicting symbols of a slaveholding family that endowed the law school, has been retired.

I am disappointed that my undergraduate school has not seen fit to take a similar brave stand with regard to the name of Calhoun College (“A Deeper Look at Renaming,” September/October). Retention of that name is an insult to all of Yale’s alums of color and causes us constant embarrassment from our friends, family, and associates. Jefferson and Washington reflected their times but also reluctantly acknowledged African Americans as humans. Washington provided in his will for the freeing of his slaves, and Jefferson freed the slaves he fathered by his slave companion Sally Hemings and proposed a national plan to end slavery. In contrast, Calhoun vilified slaves and referred to slavery as a “positive good.”

How is it possible that Yale could be so tone-deaf in 2016? Would Yale keep the name of a building honoring someone associated with Hitler in an effort to make a teachable moment about Nazism? I urge President Salovey to reevaluate the situation immediately so as not to do more damage to the Yale brand. Lastly, I would suggest renaming Calhoun as Amistad College, in honor of a time in New Haven when numerous Yale-affiliated parties reflected the best of Yale by coming to the rescue of African men and women who asserted their freedom as human beings.

David Getachew-Smith ’76
Atlanta, GA


The university is revisiting the decision to retain the name of Calhoun College. See our report in this issue.—Eds.


Yale should look outward

Reflecting on the election and recent analyses of the national and global condition, I rather hoped in response that the pretensions of Yale University and its cousins regarding civic, cultural, and political engagement and leadership could be mobilized and made relevant. Alas.

Agreed, Yale is an educational institution at its core. But its attention and focus is obsessively internal. Better departments, better faculty, more diversity, more financial aid, better amenities for its students. Nothing about a national posture addressing the challenges of cost, diversity, and relevance. New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman suggests a three-year undergraduate degree as a way of dramatically reducing costs. Britain does it. Yale could think about it. Broward Community College is introducing new curricula relevant to its constituency here in South Florida. Yale could think about it.

But national, even global, relevance requires a vision that looks out beyond the Old Campus and New Haven—outside even the university context to education writ large. For example, there could be greater collaboration with colleges and universities in Connecticut and New England. Out beyond the Ivies. Out beyond East Asia elites. Out beyond the educational establishment, to the economy and job market. There is an opportunity to build links to innovation at the secondary level like the Amistad charter school in New Haven. Yale and its alumni groups in cities across America could create a network of Amistads or Nathan Hale preps.

To make Yale and America great again, Yale needs to put its institutional heft, its extraordinary alumni network and ample endowment to work on an expanded national agenda—starting with education. Its current internal focus on its faculty and departments and concern for the comfort of its adolescent student clients completely fails to meet a role and relevance commensurate with its intellectual and financial capital.

Owen Cylke ’60, ’63LLB
Ft. Lauderdale, FL


Ideas for giving

I was surprised at the crass call to “well-heeled donors” to buy naming rights to pieces of Yale buildings (“Holiday Shopping Guide,” November/December). I suggest, this holiday season, that donors of this magnitude redirect their donations somewhere they will have a far greater impact: to the struggling New Haven public schools, to support the education of the future neighbors and citizens of Yale’s hometown. Yale keeps a lot of property off the city’s tax roll, and if New Haven loses federal funds as a sanctuary city, such a tax-deductible gift would be all the more welcome. Contact the New Haven Board of Education or visit nhps.net. I bet they’ll even name a walkway for you.

Jill Kelly ’91
North Haven, CT


Maintaining the golf course

Great to see your feature on the Yale golf course (“One of the Greats,” September/October). It is a gem, both difficult and fair, with its own unique personality. As one who gets to play it infrequently, I was saddened recently to see how the condition of the course had deteriorated. Maintenance of some areas has not been kept up, certainly not to the level befitting a premier facility. I hope Yale’s high standards for upkeep of campus facilities also extends a few miles west, where the golf course is in need of loving attention.

Stuart Cohen ’70
Cambridge, MA

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