Among all the idiocies on campus in the last year, there is no more dispiriting statement than a line quoted in The Wall Street Journal on June 3rd.
In an op-ed entitled “How the Yale Halloween Vigilantes Finally Got Their Way,” an undergraduate named Zachary Young records the final episode of the whole affair in New Haven. The Christakises have resigned as master and associate master of Silliman College.
Young notes that after Erika Christakis wrote her infamous Halloween email and Nicholas Christakis was denounced and cursed by an undergraduate on Yale grounds, things got even worse. People scribbled attacks in chalk outside their home and “posted degrading images of them online.” They left a sombrero and Rastafarian wig outside their office. At this year’s graduation ceremony, several students receiving their diplomas refused to shake Nicholas’ hand.
None of the perpetrators seemed to recognize the value of the Christakises’ work. An op-ed in The Wall Street Journal last January, Paul McHugh called Nicholas “one of America’s outstanding physician-scientists.” And Erika’s book The Importance of Being Little, published earlier this year, has been one of the most discussed education books in 2016. (My review of it appears here)
But the students’ conduct is not the dismaying part of the latest information. It is, instead, what Nicholas wrote in the couple’s letter of resignation. After suffering harassment and insult all year long, he still manages to be conciliatory:
“We have great respect for every member of our community, friend and critic alike. We remain hopeful that students at Yale can express themselves and engage complex ideas within an intellectually plural community.”
That doesn’t sound like the expression of a flesh-and-blood man. It’s the voice of a bureaucrat whose words have been approved by higher-ups. Respect for the student who shrieked the f-word at him? Respect for people vandalizing their property? Gimme a break. Can you really say with a straight face that Yale is an “intellectually plural community”?
The op-ed notes that during the year “the Christakises have met one-on-one with offended students. They have invited their critics over for a group lunch to ‘continue the conversation.'” Our only response is, “You call this a conversation?!”
Let’s be clear about why students are acting in this high-handed, commanding way. It’s because they know their superiors will take it. When the students confronted Nicholas Christakis on the quad, they knew who he was, and they knew that he wouldn’t do much of anything if they bullied and berated and humiliated him. They wouldn’t do any such thing with an authority disinclined to tolerate their tantrums.
Mr. Young concludes with an optimistic note: “With luck, the sorry episode at Yale will cause students to spend less time vilifying professors and more time engaging with their ideas.”
Nope, it will do the opposite. The students got exactly what they wanted. They were rewarded for their nastiness. They’ll do it again.