The Stench of Hypocrisy at Yale University
In recent years liberal anti-liberalism has been vividly – and noxiously – displayed on many American college and university campuses. The creation of “Hate Spaces” (the title of an appropriately scathing video recently released by Americans for Peace & Tolerance), where anti-Semitism is fashionable, Israel is demonized and Jewish students feel besieged, has transformed “academic freedom” into an oxymoron.
Few universities have struggled more arduously to placate sulking students than Yale. Its bygone view of Jews as an “alien and unwashed element” unworthy of admission led to decades of discrimination against Jewish applicants. Its currently fashionable campus bias, having nothing to do with Jews but invidious nonetheless, is political correctness.
Last year Yale temporarily transformed itself into a de facto nursery school with a brouhaha over Halloween costumes (yes, Halloween costumes). Administrator Erika Christakis (with appropriate experience as a child development specialist) found it necessary to urge Yale students to behave like adults and tolerate individual choice of costumes. A group of infuriated Yalies, feeling deprived of their “safe space,” verbally assaulted Ms. Christakis and her husband, a Yale sociology professor and house master. The “crybullies” won: Ms. Christakis resigned and her husband relinquished his administrative position.
That triumph of intolerance achieved, Yale undergraduates channeled their political correctness energy to changing the offending name of Calhoun College, one of eight residential colleges. It was named (eighty years ago) for John C. Calhoun, a Phi Beta Kappa graduate in 1804 whose distinguished public career subsequently included service as a Congressman, Secretary of War, Vice President and Senator. A South Carolina slaveholder, he was nonetheless described in a 1914 biography by the Yale Secretary as an “eminent Yale man.” He would become one of eight “Yale worthies” to be honored with a statue in Harkness Tower.
But that was then. Once the Halloween fiasco subsided, Calhoun became the villain of choice for Yale students who demanded the renaming of Calhoun College. Yale President Peter Salovey appropriately rejected their attempt at “effacing our history.” But persistent student dissatisfaction prompted his reconsideration. Salovey appointed a 12-member committee, chaired by a Yale Law School historian, to devise “Principles on Renaming” that might mollify aggrieved students.
The committee report cited Yale’s history of “creative destruction” of campus symbols and names as consistent with “the mission of the university.” That “mission” has evidently been redefined as political correctness, evidenced by the report’s praise for “liberal,” as opposed to “illiberal,” alterations in the past. President Salovey was pleased to learn that Yale’s principles “allow us to consider renaming a building in a way that preserves history, to remember but not to honor.”
But the committee report, duly endorsed by President Salovey, could jeopardize the name of his university. Before long, Yale students – if they have the courage of their politically correct convictions – should similarly demand the erasure of another name stained by slavery, whose bearer recorded far fewer noteworthy achievements than John C. Calhoun. That would be Elihu Yale, the successful slave trader after whom the university is named.
Yale, born in Boston, grew up in London to become an official for the East India Company in Madras. There he participated in, and profited from, a thriving slave trade. As Company governor and president, he issued orders for the purchase of slaves from Madagascar and enforced a rule that a minimum of ten slaves be sent on every ship bound for Europe. His accumulation of wealth from illegal profiteering eventually cost him his position as governor in 1692.
Some twenty-five years later Yale was approached by the founders of the “Collegiate School,” recently relocated to New Haven, for financial assistance. He generously donated several hundred books, a portrait of King George I, and nine bales of goods that were subsequently sold for 800 pounds sterling. In gratitude, school officials named a new building, and then the college, after him.
Surely students troubled by politically incorrect Halloween costumes and Calhoun College should shudder at the prospect of receiving a degree from a university named after an avaricious slave trader. Or does the market value of a Yale degree override their moral scruples – and merely make them hypocrites?
Jerold S. Auerbach is a frequent contributor to The Algemeiner