Wrote Erika Christakis last fall, reacting to a Yale Intercultural Affairs Committee memo warning students about potentially offensive Halloween costumes. Christakis was an Associate Master of Silliman College— the word "master" has been changed since then — but her comments outraged some students. Protests ensued. And now the news comes that Christakis and her husband, Professor Nicholas Christakis, who'd been the
The NYT reports the news with the headline: "Yale Professor and Wife, Targets of Protests, Resign as College Heads." I'd like to protest the headline. It seems to me that it was the wife's trenchant speech that stirred up this controversy in the first place. The husband became involved in the controversy, and, it's true, the husband is the one whose tweet announcing the resignation appears in the NYT, but I think Ms. Christakis deserves better position than "professor's wife." She is the director of the Human Nature Lab at Yale, and her statement was premised on her expertise in the psychological development of the young. The husband is a sociologist and physician. I admire them as a couple and would like to see them talked about as equals.
When I blogged about this controversy last fall, I noted the video of Yale students yelling at Mr. Christakis and saying:
“As your position as master, it is your job to create a place of comfort and home for the students that live in Silliman... You have not done that. By sending out that email, that goes against your position as master. Do you understand that?... Who the fuck hired you?”This student told Mr. Christakis he should resign because his role as master is “not about creating an intellectual space” but about “creating a home.” At the time, I said:
To be fair, I'd like to know more about what representations Yale made to the students it lured into matriculating. Was a "safe space" promised?... A vibrant "intellectual space" sounds exciting to me, but is that what they were told they'd get if they came to Yale? Maybe some other schools offered a challenging intellectual environment and they passed on it, preferring a caring, nurturing setting. Were they deceived?Yesterday on this blog, we were talking about Nathan Heller's excellent New Yorker article "Letter from Oberlin/The Big Uneasy/What’s roiling the liberal-arts campus?" The Yale disturbance appeared first on a list of incidences from the past year that showed liberal arts campuses were "roiling with activism that has seemed to shift the meaning of contemporary liberalism without changing its ideals." Heller writes:
Such reports flummoxed many people who had always thought of themselves as devout liberals. Wasn’t free self-expression the whole point of social progressivism? Wasn’t liberal academe a way for ideas, good and bad, to be subjected to enlightened reason? Generations of professors and students imagined the university to be a temple for productive challenge and perpetually questioned certainties. Now, some feared, schools were being reimagined as safe spaces for coddled youths and the self-defined, untested truths that they held dear. Disorientingly, too, none of the disputes followed normal ideological divides: both the activists and their opponents were multicultural, educated, and true of heart. At some point, it seemed, the American left on campus stopped being able to hear itself think.I read that "true of heart" as sarcasm. Is "true of heart" an expression? I associate it with David Eggers, "A Heartbreaking Work Of Staggering Genius," which begins:
First of all:
I am tired.
I am true of heart!
You are tired.
You are true of heart!