Today we come to a flaw in my methods: I usually write my posts a few weeks before they actually go up. Normally, this is not an issue–genetics tends not to change very much from week to week. And to keep a them evenly paced, I just write each Cathedral Round up on the day the previous one goes up. Since articles from the Yale Law bulletin or Princeton Magazine are not normally of interest to outsiders, the delay between publication and commentary hasn’t been a big issue.
But this month, all the stuff going on in the echelons of higher education has made it into the actual news! Do you know how weird it is to suddenly have relatives complaining about student protests at Yale or U Missouri? Obscure campus news–that’s my schtick, not theirs.
Next month, I’m going to try out a new methodology for keeping the Cathedral Round Up both on-schedule and topical. For today, though, here’s what was going on before all this stuff broke into the media:
This month, I decided to focus on Yale, Princeton, and Penn (though Stanford managed to sneak back in, because Stanford.)
Yale is in the process of cannibalizing itself. Princeton is halfway there, but some students are still holding out due to Princeton’s stronger culture of elitism. Poor Penn is never going to get taken seriously as an Ivy so long as it continues insisting on publishing mostly reasonable articles about itself, instead of concentrating on world-breaking levels of crazy.
The Yale Alumni magazine has a transcript of Deal Holloway’s Freshman Address, Yale’s Narrative, and Yours, (gosh, that comma bugs me. Commas are for lists of three or more things, or separating two different actors in a sentence, eg, “She went to the store, and I vacuumed the house.” This title should not have a comma,) which I am going to quote quite a bit from because it is just so awful:
Class of 2019, I am thrilled to see you and look forward to getting to know you well in the years ahead. … But who, exactly, are you? You hail from across this country and from around the world. Many of you are the children of parents who are already Yale alumni. More of you will be the first in your families to graduate from college at all. Most of you went to public school. Nearly half of you are receiving financial aid. …
I’d like you to turn to the images that are in your program. … The images you see are something of a triptych—three different paintings of British merchant Elihu Yale that when brought together tell a fascinating story. For those who don’t already know, Elihu Yale rose to power and accumulated wealth through his leadership in the East India Company. In 1718, Yale received a request to finance a new building for the Collegiate School of Connecticut, a small enterprise founded in 1701 for the training of Congregationalist ministers. Yale sent hundreds of books, a portrait of King George I, and bales of goods that were later sold to finance the building. In short order, the Collegiate School was renamed in his honor. …
In all of the paintings Elihu Yale is wearing and surrounded by sumptuous fabrics. … In the two paintings on side one we see ships in the distance—a reference to the fact that Elihu Yale built his career on trade that navigated the ports in the British empire. In the second and third paintings we see an unidentified attendant. Much like the wearing of exquisite clothes suggested, placing a servant in a portrait was an articulation of standing and wealth. But when we look more carefully at these two paintings we notice that in addition to the fine clothes the servant and page are wearing they also happen to have metal collars and clasps around their necks. What we are seeing in each painting, then, isn’t a servant or a page, but a slave.
We are fairly certain that Elihu Yale did not own any slaves himself, but there’s no doubting the fact that he participated in the slave trade, profiting from the sale of humans just as he profited from the sale of so many actual objects that were part of the East India trade empire. As such, Elihu Yale’s wealth was linked to a global economy that was deeply, practically inextricably, interwoven with the sale of human beings to other human beings. In fact, when we look at the paintings it is safe to assume that Elihu Yale was a willing participant in that economy. Since he could have selected anything to represent him in these paintings we can conclude that he chose to be depicted with enslaved people because he believed this narrative would best signify his wealth, power, and worldliness.
This is a difficult story to hear, especially on an occasion of welcoming and celebration. But I share it with you because just as proper histories are unafraid of their darker corners you should be unafraid to ask difficult questions of this university. Indeed, we expect you to do so.
… The first of your three images hangs in the Corporation Room of Woodbridge Hall—the nerve center of the university. That this specific portrait hangs there, however, is fairly recent history. Until 2007, the second painting of Elihu Yale you see in the program insert is what you would have found in the Corporation Room. That year, recognizing that this representation was terribly jarring whether it was understood in its historical context or not, the university removed the painting. …
So, Class of 2019: here you are, in a place that has been waiting a long time for you to arrive, a place where you emphatically belong. Whatever your race, religion, wealth, sport, political philosophy, taste in music; whatever your sexuality, your passport’s origin, or the number of stamps in your passport, this place is yours, ready for you to make your contribution to it. …
You have come here at a unique moment, when this university engages with questions of its own identity, at a time when national conversations about race have shined a light on social constructions and assumptions that for many (but not for all), have lain dormant for decades, if not centuries. …
I have to interrupt here. Who the fuck thinks that our ideas about race have been lying dormant for centuries? WHAT DOES THAT EVEN MEAN? Were there no Civil Rights marches in the 1950s? Did no one in the 60s and 70s ever mention race? Did we never celebrate Martin Luther King Day in school? Are there no streets named in his honor? People talk constantly about race, but for some strange reason keep claiming that we have not been talking about race.
These big questions will form part of the education that awaits you, even more than problem sets, term papers, or exams. But so will the conversation that begins today, as you write your own story and build your own Yale.
This is hard but joyous work, and you embark on it with many others. Joining you are your peers and your professors, the friends you are about to make, and the students who have preceded you. I join you, too.
Welcome to this work. Welcome to this place. Welcome to Yale.
TL; DR: White history is shit and white people should feel bad. Welcome to Yale!
The President of Yale, Peter Salovey, also gave a Freshman Address, “Launching a Difficult Conversation.” Let’s see if it is any better:
Good morning and welcome, Class of 2019, family members, and colleagues sharing the stage with me. …
Well, as the events in South Carolina shook the nation, many members of our own community could not avoid considering a matter that ties us here in New Haven to similar questions of history, naming, symbols, and narratives. …
About one in twelve of you has been assigned to Calhoun College, named, when the college system was instituted in the 1930s, for John C. Calhoun—a graduate of the Yale College Class of 1804 who achieved extremely high prominence in the early nineteenth century as a notable political theorist, a vice president to two different US presidents, a secretary of war and of state, and a congressman and senator representing South Carolina. …
Calhoun mounted the most powerful and influential defense of his day for slavery. …
Are we perhaps better off retaining before us the name and the evocative, sometimes brooding presence of Yale graduate John C. Calhoun? He may serve to remind us not only of Yale’s complicated and occasionally painful associations with the past, but to enforce in us a sense of our own moral fallibility as we ourselves face questions about the future.
So it was not surprising that within a short time of the massacre and subsequent debate in South Carolina, we found that the issues of honoring, naming, and remembering that have occasionally surfaced regarding Calhoun College returned to confront us again. … And inevitably we found ourselves wondering, and not for the first time, how best to address the undeniable challenges associated with the fact that Calhoun’s name graces a residential community in Yale College, an institution where, above all, we prize both the spirit and reality of full inclusion. …
As entering Yale students of the Class of 2019, what are your obligations to wrest from this place an education that encourages you to question tradition even while honoring it, to chart your own history even while learning from the past, to enter fully into difficult conversations even while respecting contradictory ideas and opinions?I know in the next four years, you will make progress on figuring all this out. Let’s get started together. Let’s get started today.
Yale has, apparently, no heroes worth honoring or inspiring its students to emulate, only villains. The grand duty of Yale students is to decide whether their past heroes should cast out and forgotten, or remembered solely as a warning about evil.
On a related (but funnier note): Yale still receiving money from evil, evil capitalists:
Take Yale’s bond from a Dutch water authority: it was originally issued in 1648, it is inscribed on goatskin, and recently, it added €136.20—about $153—to Yale’s coffers. … the bond was acquired as part of “a collection that traces the history of capital market development and financial innovation.”
Then in quick succession, just to drive home the point: Faculty Departures Raise Diversity Questions, What Color is Yale’s Faculty, and It Can’t Just be the Righteous Few (about the NAACP’s new leader.)
A bestselling memoirist, the poet for Barack Obama’s first inauguration, and Yale’s first endowed professor of poetry, Elizabeth Alexander ’84 is one of Yale’s highest-profile professors. But not for long: Alexander is leaving the Yale faculty for Columbia next fall.
Her departure, along with that of anthropologist Vanessa Agard-Jones ’00, also for Columbia, was reported in the Yale Daily News as a sign of “systemic problems” in Yale’s efforts to make its faculty more diverse. (Alexander and Agard-Jones are both African American.)
Really? You could have fooled me:
At least Agard-Jones is actually a black person, though calling her an anthropologist is a bit misleading. She actually describes herself as, “an Assistant Professor of Women’s, Gender + Sexuality Studies at Yale University. … As a political anthropologist, I specialize in the study of gender and sexuality in the African diaspora.“ Anyway, the article goes on:
Columbia has invested $63 million in its faculty diversity initiative to finance “recruitment, support, and related programs” since 2012.
“We have not made nearly enough progress on diversifying the faculty, and my colleagues in the higher administration know that I have long believed we need to have powerful commitments from on high, both in continued, stated vision and also with extensive resource allocation,” Alexander told the News. “Yale lags behind its peers where we should be leaders, and [faculty diversity] goals, in my opinion, should be a priority, as they are elsewhere, including Columbia.”
Ultimately, it all comes down to money. Qualified black professors are few and far between, and so capable of commanding much higher salaries than they would if they were white.
The world does not need more scientists, engineers, or people who build complicated systems for the delivery of electricity or removal of waste. The world needs more vaguely black-looking poets and gender studies professors. Those are the folks who will bring us the next set of civilization-building innovations!
Here at Yale, your worth as a person is not determined by what you do, by what you accomplish, or by the content of your character, but by the color of your skin. And maybe your sexual proclivities and gender.
I have a proposal: Let’s rename the whole shebang. Get rid of “Yale”. Let’s rename them “Rosa Parks University” and “Caesar Chavez College” and be done with it. It’s not like anyone actually cares about Elihu or Calhoun, except as representatives of a hated history.
Penn had an interesting article on helping ex-cons start companies by teaching them how to fill out paperwork, but that kind of practical approach to the world will never get Penn the kind of attention it needs to be a world-class university.
Meanwhile, over at Princeton, one of the nation’s most prestigious and selective colleges, a student noticed that in order to have a functional social club that pursues a particular interest (in this case, literature), some people have to be excluded. The student therefore decided not to join a social club, because excluding people is bad.
Princeton: Revoke Cosby’s Honorary Degree
That’ll stop rape!
Here I need to stop and mention an article in the Stanford Daily, “‘One in Five’ Takes action to combat sexual assault“:
A group of students is in the process of creating a new student organization that aims to raise awareness and educate the community on the subject of campus sexual assault. …
Because no one has ever done that before. Seriously, I bet no one on the entire Stanford campus has ever thought to raise awareness of sexual assault before.
The idea for the student group grew out of a Sophomore College course this summer called “One in Five: The Law, Policy and Politics of Sexual Assault” with law professor Michele Dauber. The group will be called One in Five after the class.
The three-week experience was “completely immersive,” according to Dauber.
“Immersive”? What, did they rape the students in the course?
In The Problem with Philanthropy, a Princetonian critiques Effective Altruism on the grounds that capitalism is evil:
Perhaps more troubling than Whitman or Rockefeller are the cases of individuals like Matt Wage ’12. Wage took Peter Singer’s ethics class and decided to work on Wall Street after graduation in order to make large amounts of money that he could then donate to life-saving causes. In his book, Singer argues that Wage exemplifies the model of effective altruism, a concept that enshrines individual charity as the most effective force for good while ignoring entirely the power of collective action against structural injustice.
Wage joined a toxic system of finance dominated by rent seekers that helps maintain an environmentally unsustainable global economy. This economy is already taking lives and bringing suffering [PDF] for some of the world’s most vulnerable populations. While Wage can take credit for the lives that he has supposedly saved with his Wall Street earnings, he can also conveniently ignore his complicity in a system of finance inextricable from climate injustice as well as other forms of oppression like private prisons, sweatshops, the domestic and global exchange of weapons and practices like insider trading, cronyism and corruption.
If you look at the PDF about “taking lives and bringing suffering,” you’ll note that Wage is being blamed for global warming.
While I actually dislike Wall Street and economic theories based on the idea of endless growth, which are bad for long-term resource maintenance necessary for people to have nice lives, this is not a critique of Effective Altruism. Coherent critiques of EA exist, but “EA => Global Warming!” is not one of them.
Finally, Princeton students are questioning the Legacy of Woodrow Wilson, a Racist Bigot:
… it is time for our University to reevaluate its blind veneration to its deeply racist demigod. … This response assumes that Wilson’s racist actions were minuscule despite the fact that he actively worked to destroy, hinder and thwart the communities of black and brown peoples in America. … I told the administrator that Wilson is arguably the most racist U.S. and Princeton president, and the administrator agreed that Wilson was indeed racist.
I think the Cherokee might disagree with that assessment.
Remember: no heroes. Ever.