Much at this point has been written about the controversy at Yale University about whether free speech should be sacrificed for the sake of students’ intellectual comfort, the notion that any person deserves ‘safe space,’ or in order to prevent real or perceived racism.
I have addressed the silliness of “cultural appropriation” here, and “trigger warnings” here. Yesterday, I suggested that Yale University and other top-tier schools might achieve better intellectual diversity by manipulating their holistic admissions process to prioritize diversity not simply on the grounds of color and religion, but also by breaking down the effective barrier between those who have served in their country’s military and those who have not. Anyone who has ever taught both military veterans and at an Ivy League college knows that the veterans are generally more intellectually grounded and incisive than their counterparts who have not served. The issue is not simply about area studies — and having the ability to call out academic theories as diverging from reality — but also about race, gender, and meritocracy. Yes, racism exists in the military — ask any young Navy sailor about racism, however, and expect a lengthy discourse about Filipino chiefs discriminating against non-Filipinos, regardless about whether they are black, white, or Hispanic. And while the Pentagon engages in the same sort of color-obsessed unspoken quota system for promotions at the top brass level as do Ivy League admissions officers in choosing who gets in and who does not, generally speaking, the U.S. military is far more of a meritocracy and melting pot than are universities. Military veterans also understand the value of citizenship and know for what they stand, something few university students understand against a backdrop of an intellectual culture that promotes moral and cultural equivalency and favors nihilism over citizenship.
There are other practical steps, however, that Yale University and other undergraduate institutions might take if university leadership is serious about protecting intellectual integrity and has realized that decades of indulging students’ political bloviating really do have a high cost to any universities’ central mission.
Take the admissions essay: Yale University admissions requires all prospective undergraduates to answer the following question:
Please reflect on something you would like us to know about you that we might not learn from the rest of your application, or on something about which you would like to say more. You may write about anything — from personal experiences or goals to interests or intellectual pursuits. (Please answer in 500 words or fewer).
Perhaps it is time to ask all prospective undergraduates a second common question: What is the value of free speech and under what circumstances should government, society, or institutions curtail such speech?
Some students are clear thinking in their defense of free speech. Take, for example, Cole Aronson writing in the first Yale Daily News issue after the controversy erupted. Other students, such as Jerelyn Luther, the woman caught on video belittling free speech, or Jencey Paz’s Yale Herald op-ed prefer to rationalize censorship. As admissions officers work diligently to put together the next Yale University class, perhaps it is time they see first and foremost whether potential students merely seek the credential of a Yale education or are truly committed to free discourse, free thought, and what a Yale education was once meant to be about before suffocating political correctness overtook intellectual discourse.
Addendum: Since yesterday’s posting, I have learned that veterans have formed an Ivy League Veterans Council, the first meeting of which Columbia University hosted in October, and which will reconvene this spring. The goal of the organization is to collaborate on issues facing the military and veteran communities across the eight campuses, sharing best practices and a common vision. Happy Veterans Day to them and, from Iraq from where I now write this, to all our veterans.