Once again, Yale is making national headlines for all the wrong reasons. The controversy began last Wednesday when the New York Times revealed that the Yale University Press had decided to remove reproductions of the controversial Jyllands-Posten Muhammad cartoons from Jytte Klausen's upcoming book "The Cartoons That Shook the World." Perhaps they did so for the ironic effect of stripping them from a book that purports to be the definitive account of the controversy surrounding their publication in September 2005. But the university went a step further than that, and removed all images of Muhammad from the book. To understand why one of the world's leading universities would engage in an act of censorship so blatantly opposed to the basic principles of freedom of inquiry, a short history lesson is in order.
Yale has long prided itself on being a diverse place. It has actively recruited minority students for the last four decades and, consequently, today about one in every three Yale undergraduates is an ethnic minority. Yale students can major in a range of fields including Ethnicity, Race, and Migration; African Studies; East Asian Studies; and Modern Middle Eastern Studies. Many of these departments and majors are among the oldest in the country. Students and faculty widely regard Yale's diversity and wide ranging fields of study as integral elements of its nature.
At the same time, and rather unfortunately, Yale's tendency towards multiculturalism often clashes with the institution's longstanding commitment to Western Civilization education. One embarrassingly public example of this was the debacle in the early 1990's that led to the return of a $20 million gift from Yale alum Lee Bass. The school had approached Bass in 1991 about funding a program in Western Civilization. The bulk of the money was to be used to endow chairs for seven professors who would teach a sophomore seminar on the subject. When Bass agreed to provide the money, university administrators were thrilled; the school's multiculturalists were less so. Professor Sara Suleri Goodyear (who is still listed as a full time professor in Yale's English Department) stated, "Western civilization? Why not a chair for colonialism, slavery, empire, and poverty?" Shortly thereafter, the university underwent an administration change. The new administration was slow enough in implementing the program that Bass became uneasy and asked for certain conditions to be attached to the gift. When Yale refused to meet those conditions and no compromise could be reached, the university decided to return the money.
Internal deliberations at large institutions are always somewhat unclear, and Yale claims that opposition from the faculty played no role in the administration's failure to implement the program in a timely matter. However, publications ranging from conservative campus papers at Yale to the Wall Street Journal dispute this account of events. Furthermore, the multiculturalists at Yale ultimately got exactly what they wanted when the gift was returned. In short, this incident provided ample proof that there are those at Yale who are at best lukewarm on Western values.
This goes a long way toward explaining why Yale decided in 2005 to enroll Sayed Rahmatullah Hashemi as a special student. Mr. Hashemi is best known for being the deputy foreign secretary of the Taliban at the time of September 11 attacks. Additionally, he was the international representative of a backwards regime that publicly executed adulterers, deprived women of their rights, and generally administered a harsh, perverse form of sharia law in Afghanistan. To the average American, allowing him to enroll at Yale was an outrage; to the moral relativists at Yale, recruiting such a unique student was a priority. Richard Shaw, the Dean of Admissions, told the New York Times that the last time a foreign student of Hashemi's caliber applied to Yale, "We lost him to Harvard," and "I didn't want that to happen again." Somehow, Yale was surprised by the outrage that followed when John Fund wrote a series of articles documenting the whole affair. Then again, perhaps they had cause to be surprised: it's a rare event that unites Neocon hawks with radical feminists. Yale stonewalled through the worst of the criticism and then quietly decided not to renew Mr. Hashemi's status as a student the following year.
With this history in mind, Yale's refusal to publish the cartoons makes sense. If you let multiculturalism affect what you teach at your university, and if you let moral relativism determine who you bring to your university, it's only a matter of time before those two things creep into how you do research at your university. As Martin Kramer reports, one of the central figures in the decision to remove the cartoons was Marcia Inhorn, the director of Yale's Middle East Studies department. Inhorn returned from a 2006 conference in Iran and declared that Iran is "a country to watch on many levels," "far from backward," and generally as good as (if not better than) the United States. If Western values aren't particularly good, why should things like "freedom of speech" and "academic freedom" factor into what does and doesn't get published? Why not instead substitute the standards ofbackward bands of murderous religious fanatics?
As a student at Yale, I have learned to accept that the official views towards everything from drinking to foreign policy clash with my own personal views. For the most part, I just ignore this. There are a lot of very smart people at Yale with a lot of interesting, important things to teach me. If I have to filter out bias in the classroom, then so be it. But the decision to remove the representations of Mohammed from Klausen's book is something else. If Yale and similar institutions are moving in a direction where primary sources will routinely be removed for fear of offending Jihadis, then this bit of censorship marks a victory for anti-intellectualism and the start of a dark period in American higher education.
Max Rosett is an undergraduate at Yale University.