Last month, the story broke that Yale University Press was censoring one of its own books—by Jytte Klausen on the Danish cartoon controversy—out of fear that if it published the cartoons in question, it would, in the words of John Donatich, the press's director, put "blood on my hands." In other words, there would be riots and murders by outraged Islamists.
Since then, there have been several developments that are worth following up on. Martin Kramer has done sterling detective work assembling circumstantial—but plausible—evidence that Yale's decision had at least as much to do with its desire to win a big donation from Saudi Prince Alwaleed bin Talal as it did with cravenness. Particularly significant in this connection is the fact that Yale named Muna AbuSulayman, executive director of the Alwaleed Bin Foundation, as a Yale World Fellow—a sort of midcareer equivalent of the Rhodes Fellowship—for fall 2009.
As Kramer puts it, "Imagine, then—and we're just imagining—that someone in the Yale administration, perhaps in President Levin's office, gets wind of the fact that Yale University is about to publish a book on the Danish cartoons . . . Whooah! Good luck explaining to people like Prince Alwaleed that Yale University and Yale University Press are two different shops. The university can't interfere in editorial matters, so what's to be done? Summon some 'experts' who'll be smart enough to know just what to say. Yale will be accused of surrendering to an imagined threat by extremists. So be it: self-censorship to spare bloodshed in Nigeria or Indonesia still sounds a lot nobler than self-censorship to keep a Saudi prince on the line for $20 million."
Actually, it's not hard to imagine how the Yale administration would get wind of YUP's forthcoming book. The press uses Yale faculty—among others—to read manuscripts submitted for publication. It's likely that, at some point over the summer, Klausen's manuscript crossed the desk of at least one member of Yale's Council on Middle Eastern Studies. From there, it would take only an e-mail to alert Yale's administration. Perhaps this explains why the chair of the council, Marcia Inhorn, was present at the decisive meeting between Klausen and the press.
Originally, I thought the press might be able to tough this out: it was lucky that the storm broke in August, not September. But now I'm not so sure. It's just been announced that Klausen will be speaking in the Religion and Politics Colloquium on October 12—on "Europe's Uneasy Marriage of Secularism and Christianity Since 1945 and the Challenge of Contemporary Religious Pluralism"—which will certainly stir the pot.
And the Yale Daily News is reporting that a letter—which I have—of protest from alumni is circulating for submission to the Alumni Magazine. The News states that the protesters are "prominent conservative alumni," which is untrue: the letter is by liberals, moderates, and conservatives, though it is interesting that the News automatically defines resistance to censorship out of fear as "conservative." That's a real pat on the back for conservatives, as far as I'm concerned.
Still, the Yale read of the week is Matt Shaffer's superb piece on "Disorientation at Yale," his account of his 2006 freshman year, which featured the president and the dean speaking on open-mindedness and diversity, a law professor haranguing the freshmen on the hideous oppression of gays and Muslims in America, and required "discussions" with freshmen councilors about the professor's remarks. As Shaffer aptly summarizes, the gist of the affair is that Yale regarded freshmen as "bigots in need of reform."
That is quite right. During 2007-08, my last year at Yale, the councilor program was revamped on an explicitly politically correct basis. The News defined it as an effort to "initiate interracial and intercultural dialogues." One counselor was more explicit: "to make a change in the entire culture on Yale's campus, it makes more sense to begin with the freshmen." Now, even the Whitney Humanities Center at Yale—I am sorry to see—offers as its two "Freshmen Orientation Films" American Beauty (1999), about hypocrisies and failures of the American nuclear family, and Milk (2008), which is very much not about said family.
Both are fine movies, and entirely suitable for showing on campus, but what they have to do with orienting freshmen to college is not clear me—unless orienting means making clear which way the political, social, and cultural wind blows. But they are co-sponsored by the "Office of LGBTQ Resources"—that's Lesbian, Gay, Bi, Transgender, Queer, in case you've not been on many campuses recently—so that's OK.
And maybe that's the real problem with Kramer's theory. Yes, it's all circumstantial. But the real problem is that you don't need to follow the money to explain Yale's actions. Yale is simultaneously afraid its students are bigots, and not so secretly afraid that it might be bigoted itself. Toward the students, it propagandizes out of political righteousness. Toward others, when accused of a lack of sensitivity—or even the possibility that it will be so accused—it appeases. If this kind of guilty, furtive, cringing is what the News is tacitly defining as liberalism—well, it makes me glad that they don't consider me to be one.