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Yale’s Expedience By: R.K. Joyad
FrontPageMagazine.com | Wednesday, August 23, 2006


Molly Worthen, The Man on Whom Nothing Was Lost (Houghton Mifflin Co., 2005)

Laura Kalman, Yale Law School and the Sixties: Revolt and Reverberations (The University of North Carolina Press, 2006)

I believe it to be an indisputable fact that most colleges and universities, and certainly Yale, the protests and pretensions of their educators and theorists notwithstanding, do not practice, cannot practice, and cannot even believe what they say about education and academic freedom.  I am not saying that they do not utilize the rationale of academic to obtain license when and where they desire it.  This they most certainly do, for their policy is one of expedience.These words were written over 50 years ago, by William F. Buckley, in God and Man at Yale. They could have been written yesterday, so accurately do they describe the current climate.

This conclusion pains me, because it involves criticism of an American institution which, along with the place I work, is one of two institutions to which I acknowledge real emotional fealty. Each of my institutions has its problems, because they seem to occupy two extremes of a continuum.  The dichotomy puts people like me - and there not many of us - squarely in the middle, and causes us dissonance.  It is a cross we bear every day.

 

It works like this: we believe in the value of liberal education, and in the marketplace of ideas.  This is something we learned at Yale.  It is a concept we teach our children, and aspire for a world they will inherit.  Unfortunately, this ethos is in short supply in the national security apparatus where we spend our professional lives.  Partly out of expediency, partly the result of the self-selection process and the type of person drawn to our type of work, fine gradations are not always appreciated.  Our colleagues and clients do not always revel in novel ideas.  They also tend to be more comfortable with violence than our former classmates and professors.

 

In America, understanding the need for physical force is not unique.  Collectively, most accept that there are principles for which force is necessary, because the unwillingness to fight for ideals that are occasionally under assault means we risk losing them.  Freedom is not without costs.  However, there are plenty of people within the United States government who view physical force as a first option, to bring our enemies to the table where the discussions can begin.  If you are a hammer, so the saying goes, you tend view the world more as series of nails.  This might be true of parts of our military.  Plenty of people involved in U.S. national security are quick to advocate aggressive tactics.  On occasion, we might go overboard. 

 

Yale's problem might be the exact opposite, and may be worse because of the hypocrisy.   It purports to promote open dialogue and free thinking, yet finds a way to avoid dealing with those with contrary world views. This tendency is on display in its current relationship with the United States Department of Defense. As an institution, Yale displays a cavalier attitude towards the occasional need for physical force, adopting the view that military options and strategy are inherently anti-intellectual.  As a result, it tends to distrust the men and women we must rely on for military tasks.   The double standard can be aggravating.

 

Nowhere was this phenomenon most apparent than the May/June 2006 issue of the Yale Alumni Magazine.  In the “light & verity” section, there was short news item, entitled “Law School awaits ruling on military recruiting,” about a March 2006 Supreme Court ruling in Rumsfeld v. FAIR, upholding the constitutionality of a federal statute that requires American universities, as a condition of receiving federal funding, to give military recruiters the same access to their students as they give to other employers.  Why were military recruiters banned from college campuses?  This policy was a relic of the Vietnam Era, but is currently justified by the Pentagon’s policy of excluding openly gay persons from military service.  This is probably a convenient excuse, which masks a deeper bias.  

 

In the same edition of the Alumni Magazine, there was a longer article on the controversy over Sayed Rahmatullah Hashemi, the former spokesman for the Taliban, who is attending classes this year at Yale College.

 

So we have this state of affairs: the Yale community refuses to allow full access to the United States military for on-campus for recruiting, and feels so strongly about it that it joins in federal litigation seeking to de-couple this refusal from the university’s right to continue to receive the $300 million it receives in federal funding every year.  For this part of the community, the discrimination is justified by the military’s discrimination against homosexuals, which is neither illegal nor unconstitutional.  Meanwhile, Yale opens is doors to a former advocate of a group with which the U.S. military is at war, which practices a form of discrimination against women and non-Muslims that is, by any measure, far more odious than “don't ask, don't tell.”

 

The inconsistency gets more stark when you drill down deeper.   The issue of military recruiters on college campuses is long-standing, and it is not limited to Yale.  Still, Yale is somewhat unique in that a group of law professors got together and filed their own lawsuit, seeking to validate what they view to be a fair exclusion by the Yale Law School of military recruiters from full use of its facilities.  This litigation, Burt v. Rumsfeld, is independent of and survives the Supreme Court’s decision in Rumsfeld v. FAIR.  Any doubt about the anti-military animus of a vocal part of the Yale faculty is destroyed when one examines the specific arguments they are making in the Burt litigation.

 

In Burt, the professors argue that the military’s presence on campus infringes on their freedoms of speech, because it compels them to communicate a significantly different message concerning employment discrimination than they choose to send.  They claim that granting full access to military recruiters violates their right of association, because it forces them to associate with individuals whose publicly-acknowledged beliefs conflict with those of the Yale Law School.  They claim that military recruiters violate their Fifth Amendment “substantive due process” right to educational autonomy to “banish discriminatory conduct from all of the Yale Law School's activities in order to protect their students and to create the environment necessary to carry out the Faculty Members' educational mission.”   All of these arguments are made in the event that the court rejects the professors’ primary argument: that the law school’s is neither “effectively preventing” military recruiters from accessing students through the programs, nor treating military recruiters different from non-military recruiters.  To be fair, this is a common legal trick: deny that you are doing anything wrong, while simultaneously claiming that your wrongdoing is justified. As strange as this may sound to lay people, in law this is not considered disingenuous.

 

How would the Burt plaintiffs’ arguments play out and apply to Yale’s decision to permit  Sayed Rahmatullah Hashemi on campus as a student?  Hashemi, who has a fourth grade education, is the former spokesman for the Taliban.  He visited Yale during a 2001 world tour, where he apparently impressed everyone with his articulateness.  Of course, his message was somewhat obnoxious. While in New Haven, he participated in a debate in which he publicly defended the Taliban’s opium production and its total denial of education to school-aged girls.  In a meeting with the Wall Street Journal during that trip (this was a few months before 9/11), he denied that Usama Bin Laden was a terrorist.  Still, to his supporters, Hashemi seemed like such a nice young man.

 

The fact is that Hashemi was a paid advocate for one of the most repressive regimes in world history, one which had a horrendous human rights record.  In Taliban-controlled Afghanistan, people were tortured and beheaded.  Homosexuals?  They were reportedly thrown into ditches and had concrete walls bulldozed over them.  Women who were deemed insufficiently Islamic were publicly executed in the city’s soccer stadium.  Why did Hashemi agree to work for the Taliban? According to the Yale Alumni Magazine, it was because he viewed them as an antidote to the corruption and chaos in Afghanistan.  In other words, the decision was of his own volition.    You might recognize Hashemi if you saw him.  He was the Taliban official featured in Michael Moore’s “Fahrenheit 9/11,” sneering at a protesting female Afghanistan exile, telling her, “I’m really sorry for your husband.  He must have a very difficult time with you.” Just imagine how this statement would have been received if uttered by a Yale law school professor at a female student who disagreed with him in class.  There would certainly be protests.

 

One would expect the plaintiffs in Burt to be arguing that Hashemi’s presence in New Haven has a deleterious impact on the type of equality they seeks to promote as a faculty, and their right to avoid associating with people with whom they disagree.  Of course, that is not happening.

 

The article about the Hashemi controversy in the Alumni Magazine, by Trey Popp, is well done and even-handed. Those who support Hashemi’s presence on campus offer a number of expressions indicative of Yale’s place in the world.  One observer believed that Yale could help Hashemi “understand the broader context for the conflicts around the world.”  Another stated,  “I have faith in Yale's mission as a marketplace of ideas, as a place that, at its best, graduates students who have endeavored faithfully to figure out the best way to live.” Another sought to absolve Hashemi, observing that he “comes from a background where he probably didn't have any alternative visions of the world at all,” and attending Yale would gives him a chance to experience that.  Another observed the educational benefit of other students in having Hashemi on campus.

 

These sentiments are all laudable, and one would hope they are all true. They represent Yale at its best, particularly if Hashemi has indeed renounced his Taliban roots, as seems to the case.  The problem is they are applied at Yale so selectively.  The American military does not receive the same benefit of the doubt. 

 

The Pentagon’s policy on homosexuals has evolved to the present “don’t ask, don’t tell.”  The fact that it has survived despite the legal challenges means that it is not unconstitutional, though, not that it is wise or correct.   Who is to say that this policy could not evolve further if military recruiters saw value in many people they are forced to turn away, and come to realize that the talents necessary to fight a modern warfare are unrelated to sexual preference?  Of course, this realization will not happen anytime soon if the Burt plaintiffs have their way.  The limits on military recruiters on the Yale campus is simply wrong-headed, especially for an institution that values the marketplace of ideas.  Given the nature of the arguments, the professors attitude towards the military seems to reflect something more than a disagreement with its hiring policies.  It appears to be motivated by intense personal pique at the people in uniform.

 

The question is whether this double standard at Yale is real and, if so, what are its causes?  Two recently published books shed light on these questions.

 

Although not a book about Yale, Molly Worthen’s The Man on Whom Nothing Was Lost (Houghton Mifflin Co. 2005) is a biography written by an alumnus of Yale College about one of her professors, Charles Hill, who now teaches the Grand Strategy course to undergraduates at Yale’s International Security Studies program.  There is no question about how Hill views Hashemi’s presence on the Yale campus.  In the Alumni Magazine, he is quoted as being supportive.  Still, Hill is recognized as a conservative iconoclast unabashed about his views of the need for American force, and  Worthen’s book about his life seeks to explain why. 

 

Much of the book is set in New Haven, where Hill currently lives and works.  He seems to be on a mission to train students to avoid much of the soft thinking he despises about America’s morality and its obligations as the world’s last remaining superpower.  Hill was not always a conservative.  Early in his life, he was an intense critic of the Vietnam War, and reportedly joined the Foreign Service to avoid military service.  Over the next several years, he was based at the American Embassy in Saigon, came back to work as a speechwriter for Henry Kissinger, stayed on at Foggy Bottom when the Reagan Administration took over, and became close to George Schultz, weathering the Iran-Contra scandal with him.  He began teaching at Yale after he retired.

 

Although there is no question that his political leanings are to the right of most of Yale’s faculty, Hill seems more like a loyal State Department staffer than an enthusiastic supporter of the so-called military-industrial complex.   For example, he does did not bear the animosity toward the U.N. of most neoconservatives, and was willing to join the staff of Boutos Boutros-Ghali after retiring from the State Department, before coming to Yale.

 

Those types of distinctions, well understood by those who work in Washington, do not resonate with Hill’s biographer.  For example, Worthen’s Hill exhibits those annoying State Department-like tendencies  - to say very little and remain on the periphery, appear detached, constantly take notes.  If Hill was the quintessential diplomat, that would not make an enthusiastic supporter of military force.  The State Department tends to distrusts the Pentagon.  Hill a radical conservative?   It would be more appropriate to characterize Hill is a curmudgeon, a person who distrusts modern trends and revels in fighting cultural battles on the side of those who think we are slipping away from our traditional moorings.  He does not like radicalism of any stripe.  From Worthen’s characterization, you would probably not find Hill approving of Newt Gingrich or Tom Delay, let alone Rush Limbaugh.

 

What does The Man On Whom Nothing Was Lost say about Yale?  Worthen surveys how Hill is received by his students and colleagues.  Many students dislike him, characterizing him as a “raving conservative.”  Worthen allows that this may be the result of his critics being afraid of big ideas.  The worldview of Hill’s Grand Strategy implies immutable inequalities among people, something, she notes, “which mortifies the modern liberal, who draws from his Enlightenment inheritance an appraisal of individuals as essentially equal, malleable and interchangeable consumers and producers who would achieve social harmony if only the barriers of race, class, and gender were eliminated.”  According to one of Hill’s colleagues, his arrival at Yale raised a few eyebrows, because he was a Reagan Administration guy who was suspect in the minds of the “aged hippies” on the Yale faculty.  However, it is Worthen’s own words that describe the type of institutional mindset at Yale, from the student’s standpoint:

 

We’re not sure that we can acquire the moral tools that past generations possessed by faith, tradition, and birthright.  Our inner compasses have been set awry by years of political correctness.  And for the most part, the teachers we encounter in college don’t see this as a problem, they rave about open minds and compassionate hearts that populate their classrooms.  Too bad that in a crisis, openness and compassion so often translate into paralysis.

 

This statement by Worthen goes along way to explaining the riddle of why a group of Yale professors would sue the Pentagon to prevent the military from being treated like a viable prospective employer, while not exhibiting the same type of animosity to a former spokesman for the Taliban. Unlike William F. Buckley, Worthen does not attribute it to expedience.  To her, it has more to do with soft thinking that is a product of political correctness and intellectual atrophy.

 

If that is the case, is it any wonder that Yale students would feel this way when professors from one of its most elite graduate programs make arguments about how military recruitment at the law school will somehow violate their constitutional right to association, by forcing them to interact with military personnel?  How did the Yale Law School, an institution that was formerly led by such Cold Warriors as Eugene Rostow, reach that level of disrespect towards another great American institution?

 

For this answer, one might look to Laura Kalman’s Yale Law School and the Sixties for some insight.  However, one of the surprising things about this book is how little of the 1960's era protests at Yale involved the Vietnam War and the military.  Instead, student activism revolved around their distrust of authority, and their aspirations to be taken seriously on campus.  In other words, it was all about R-E-S-P-E-C-T, and feelings of adequacy.  The issues the activist students chose to fight at Yale Law School in the sixties  - diversity, representation on university committees, grading policies, the "meaningfulness" of legal education to society at large - were really more about them and their comfort than geopolitics.  The most celebrated events at Yale from this era did not involve the Vietnam War but the trial of a Black Panther leader in New Haven, which the student and many faculty (including Yale’s President) believed was being set up as a show trial, with Bobby Seale’s ultimate conviction foreordained.  (Seale, of course, was ultimately acquitted, which means that a fair trial was indeed possible.  The truth about the Black Panthers’s violent propensities would not be fully accepted for several more years,  by which time Seale was in Philadelphia writing barbecue cookbooks and expressing disgust at his former colleague’s militancy.)

 

In her introduction to Yale Law School and the Sixties , Kalman makes clear her affection for the ethos of the times, describing the spirit of the period that “could prove at once exhilarating and excruciating” and expressing regret that her age meant she missed out on the era.  She also skewers Yale Law School for being insufficiently embracing of the Critical Legal Studies movement championed by the likes of Duncan Kennedy, a nihilistic method of analyzing American legal institutions which seeks to do in law what French Deconstructionism does to the world’s great literature: destroy it by establishing its nothingness.  Still, the students of Kalman's book come off as being more like spoiled brats than rebels with a cause.  That they were barely tolerated, and left to twist in their own venom, is a testament to those who were the real heroes of the book - the Yale administrators and professors like Alexander Bickel, Abraham Goldstein, Henry Wellington, and Guido Calabresi, who refused to let the law school become a hippie commune and the headquarters for the Merry Pranksters.  The result?  Some unhappy kids - one of whom threatened to "beat the shit" our of one of his professors - but an institution that produced a President, a several senators and governors, several Presidential candidates, a Commissioner of Baseball, a National Security Advisor, a Supreme Court justice, and several prominent federal judges.  All in all, a rather happy ending.

 

If the failure to embrace this ethos was what drove Yale student nuts in the ‘60's, this offers an explanation for why Yale might fight the Pentagon while embracing the Taliban.  It is not about gay rights.  It is more about defying authority.  The military is The Man.  The Man was to be fought.   Sayed Rahmatullah Hashemi?  He cannot be The Man, because he is a person of color.  Who are we to judge?

 

The problem with this attitude is that Yale does judge - at least when it comes to the U.S. military as a prospective employer of it graduates.  Hence, the double standard.

 

Two other books suggest a way out of this dilemma.  One way is to come to terms with a great Yale tradition of people in the military.  Marc Wortman The Millionaire's Unit: The Aristocratic Flyboys who Fought the Great War and Invented American Airpower (PublicAffairs 2006), which was expanded from a feature story in the Yale Alumni Magazine, is the story of a remarkable group of Yale undergraduates who, anticipating their country’s needs, funded their own flying lessons and planes and transformed themselves into an elite unit that served with distinction in World War I.   Like Robin Wink’s Cloak and Gown (Yale University Press; 2nd edition, 1996), The Millionaire’s Unit harkens back to a time when Yale was not so engulfed in self-conscious irony that it found such selfless pursuits uncool.

 

The other book that might serve as a lesson is AWOL: The Unexcused Absence of America’s Upper Classes from Military Service - and How It Hurts Our Country, by Kathy Roth-Douquet and Frank Scaeffer (Collins, 2006).  It is a heartfelt cry for reconciliation by two members of the East Coast elite whose family members are proudly serving in uniform in Iraq and Afghanistan.  Without mentioning Yale by name, the authors seem to hit her problem on the head: the notion that military service is somehow inconsistent with an enlightened worldview.  The authors describe how they have to contend with liberal peers who question their family choices, including one mother who bragged that the military was not for her sons because she “raised them to be sensitive and critical thinking.”  They describe a young man who briefly considered going into the military but was discourage by his family because “it’s not for people like us” and that he had “too much going for him to throw your life away like that.”  Apparently there are a number of wealthy communities - like Cambridge, Massachusetts and San Francisco - that have attempted to launch “recruiter free” zones where the military is barred from recruiting, a development that has been lauded in Mother Jones magazine.  Where current polls show the military to be among the most respected institutions in the U.S., this is surely a disconnect.  Who do these people think invented such modern marvels as the Internet?

 

If Yale has fallen victim to this attitude described in AWOL, it would explain the double standard and the odd arguments by the plaintiffs in Burt.  There are additional signs that this is indeed the case.  Recently, the Yale History Department came under criticism for its decision denying tenure to one of its most popular instructors - Mary Habeck - who specializes in military history.  There are some who think Habeck, who landed a job at John Hopkins, got a raw deal, in part because her senior colleagues did not value military history as a field of study. 

 

Perhaps it is time for some self-reflection. The real problem is that Yale is not coming to terms with the double standard, and that its exclusionary attitudes towards the military is hiding behind misplaced notions of inclusion.  What would be the right solution?  Perhaps Yale should be consistent and insist, despite the clamor in some circles, that former Taliban enthusiasts like  Sayed Rahmatullah Hashemi should be welcomed on campus, because of our confidence that Yale values will win him over forever and make him realize the error of his ways.  This would not require an affirmative decision or change in policy, since the decision on Hashemi has already been made.

 

The second part of the solution, however, will require a change, although it is a very simple one: allow the military to make its case to graduating students, on campus, in the same way as other employers do, and let the chips fall where they may. This resolution  (in addition to maintaining the flow of federal funds to Yale) could result in the military recognizing, over time, that its attitude towards homosexuals is wrong.  It would make Yale’s attitude consistent, and set up the competition of ideals between two great institutions, where each will likely be made better as a result.   It is only through this cauldron of ideas that Yale deserves to maintain its status in American society.  Meanwhile, Yale students, still the best of their generation, deserve the right to hear about post-graduate employment in the armed forces.  There is no question that the modern military deserves them.

 

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R.K. Joyad is the pen name for a national security lawyer in Washington DC.


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