Call for Institutional Neutrality at Yale

Dear Trustees of the Yale Corporation,

The fundamental mission of the university is the pursuit of truth. At Yale University, where the motto is Lux et Veritas, Light and Truth, that mission is all the more important.

Particularly in recent months, America’s elite campuses have shown themselves not to be open fora for the civil and respectful pursuit of truth, but rather a miasma of hostility and intolerance toward disagreement. Groupthink and campus orthodoxies have allowed certain perspectives to dominate the campus discussion. Dissent, whether by students or faculty, is punished, either with social ostracization or, in some cases, sanctions from university administrators.

Yale, in particular, can and must do more to preserve the spirit of open debate and discussion on campus. The Woodward Report, Yale’s free speech principles dating back to 1974, recognizes that “the history of intellectual growth and discovery clearly demonstrates the need for unfettered freedom, the right to think the unthinkable, discuss the unmentionable, and challenge the unchallengeable.”

One crucial step Yale must take to support truth on campus is to adopt a position of institutional neutrality on social and political issues that do not involve core academic concerns. In essence, Yale should avoid taking sides in the political, social, and cultural debates of the day.

A policy of institutional neutrality allows students and faculty alike to pursue truth through the respectful exchange of ideas without worrying that they may run afoul of an administrative position on an issue and invite punishment as a result. It creates room for good and bad ideas alike to be challenged, allowing those ideas that withstand scrutiny to rise to the top.

Beyond the free speech arguments in favor of institutional neutrality, there are several practical reasons to adopt such a policy:

  • Yale’s core function is education; taking institutional stances on political, cultural, and social issues unconnected with its mission, weighing the value of various positions, and dealing with the resulting controversy necessarily distracts from that purpose
  • Yale serves students and faculty with many different perspectives, not just those who agree with whatever position Yale may take on an issue
  • There are myriad issues on which the university could speak out. Institutional neutrality absolves Yale of having to answer why they comment on some issues and not others, a decision that is often seen as a statement in and of itself
  • Taking a stance on a political, social, or cultural issue is often unavoidably controversial and no-win
  • Opinions that look correct today may turn out to be wrong tomorrow
  • Taking stances on political issues necessarily draws condemnation from those who disagree and, usually as a result, brings negative media attention and damages the university brand
  • Free speech can be a useful defense for universities seeking to avoid punishing students or faculty who share controversial ideas while engaged in the sincere pursuit of truth. Taking positions on political, social, or cultural issues indicates that universities aren’t truly neutral and use free speech only to protect opinions that align with their own perspectives.

Yale should adopt a position of institutional neutrality and rigorously adhere to it without exception. It will create a Yale that better serves its students, its faculty, and its alumni, and protects the legacy of light and truth that is so fundamental to the Yale name.

Sincerely,

Concerned alumni, students, and faculty

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