Leave it to Yale to hoist itself by its own snoot—the snootiest college in the country has finally given itself its own comeuppance. Yale has declared promiscuity, or at least exposure to aggressively promoted public promiscuity, to form an integral part of “the Yale experience.” They’ve told some nice Orthodox Jewish boys that, if they object to urinating and defecating in the presence of girls, they should go to some other school, since they would be required at Yale to reside in dorms where toilets are not “gender-specific,” as they say in political-correctnessese.
The students asked to live off-campus, rather than in the Yale-sponsored whorehouses called dormitories. Raised in Orthodox Judaism, which—like Islam and evangelical. Orthodox, and Catholic Christianity—teaches sexual restraint and modesty between the sexes, the students tried to escape the de rigueur environment of forced receipt of condoms, normative alcoholism, and required sharing of bathrooms by both sexes. The Torah says Abraham saved Lot from Sodom; they followed suit. In reply, Yale told them they had come to the wrong place, and that they should leave Yale if they did not want to share “the Yale Experience.”
Sure, Yale officials want to accommodate students’ “religious needs.” But according to the New York Times, they also say that “students who come to Yale know in advance that it is ‘a defining requirement’ of a Yale education that lowerclass-men live on campus.” The dean, Richard Brodhead, adds, “Part of Yale’s unique offering is the chance for students to learn about other outlooks by living in the unique community. If you allow all groups based on affiliation or conviction to separate themselves from the whole university community, you open the door to all kinds of self-segregation that this place has worked ver}’ hard against.” Self-segregation apparently encompasses separate men’s rooms and ladies’ rooms.
Yale’s flack, Thomas Conroy, says it even better: “We understand that aspect of the Yale educational experience is not going to be attractive to everyone, and we understand it means some prospective students will choose to go to school elsewhere.” That is to say, if you want to make wee-wee by yourself, don’t come to Yale. Wow!
Leave it to Yale to speak of what it sells as “an experience”—not as an education. Notice the issue: it is not a required course that the students object to taking, or a required area of learning—let alone a required body of knowledge. It is something that sounds amorphous but that is, in fact, quite specific: the Yale Experience. If you don’t want to find condoms at your dinner plate or to accord to the holy other the divine right to fornicate even when you want to sleep, go somewhere else. The Yale Experience is not for you.
What strange, pretentious language! My colleagues at Bard College speak, quite properly, of a Bard education, and that means some specific, worthwhile things. My colleagues at the University of South Florida, our huge, full-service university on the urban frontier, do not have the leisure to speak of the “South Florida experience,” but perhaps that is because (among other reasons) we are misnamed, being located in west-central Florida. But at Yale, that is the way people talk.
I cannot speak Yale-talk, but I understand it, because a few decades ago, the chairman of Yale’s (infamously mediocre) department of religious studies, Wayne Meeks, wrote me to explain why I could not be appointed to an opening: “Granted you’re the best in the world, but we have to choose what’s best for Yale.” I wondered whether Meeks stood for Yale or only for his personal sense of Yale. So I asked him whether the Yale Medical School might tell a brain surgeon, or the physics department tell an astrophysicist, “Granted you’re the best in the world, but we have to choose the brain surgeon/astrophysicist who is best for Yale.” I received no reply.
Still, for veteran Yale-watchers—as a West Hartford boy of the late 1940’s, when Yale was unashamedly anti-Semitic and told Jews their kind should go elsewhere, it comes naturally to me—the current brouhaha still astounds. Yale requires freshmen and sophomores to live on campus. But the Jewish students complained, “Yale . . . encourages a lifestyle in the dormitories that there’s no way a fully observant Orthodox Jew can live in.” Single-sex dorms and floors do not help, because the toilets are open to both men and women. The dormitory environment is defined by the university. At a freshman orientation lecture, students are told how courteously “to ask your roommate to leave when you want to have sex with your girlfriend.” The rest of Yales’ sex pep talks for freshmen I leave to the reader’s imagination.
But for the Orthodox students, matters were not so simple. In their first year, they actually did live off-campus, paving the required fees for a dorm room, but even that (rather extravagant) expedient is now denied them. No one has explained why they cannot, in their sophomore year, avoid the Yale Experience that they did not have in their freshman year. So off they have gone to the lawyers and the headlines.
Recently, Brown University’s new president told the incoming class that their task is “to rebel.” In 1997? Against what? Brown’s tough curriculum, which requires not a single course, abounds in pass/fail options, and demands little more than four years of breathing in exchange for a degree of dubious value—rebel against that? No, the real message is that what the students bring to campus—the identities formed in community, home, and family, in American civilization as it still flourishes—finds a cool welcome.
That is why the Yale experience has its own surprises to set forth. Writing in the New York Times, William Glaberson reports, “Some students and faculty members on campus here say the debate raises fundamental questions about how much universities should channel people into shared experiences and how much they should encourage students to maintain their group identities.” He quotes “a Yale history professor, Ivan Marcus,” as saying, “The university would be in chaos if it bent over backward to accommodate everyone’s sensitivities.”
Now in the context of Yale’s sexual zealotry, this statement is hardly surprising, especially the bending-over part. But the source amazes. Innocently described as a mere history professor, Ivan Marcus is in fact not only Yale’s professor of “Jewish history,” but a rabbi. He comes to Yale from the position of professor and provost at the Jewish Theological Seminary of America, where for most of his career he educated rabbis in the same religious tradition that the Orthodox students maintain condemns promiscuity. When students enter JTSA, they sign a pledge to practice the teaching of the Torah. Marcus signed that pledge when he entered, just as I did when I came along. But as a professor at Yale, he fears “the chaos that would result” if Yale accommodated the “sensitivities” of students who practice Judaism’s teachings concerning sexual modesty and purity. Talk about hypocrisy and selling out to the other side! Marcus strikes me as little more than a cultural Kapo, serving the Kommandant of Stalag Yale (who is also Jewish).
When I taught at Brown, I remember that the economics professors would ask, “Is this particular crisis absolutely necessary?” So in this ease, I wondered, did Yale perhaps have no choice but to join the lunatic fringe of politically correct zealotry? I consulted a housing director of a large private university. He reassured me that any competent housing director can organize suitable housing for small groups of students with special requirements. He does it every day, as do all of his colleagues.
What does it take to set aside a few rooms on a secluded floor for students who do not wish to share toilets with the opposite sex and who voluntarily wish to impose parietal rules on their own rooms? Only the stroke of a pen, and yet Yale won’t do this. (As we go to press, Yale says it is now willing to assign the Jewish men to an all-male floor but not willing to enforce any rules or restrictions regarding activities on their floor, meaning it will only accommodate the men on paper.)
Cripples have their ramps; gays and lesbians, their K-Y dispensers and their double beds; blacks, their own graduation ceremonies; Hispanics, their own unions; voyeurs, their unisex toilets—all courtesy of university administrators. But rather than extend the same “sensitivity” to scarcely a minyan—a quorum—of Orthodox Jews, Yale would rather humiliate itself publicly and announce, “You’re not welcome here.”
But they do not mean only a handful of Orthodox Jews. They mean religious Jews, Christians, and Muslims, who abide by the divine injunctions concerning sexuality—encompassing modesty— that all three monotheist religions hold as revealed truth. Yale is making its point, loud and clear: the faithful of Islam, Judaism, and Christianity may aspire to work for God and certainly for country, but so far as Sodom by Long Island Sound is concerned, they are certainly not fit for Yale. Which means Yale has now transcended anti-Semitism and invented a whole new bigotry all its own: if you practice a traditional religion and morality, you need not apply. “The Yale educational experience is not going to be attractive to everyone.”