Last year at Yale, Erika Christakis authored an altogether sensible email advising students that an overly censorious approach to Halloween costumes defeats the spirit of rebellion and transgression that makes that evening high spirited and fun. This message triggered an uproar. Student mobs launched a public campaign of shaming.
My initial response was to censure the witch-hunting spirit of this politically correct censorship. And I thought the weak-kneed Yale administration contemptible. It failed to defend faculty members whose “crimes” amounted to telling students to grow up. Aren’t colleges and universities places for free and open debate?
I haven’t lost confidence in the ideal of free inquiry. But it pays to pay attention to what people say. In an emotional encounter with Christakis’s husband, a Yale faculty member who argued that a university should provide a context for discussion and civil, reasoned debate, one student shouted, “It is not about creating an intellectual space! It is not! It’s about creating a home here. You are not doing that!”