THUS SPAKE ZACH

Yale President, self-styled pragmatic Democrat, and Thomas Friedman-inspired global citizen Richard Levin is reportedly on the short list to replace Paul Wolfowitz at the World Bank.

It’s times like these you wish Zach would arise from his self-imposed blog hibernation. History suggests it’s only a matter of time…

OUT OF THE PICTURE

I think several generations of Yale activists have had the chance to gather in protest or at least reflect on the outrageousness of the university’s top decision-making body gathering beneath a portrait of the university’s namesake with a slave. Looks like the next generation will have to come up with a new rite of passage.

Yale is finally taking the goddamn thing down. But god forbid you should think that Yale’s leaders feel regret about leaving it hanging there the past few decades:

Since the portrait is confusing without the explanation [that Elihu Yale did not own slaves], I have decided it would be prudent to exchange that portrait of Elihu to another one in the University’s collection,” Lorimer said.

The quote, from Yale’s VP and Secretary, leaves you with the sense that Yale is taking down the portrait, which involves adjusting the moldings around the mantelpiece around the painting (the classic explanation of yesteryear for why the thing had to stay up), because it’s easier than putting up a plaque explaining that the man was not a slave owner. But it’s a portrait designed to honor Elihu Yale by painting a chained Black man at his feet. It honors him with the imagery of White supremacy – an ideology of which the colonial Governor and the university named for him have been no small beneficiaries.

It’s a painting that belongs in a museum. It has no place hanging over Yale’s president as he meets with the Yale Corporation to try to chart a course for the university. It never did. (That’s the difference between engaging and exulting the problematic)

To suggest that the racist graphic is being taken down to avert misunderstanding is to make abundantly clear that you don’t get it.

We had a great crowd of undergrads and prospective students at our ice cream social last night to discuss the strike and progressive activism on campus. The event was made that much more interesting by a protest outside by the Committee for Freedom (right-wing undergrads from the Party of the Right) with slogans like “GESO caused the tsunami.” Nice to know that at least some of the folks in the Committee for Freedom see public protest as legitimate. I think their failure, after a couple hours of tabling at the bazaar for prospective students, to recruit a single prospective student, or more than four current undergrads, to come make posters and protest us speaks nicely to the sentiment on campus.

This morning we revived Education in the Streets and, just as we did two years ago, set up classrooms on College Street in which graduate employees, undergrads, and community members taught classes on the issues at the center of the strike and of the social movement in this city. Scores of students turned out for classes on diversity, debt, contract negotiations, community benefits, and the challenges facing women in the sciences. Attending the latter was a particularly appropriate reason for me to miss my seminar on the Political Economy of Gender.

After moving words from John Wilhelm and others, we picketed a panel of Yale alumni in Battell Chapel including Roland Betts, Senior Fellow of the Yale Corporation. Unfortunately but unsurprisingly, the doors were locked and Betts refused to come out and speak with us, valuing the discussions in our sections as little and fearing disucussion with the people who lead those sections as much, apparently, as President Levin.

Some thoughts on what yesterday was about:

Tuesday night, after four months since receiving the platform for real financial aid reform borne out of our hundreds of canvassing interviews and supported by over a thousand students, President Levin had a great opportunity to offer real solutions, or to take to heart the voices of students who had. And he blew it. He opened the under thirty minutes on financial aid by trying to discuss our platform and the parallel Yale College Council in terms which made clear just how empty his claim that he couldn’t respond until February 22 because he was carefully reviewing our proposal had been. He told students he wanted feedback on whether Yale should make some change on the student contribution or the family contribution, insisting that Yale “can’t lead on every dimension.” Not something one would hear Levin say if we were talking about different dimensions of, say, scientific research. Yale can and should lead on drawing a diverse group of students and on fostering a more equal and more integrated experience for those who are here. A choice between the student contribution and the family contribution is an impossible choice. And it’s a meaningless choice for those students working additional hours to pay what Yale expects from their parents as well. But when those students spoke up Tuesday night, Levin responded by making facial expressions roughly approximating Bush’s during the first debate while questioning their honesty and describing them all as extreme cases. He even went so far as to conjecture, with a shrug, that if there was a problem it only affected a couple hundred students. I’m not sure whether it was this baseless claim, or the implication that the quality of life of a couple hundred students could not be an urgent issue for the university, which angered more of us. So it should have come as no surprise to Levin that students left deeply disappointed and personally insulted.

Yesterday we demonstrated that we’re not willing to sit back and wait for President Levin to offer what he thinks is a sufficient proposal for change, and we’re not willing to settle for a proposal which makes modest change in either the student contribution or the family contribution. So fifteen of us showed up at the Admissions Office as a tour group was leaving and let Dean of Admissions Richard Shaw know that we didn’t plan to leave without a meaningful commitment from Levin to comprehensive reform. Dean Shaw told us we’d have to be out of the building by 5 PM, passed the message along to Levin, and then disappeared into selection committee. We never heard from Levin, despite enough phone calls from students inside and outside of the building, alumni, and parents that the phone began going directly to voicemail. Unfortunately, it appears Levin would rather arrest his students than talk to him.

Folks working in the office were by and large very friendly to us, with a few notable exceptions, and we had a number of productive conversations with some of them about our campaign. We weren’t able to communicate directly with any more prospective students, because the Admissions Office was soon locked to the public and tours were moved to the Visitor’s Center. Because this was signified only with a sign on the door to the Admission’s Office, our folks on the outside got ample opportunities to talk to somewhat confused visiting families about what we were fighting for, to generally very positive response by all accounts, before giving them directions to the new location. The Admissions Office made the peculiar decision to communicate with those families only by yelling at them through the window. The low point during the day in our interactions with others in the building was during the noontime rally outside when Phoebe opened and leaned out of a window to address the crowd and Deputy Secretary Martha Highsmith physically yanked her back into the building (fortunately, the whole thing was caught on camera by Channel 8). Not long after that, they cut off all internet access in the building.

There are no words which can describe my admiration for the tremendous organizing undergrads, as well as folks from Local 34, Local 35, GESO, and the broader community did outside all day yesterday, in constantly shifting conditions and fairly unfavorable weather. Every time a door opened and we heard surging chants, I think each of us was moved and inspired. They did amazing work, talking to visiting families, sending a delegation to President Levin’s office in Betts House, finding Yale Corporation member Margaret Marshall on the way to a Master’s Tea and calling on her to come visit us, dropping into dining halls to share news, and standing outside yelling through the cold for hours.

One of their greatest accomplishments was keeping a powerful crowd outside for the nearly three hours over which Yale made gestures and having us arrested and then, presumably in hopes of waiting out the crowd and the cameras, chose to delay. It had been a full two hours (much of it spent singing, which inspired at least one administrator to turn up “We are the Champions” in his office) since the time we had been told that morning was closing when plainclothes police showed up in an unidentified van and Martha Highsmith had someone videotape her (despite some technical difficulties) reading to us from the Undergraduate Regulations. When we made clear that we still had no intention of leaving without a commitment from Levin to a financial aid policy which better reflects the best values of the university, the police told us were under arrest. We were taken in pairs into Jim Nondorf’s office, cited for simple trespass and led out, singing “Carry It On” and holding our citations, to a still strong crowd. There we shared some stories with each other and ate the pizza that they had been unable to get to us while we were inside before heading back to campus.

On the eve of the Yale Corporation’s meeting, right before the budget deadline, we mobilized a new breadth and depth of student support, leveraged new pressure, took our message to new audiences, and demonstrated the urgency of the issue. Now it’s time to keep building.

To the editor:

If President Levin offered a plan for financial aid reform last night (“Levin states plan to alter financial aid,” 2/23), I must have missed it. Levin made no specific proposals and maintained his refusal to sit down at the table with students who have. He asked students to choose between unspecified reductions in the family contribution and the student contribution, on the grounds that Yale can’t “be a leader along every dimension.” Yale students, including the over a thousand who’ve pledged support to the UOC’s financial aid reform platform, expect better. It’s time for Yale to eliminate the family contribution for low-income families and halve the student contribution for everyone as a step towards equality of access to Yale and equality of experience for students here. Asking students to choose one reform or the other is an impossible choice. And for the many students working additional hours to help close the gap between what Yale thinks their families can afford and their actual circumstances, it’s a meaningless one. That’s among the things Levin might have learned last night if he had taken students’ stories seriously rather than dismissing them as exceptions or questioning their honesty.

Josh Eidelson ‘06

More troubling moments from Levin’s open forum Wednesday night:

On the Board of Aldermen’s call for community benefits agreements: “Unconstitutional…we’ve been doing it already, and I don’t think it’s their place…”

On Yale’s underreporting of rape statistics: “If we were not in compliance with the law, I’m sure we are now.”

On financial aid: “We have not quite made the aggressive moves of Harvard and Princeton.” He went on the claim that because we’re competitive with those schools in admissions, there must not be too much of a problem.

He argued that lowering the family contribution for low-income students would lead parents to be less interested in their children’s education.

He attributed the lack of diversity amongst Yale’s faculty to minority students unwillingness to enter the academy because they won’t earn as much there

He refused the idea that there are any problems with the NLRB process for union recognition.

The Yale Daily News, covering an anti-immigrant initiative for Connecticut, implicitly demonstrates a point all too often absent from its news coverage and its staff editorials: GESO’s struggle to improve the working conditions of graduate students is crucial to the health of the University:

While the bill was introduced as an initiative to strengthen homeland security, both Yale and GESO officials expressed concern that it would pose an unnecessary burden on international students at the University.

GESO Chairwoman Mary Reynolds GRD ’07 said her group plans to publicly oppose the legislation and asked Yale President Richard Levin to use his position to help prevent the bill’s passage. “I think it’s an anti-immigrant bill, and I don’t think that driver’s licenses should be taken away from people who live and work in this state,” Reynolds said. “It will force them to apply and reapply for licenses, which will put undue pressure on the motor vehicle departments.”

Levin said the University is doing its best to oppose the measure by lobbying legislators in Hartford. “We’re working against it,” Levin said. “Obviously, it won’t be good for our foreign students.”

…This issue marks the second time in recent months that Levin and GESO have expressed mutual concern over government policies affecting international students. This winter, both sides called on Congress to scale back heightened visa requirements instituted in the wake of the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks.

If Levin lobbied as hard to protect the rights of his graduate students on visa reform as he has to curtail the rights of his graduate students to organize, we’d be in business.