YALE DAILY NEWS · FRIDAY, JANUARY 20, 2012 · yaledailynews.com
.COMMENT “This is just another step toward corporatization of the university and the austerity yaledailynews.com/opinion
New tailgate policies are a mixed bag
he administration’s latest tailgate regulations are well-intentioned,
but some are off the mark. ted for tailgating. If the University simply wanted to demand tamer tailgates, it could have banned alcohol altogether. But kegs were specifically implicated in November’s scandal, so kegs will no longer be allowed. On their surface, Yale’s tailgates will look less debauched. Kegs are conspicuous symbols of consumption. Flasks are not. But one is more dangerous than the other. There will not be another Yale tailgate for nine months. It made little sense to rush to announce these policy changes now, before the police have even completed a forensic investigation of the crash. The administration could have taken more time to talk to more of the people these changes will directly affect. Instead, it chose to follow in the footsteps of Harvard, Princeton and other peer institutions that have adopted similar policies. Banning kegs and shortening tailgates might be a trend, but it isn’t a wise one. Barry’s death was a freak accident, but it presented a good opportunity to reevaluate existing policies. Dedication to safety is always worthwhile. But adopting two extra rules that will all but eliminate tailgates is a misdirected effort. In the narrative of improving safety after last year’s crash, it might be easy to lose sight of the real purpose of tailgate regulations. The administration’s top priority should be to guarantee its students’ safety while promoting the spirit of celebration. It is instead trying to refocus the fallout from a horrifying tragedy to improve its own image.
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‘YALIEFORASANENH’ ON ‘YALE STILL ADDRESSING BUDGET GAP’
Keeping academia substantive
In the wake of a tragic Harvard-Yale tailgate, Yale’s administration pledged to review its policies on tailgating. The results of that review, released yesterday, include regulations for future tailgates that will ensure nothing like that day’s accident happens again: U-Hauls will be banned and student tailgates will be held in a vehicle-free area. Those are necessary changes. But the administration also announced two other rules that actively undermine student safety instead of protecting it: No kegs allowed at all and no tailgating after kick off. These latter regulations seem tailored to protect Yale’s public image above all. The U-Haul that killed Nancy Barry in November was carrying kegs. Media coverage of the event focused on that fact and the debauchery it implied. Kegs had nothing to do with the accident, which occurred long before kick off and with a sober driver at the wheel of the truck. But banning kegs and shortening tailgates sends a message: Yale is responding to the accident and all the negative attention that came with it. These two measures do not demonstrate the sensitivity we would hope to see in responding to the complex task of balancing safety, the tradition of Yale tailgating and our public image. At best, these two new changes will merely curtail some festivities. More likely, they will create an unsafe environment in which students binge drink even more. Without kegs, students will likely turn to hard alcohol. They will drink more quickly in the shortened time allot-
politics that comes with it.”
few days ago, I joined a group of Yale students and professors for a visit to the Dead Sea Scrolls exhibition in Times Square. The exhibit — which I certainly recommend to anyone interested in ancient Judaism and Christianity — is a remarkable mixture of scholarship and entertainment. Somewhat incongruously, the exhibit’s neighbor at the New York Discovery Center is none other than “CSI: The Experience,” inspired by the hit TV show. Glossy advertisements plaster much of downtown Manhattan, and the visitor is introduced to the Scrolls by a high-tech, 360º video show and live actors dressed as Israeli field archeologists. Although the exhibit is certainly the product of a monumental effort on the part of scholars, it is also clear that the Discovery Center views these ancient manuscripts’ visit to New York as a lucrative financial opportunity. That marriage of the scholarly and the commercial seems worrisome. After all, attempts at appealing to broader popular audiences inevitably result in the loss of scholarly authenticity and the introduction of some degree of anachronism. But more than that, the rank commercialization of these ancient texts — one of the most important scholarly discoveries of the century and a source of wonder for millions of the faithful — seems to chip away at the integrity of academia itself. When the
ivory tower opens its doors to private enterprise, it cannot help but appear less pristine. The academy engages YISHAI but its SCHWARTZ more, authority and the quality of The Gadfly its output are diminished. Shopping period at Yale presents us with a similar quandary. Professors go into salesman mode as they try to interest students in their subjects. Members of the faculty perform song-and-dance routines and play funny videos during their first class meetings, and they develop niche, hip-sounding titles for classes in an effort to appeal to wider groups of students. The enrollment in William Honeychurch’s “Great Hoaxes and Fantasies in Archaeology,” for example, is exponentially larger than similar archaeology courses with comparable material but less sexy names. Even the term “shopping period” reflects a commoditization of scholarship, one we barely even notice anymore. I certainly don’t think that we should all be stuck in classes with boring material and uninspiring teachers, but what does the experience of shopping do to our understanding of education and our place in
academia? I can’t help but think that Yale students think of themselves less as responsible protectors and developers of knowledge and more as self-interested consumers pursuing our pet interests and causes. This shift in perspective is not good for us, academia or society. This consumerist ethos isn’t simply a question of pride, accolades or undergraduates’ selfunderstanding. The emphasis on form and display rather than content has ramifications for scholarship as well. Conceptual frameworks and lenses of understanding are all the rage while the difficult philological and manuscript work that goes into translation and critical editions goes unpraised and underemphasized.
MUST WE SACRIFICE QUALITY FOR ACCESS? Indeed, perhaps this was precisely the concern at the heart of the recent controversy over Dean Thomas Pollard’s insistence on interviews for graduate students, a move strongly resisted by some faculty members in the humanities. I — along with pretty much every other undergraduate who has ever had section with a teaching fellow — think that interviews
are a no-brainer. Teaching and committees are part of American academia and we certainly don’t want to be subjected to instruction from incoherent and unpleasant teachers. Nevertheless, we should appreciate the fears of those scholars who are watching as the American academy is overrun with performers and dynamic innovators whose personalities outstrip their scholarship. I certainly don’t know enough about Cornel West’s scholarship to pass judgment, but there is something about the era in which we live that makes his success and celebrity unsurprising. None of the above is meant to diminish the importance of engaged and accessible scholarship. An idea which cannot be communicated is usually not coherent, and one that is not communicated will never be influential. Nevertheless, we must be wary of those trends which strip the academy of its aura of prestige and threaten to push scholarship into supposedly relevant and interesting — but less than substantive — directions. We are hopefully here because we love to learn, but that love must not lead us to gut the academy as we shape it in our own image. YISHAI SCHWARTZ is a junior in Branford College. His column runs on Fridays. Contact him at yishai. firstname.lastname@example.org .
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China says ‘welcome to the club’
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End madness, teach method There is much I agree with in Michael Magdzik’s “A specious case for science” (Jan. 17). As an undergraduate, I frequently cursed the uncontrollable hemorrhage of minutiae that marked my coursework in molecular biology. A liberal arts education should do its best to focus instead on the methods professionals use: a sound understanding of statistics, the careful use of language and good experimental designs. As useful as a course like “Public Science” might be in raising scientific literacy, it misses the full ambitions of a science education: to enable us to think scientifically when called for. Science is not about topics, but methods, but it’s method that science courses most often fail to teach. Fortunately, Yale has more than a few professors addressing this little puzzle. Professor Jo Handelsman in MCDB offers “Genes and Environment,” a course intended for non-majors that uses microbiology as a backdrop to the greater goals of scientific thinking and evaluation. This course is explicitly concerned with two principles fundamental to all work hoping to provide predictive accounts of the world: the inference of causality from experimentation and the limits of experimental method in providing such accounts. Handelsman’s students may not know it, but they would be grappling with concerns that goad (and galvanize) even the most seasoned scientists. Another such course is Movie Physics,
taught by Stephen Irons, a lecturer in the Department of Physics. While the name might suggest another gut course, Irons designed a challenging curriculum that gets students to do something that is central to scientific work but rarely spoken about by scientists: guesstimation. The idea is not to make everyone professional scientists but to encourage scientific thinking. A course like “Public Science” will fall short of this goal, but, as it stands, so do many other courses that claim to teach science when the only thing being taught is “science in topics.” PETER GAYED JAN. 17 The writer is a medical student and graduate affiliate of Saybrook College.
Against required courses In “Lucretius at Yale” (Jan. 12), Harry Graver suggests that Yale ought to require students to take courses in the Western tradition and religious thought. Graver’s authoritarian vision of a Yale education cheapens the idea of a liberal arts university and margin-
alizes the role of the student in actively pursuing his or her own education. To be clear, I take no issue with Mr. Graver’s adoration of the Western tradition. As a Directed Studies student, I have staked my freshman year on the idea that study of the classics is a path to truth and I would encourage any of my classmates to take a classics-based course at some point during their next four years. Yet Mr. Graver argues that his specific conception of “enlightenment” ought to be imposed on the entire Yale student body, thus proving himself to be little more than an authoritarian. It is proper for a university to prohibit and refuse to support certain activities that are unquestionably immoral and damaging. But for a university to say, “We have found the path to a virtuous life and we will require you to explore it through specific courses,” suggests that authority always knows better, that choices are fundamentally worthless and that students ought to passively be “instilled” with values rather than undertaking their own intellectual journeys. SCOTT GREENBERG JAN. 16 The writer is a freshman in Ezra Stiles College.