Documentary exposes Yale's 'administrative squid monster'

In part two of his journey into the belly of the academic beast, Rob Montz guts open Yale University’s “administrative squid monster,” a monster he says is almost exclusively to blame for the recent rash of campus free speech controversies.

And this is precisely where Montz’ latest project, “Silence U Part 2: What has Yale Become?” kicks off, replaying those infamous clips of Professor Nicholas Christakis fruitlessly attempting to convince student interlocutors that a controversial email his wife had sent just a few days earlier was entitled to the same free speech protections that applied to the student protesters.

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In the video, Erika Christakis had responded to a campus-wide email from the School’s Intercultural Affairs Committee urging students to avoid potentially offensive Halloween costumes, countering that free expression entails acceptance of a certain degree of offensiveness and asking, “Is there no room anymore for a child or young person to be a little obnoxious...a little bit inappropriate or, yes, offensive?” thus sending the campus into weeks of unrest.

The saga culminated in an intense exchange between Mr. Christakis and several of his students on the quad of Silliman College, where a crowd of students verbally berated him, broke down in tears in front of him, and maliciously attacked him and his wife.

Things eventually grew so intense that Mrs. Christakis resigned from the prestigious university altogether, while Mr. Christakis stepped down from his post as head of Silliman College.

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It is here where Montz picks up the story, returning to Yale to uncover what exactly went wrong.

“Yale is supposed to combat, not cultivate, such self-righteous intolerance. This is, after all, the place that produced the Woodward Report, the 1974 gold-standard defense of academic freedom that famously called universities places to ‘think the unthinkable’ and ‘challenge the unchallengeable,’” Montz begins his new documentary. “Yale has manifestly failed to meet that noble goal. Now, why is that? What has this place become?”

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The blame, Montz suggests, largely falls on a bloated administration, one that Yale alumnus and University of Pennsylvania Professor Amy Wax criticizes as caring little for the search for truth.

“Yale has become sort of this all-purpose entertainment warehouse, a place to have a good time, rather than receive an education,” Wax contends. “They need all those offices to, you know, keep the fun going. Administrators aren’t that committed to the search for truth, and they have a lot of power.”

And indeed they do, as Montz carefully demonstrates, offering a shocking revelation in his new project that four administrators were allegedly present at that memorable showdown between Mr. Christakis and his students, including Burgwell Howard, the “the dude who wrote the original email warning against wearing offensive Halloween costumes.”

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“What you’re witnessing is a head on collision between what Yale was and what it is becoming, between the champions of the Woodward Report, who properly see the freedom to provoke as an essential ingredient of learning and the champions of the gilded camp, who want to beat back any challenge to students’ egos with bureaucratic controls, and the customer-service mentality dictates that the most powerful person at Yale capitulate to this cannibalism,” Montz explains, noting that he was only able to acquire one student interview in the making of his documentary because most who disagreed with the state of the university weren’t willing to speak out.

“The reason no one will talk to you is that there is no professional benefit to saying controversial or interesting things,” one anonymous student admitted to Montz.

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Meanwhile, Montz goes on to explain, Yale has launched a $50 million diversity initiative and created a Dean of Diversity position, even as professorships shrunk by 4 percent and the “administrative squid monster,” as he calls it, grew by five percent, “shrinking its tentacles into virtually every facet of undergraduate life.”

Montz himself is admittedly pessimistic about the future of academic, telling Campus Reform that real debate has shifted to outside the academy.

“It’s completely natural for 19 year-olds to be wildly overconfident in their politics. The problem is when a university—an institution specifically designed to stoke doubt and appreciation of complexity—starts bending to the narcissism; starts compromising the curriculum and campus climate to accommodate it,” Montz said when discussing the first installment of his documentary, conceding that he thinks “real, vigorous debate is migrating to outside the academy.”

The second part of Montz’s documentary, which debuted in March, can be viewed here.

Follow the author of this article on Twitter: @AGockowski