Yale Daily News Flunks Verbal

As a Princetonian, my expectations from Yale have never been very high. But I always assumed that the best of its students—or at least those students who edit the Yale Daily News—could read a text in English. This morning, even that assumption was shaken.

I refer to an editorial in today’s edition, under the headline: “Bill’s ‘Advisory Board’ is Cause for Concern.” The reference is to the International Studies in Higher Education Act, or H.R. 3077. (Full text here.) The bill would continue long-standing federal subsidies for area studies in universities. It also would establish a board to advise the Department of Education and Congress on how to improve supported programs. When the bill was in committee in the House of Representatives, academics expressed concern that the proposed board could go beyond general priorities, to delve into the curricula of individual programs. So the bill was modified to include this provision:

Nothing in this title shall be construed to authorize the board to mandate, direct, or control an institution of higher education’s specific instructional content, curriculum, or program of instruction.

By any objective reading, that passage is unequivocal—indeed, it was probably dictated by the higher education lobby—and it trumps every other provision of the bill. It manifestly bars the board from mandating, directing, or controlling university curricula. That’s one reason the bill received unanimous bipartisan support in the House, whence it has been sent to the Senate.

Yet you won’t know that this safeguard even exists, if you rely on today’s Yale Daily News. It says this about the purpose of the board:

The act would create a federal advisory committee to oversee the curricula of foreign language and area studies programs that receive government funding. The Yale Center for International and Area Studies, which receives more than $5 million of federal funding annually, would be subject to any such curricular review….Even if the Bush administration is well-behaved, such input into curricula opens the door to dangerous behavior in the future.

“Oversee curricula”? “Curricular review”? “Input into curricula”? Do the editors of the Yale Daily News suffer from a collective reading disability? This spin on the bill is so at odds with its language that it leaves you wondering about the basic comprehension skills of the Yale editors. This doubt is reinforced by an earlier piece contributed by one of the newspaper’s regular columnists, containing this astonishing passage:

According to the language of the bill, professors whose ideological principles may not support U.S. practices abroad can have their appointments terminated, any part of a course’s curriculum containing criticisms of U.S. foreign policy can be censored, and any course deemed entirely anti-American can be barred from ever being taught.

When I first read this passage—written by a Yale senior—my jaw dropped. There is nothing whatsoever in the language of the bill to support a single one of these assertions. In the real world, this sort of thing—making it up—will get you failed out of journalism school, or fired by your newspaper.

But the explanation of poor comprehension is probably too simple, so let me offer a more sinister one. In the very first news story about the bill in the Yale Daily News, it was reported that some Yale professors opposed it. The university’s vice president for federal relations, Richard Jacobs, told the newspaper that Yale had already started to lobby key senators, including Sen. Christopher Dodd (D.-Conn.), against parts of the bill. Dodd sits on the Senate committee that has received the bill from the House (Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions, or HELP).

In other words, even before the Yale Daily News ran its first story, the Yale administration had opened a backstairs campaign against the bill. So the newspaper is dutifully following the lead of the administration and faculty. It reminds me of how Pravda picked up signals from the Politburo and amplified them—including the crude falsehoods.

So Yale is running a deliberately misleading campaign, relying on distortions, incitement, and the pliant editors of the campus newspaper, in order to leverage Sen. Dodd into opposing the bill. Why? Look at the composition of the HELP committee on which Sen. Dodd sits. Nearly all of the Republicans and most of the Democrats come from states whose institutions get little or no federal money for Middle Eastern studies, and not much more for area studies. Sen. Dodd is one of the few committee members who has constituents who receive the subsidy. And so Yale has assumed the responsibility of running a campaign directed at Sen. Dodd, on behalf of the entire area studies crowd.

What can you do to counter the lobbying efforts of big academe? If you are a resident of Connecticut, it’s easy: click here for a form and write to Sen. Dodd. Tell him that you fully support H.R. 3077 and the advisory board it would establish. Tell him that you are appalled by the deliberate distortion of the bill at the hands of its critics, especially at Yale. Tell him that the bill’s smooth passage is the least Congress can do to assure that this subsidy serves some national purpose at a moment of national need. For more arguments for the bill, read this address I gave two weeks ago, and follow the links from its right-hand panel.

If you’re not a resident of Connecticut, you can have just as much effect by writing the same things to Sen. Judd Gregg (R.-N.H.), chair of the HELP committee. Click here for a form or write directly to greggstaff@labor.senate.gov. Also check this list of HELP committee members, to see if one of your senators is on it, and write to that senator, with a copy to Sen. Gregg.

Yale Library Joins Intifada? While I am indulging my bias against Yale, I wonder why Palestinian propaganda posters are featured at the website of the library’s Near East Collection. Is it because the posters are such outstanding and rare holdings? (The stuff looks pretty commonplace to me.) Or is it because of the politics of the collection’s curator and chief faculty adviser, both of whom signed the extremist Yale divestment petition against Israel? Just wondering.