Like most people, I arrived at Yale with the idea that it was an elite institution dedicated to serious intellectual pursuits, with the ultimate aim of training our nation’s cultural and political leaders. I never imagined it would be a place where, for instance, corporate interests from the porn industry would be given a platform to market their products in the classroom. Nor did I anticipate that I would one day take my international relations final exam next to a former Taliban official.
Nathan Harden has left little to chance on people making the connection between his new book and perhaps the best-known critique of Yale University, God and Man at Yale. Harden played with that title for his own, Sex and God at Yale: Porn, Political Correctness, and a Good Education Gone Bad (St Martin’s Press/Macmillan), and the foreword to Harden’s book is by Christopher Buckley, the son of the late William F. Buckley Jr, the author of God and Man at Yale.
Via email, Harden responded to questions from Inside HE about his book.
Q: Yale, like most universities, gives students many options for creating student groups and organising student activities, and it also gives great leeway to professors in formulating courses, to guest speakers in their presentations and so forth. Is it fair to describe events such as Sex Week as being about “Yale” when the administration hardly sought or promoted these events?
A: In my view, it’s unacceptable for Yale officials to wash their hands of what goes on in Yale classrooms. Take Yale’s Sex Week, for example. Yale’s officials say they have no responsibility for it. Yet I witnessed Yale faculty distributing porn and sex toys to students with my own eyes. Furthermore, if a group of students wanted to host a “Holocaust Denial Week” or a “We Hate Gay People Week”, Yale officials would never agree to host such events on campus, and rightly so. Academic freedom, rightly understood, doesn’t mean that any agenda is appropriate or worthy of university sanction. How does something like a graphic how-to lecture on oral sex support the mission of Yale University? Whatever students do or say in the privacy of their dorms is one thing. But what happens in the classroom – Yale officials are responsible for that.