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C A  M P U S
Leaving the Cocoon
Steven Christoforou • Now is the time for all good men to come to the aid of their country  • October 2001

At the recent tercentennial festivities, Yale administrator and representatives paid lip service to the notion that Yale is meant to produce leaders, epitomizing the role of the university in society.  At the convocation, the audience heard from several speakers that the charter of Yale in 1701 described the newly founded university as a place “wherein Youth…may be fitted for Publick employment both in Church & Civil State.”   Later that evening at the Yale Bowl, the audience saw the names of all the wars in which Yalies have fought and died flash across several very large monitors.  Those in attendance also heard frequent mention of the events that struck this nation on September 11th.  There was a mention of service past, of a present crisis, but not a substantive call to future service.

An example is President Levin’s opening speech: “The first of [the university’s contributions] is to educate leaders who think critically and independently…The faculty realized then as now that what it calls the ‘furniture’ of the mind—the great objects of human investigation—should properly evolve over time.  Today, in class as well as on written assignments and examinations, students are judged more on the quality of analysis and argument than the ability to recall facts…Those educated to think critically are the most disinclined to fall under the sway of prejudice, to succumb to intolerance, to close their minds to debate and discussion.”  The President’s speech conveys the notion that, when Yale is molding leaders, it is molding rational people—it is teaching methods but not ends.  

Former President Bill Clinton made a similar point in his address to Yale, specifically that the strength of America is its willingness to understand that it has not reached truth, though its people collectively strive for it.

Certainly a leader should have the ability to think through the problems he will face.  However, the events of September 11th have shown that the model of the university espoused by President Levin and former President Clinton is entirely inadequate. The graduates of Yale must be able to identify the right course of action and pursue it, not merely ponder and question events occurring around them. We should whole-heartedly condemn the killing of innocent citizens, and the once we have done so, we cannot justify inaction.

Tali Farhadian, a student at the Law School, spoke at the convocation on behalf of the students.  She spoke at length about the sacrifices Yalies have made for their communities, from dedicating their lives to public service in the political sphere to dying for their country on the field of battle.  “[T]here are moments in which the call [to serve] is clear and piercing…I am sure that our sense of mission, personal and public, deepened if not changed this September.  Suddenly the idea of service is more meaningful, and more urgent.”

The university’s role is suddenly crystallized. It must guide students in the exercise the mind, but such mental pushups are desirable only insofar as they lead to action; man must live and act in his society according to his ideas.  The university must produce a man for the world; however, that means that the university should have an end in mind more robust than simply honing rationality.  Ms. Farhadian expressed something to this effect when she said, “We are engaged in public deliberation and insistent on democracy.”  Rationality without an emphasis on the ideas it produces, and the action those ideas in turn necessitate, is worthless.  There must be a call to some sort of action, and that call must come from the university as it educates these men. University officials are correct to say, “I think it would be a good idea if more students who were interested in languages took Arabic” or, “I think you political science or history majors should definitely consider a career in the intelligence business” or, “The time has come for some of us to lay down our lives in the defense of freedom and all the ideals that we hold dear.”

One does not enter a university to learn a skill; that is the purpose of polytechnic institutes and apprenticeships.  Young people must enter the university expecting to grow and change, to learn new ideas and develop a philosophy that they can call their own.  The university is almost a fantasyland.  That does not mean the university is a place where young people must experiment with all sorts of sensual pleasures, drink to the point of sickness every weekend or try various mind-altering drugs.  The university is a place where a student can stay up till the sun rises, perhaps in a state of enhanced consciousness, and not really have to worry about anything else.  There are no jobs in the real world sense, there are no taxes, there are no bills.  In the university there are only students and thought.  It is the insulated cocoon, where children come to develop their minds for a short while before having to enter the real world and fend for themselves. The university student is trained for a specific purpose.  He is made a man.  He must then go out into the world and act like one.

Steven Christoforou is a sophomore in Calhoun College


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