One year after Lee Bass requested the return of his $20 million gift for a program in Western civilization, a pair of articles in the Yale Daily News suggest that the wrong history has been inherited from the episode. In its recent two-part retrospective, the paper does not even review its own previously reported nagging questions. Instead, the articles rehash the events in a light so favorable to the administration that they could have been written by the Office of Public Affairs.
The YDN first repeats the line about Yale not lacking for Western civilization classes. This observation was a red herring from the time that President Levin first uttered it in December, 1994. Directed Studies could be dismantled and Levin’s statement would still be true. Yet few would greet the loss of D.S. with the observation that Yale is already strong in Western civ. Yale approached Bass requesting funding for a new program, not vice versa. The university knew its curricular strength at that time. The point was to enhance a strong existing program with a unique new course. Blocking that course dealt a blow to Western civilization at Yale.
Next, Dean Brodhead is quoted dispelling the “slanders and misrepresentations
put into circulation last year.” But many of these so-called misrepresentations
remain to be answered. Yale never fully explained why Lee Bass was not
informed of plans to change the course he approved. Nor did the university
ever explain then-Provost Judith Rodin’s recommendation against the Bass
In its second Bass story, the YDN dutifully reports that the university’s fundraising drive has not suffered as a result of the Bass fiasco. This is simply untrue. The drive may be ahead of schedule, but it is at least $20 million behind where it would have been. Moreover, several alumni have written Yale out of wills and decided not to make planned contributions. But even if Yale had not suffered financially, that would not excuse deceiving a donor.
The next canard included in the article claims that Bass insisted upon choosing teachers for his program. In truth, five of seven senior Bass professors had been named before Bass’ request. Bass wanted oversight of the last two senior appointments and the four junior appointments because he distrusted the Levin administration after it misled him. True to the saying, “Fool me once shame on you, fool me twice shame on me,” Bass wanted assurances that the program he funded would not become something other than what he was promised. He asked for the money back when the Levin administration proved incapable of instilling confidence.
Most egregiously, the YDN suggests that the straightforward approach
of the President has enabled Yale to put this scandal behind it. But President
Levin has in fact led the disinformation campaign. If giving to Yale has
not suffered, it is because Levin’s campaign has succeeded, not because
he has come clean. Why has the YDN chosen to abet the administration’s
coverup? In so doing it does a disservice to the Yale community. This was
too important a story for Yale’s newspaper of record to get wrong.
Joseph A. P. De Feo
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