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UPDATED: Erika Christakis to Quit Teaching After Email Controversy; Husband to Take Sabbatical

By December 8, 2015

Erika Christakis will no longer teach at Yale University.

Christakis told The Washington Post late last week that she is resigning “to return to her work with young children and families.” Christakis had faced calls to resign her post as associate master of one of Yale’s dormitories, after she questioned the reasoning behind Yale’s request that students not wear culturally insensitive Halloween costumes.

The early childhood educator will continue in her role as associate master of Silliman College, but has cancelled her spring courses over the backlash. Christakis’ October 30 email to Silliman students questioned the concepts of “safe spaces” and offensiveness. The message caused an uproar among some students who said the email was insensitive and itself failed to create a “safe space” at Silliman.

In her email to the Post, she implied that the Halloween controversy and its fallout were at the heart of her decision:

I have great respect and affection for my students, but I worry that the current climate at Yale is not, in my view, conducive to the civil dialogue and open inquiry required to solve our urgent societal problems.

Her husband, Yale professor and master of Silliman College Nicholas Christakis, will not teach next semester, either. Torch readers will remember he was the professor who was seen on video being angrily confronted by numerous Silliman students as he defended his wife’s right to send the email and called for open debate on the topic. He confirmed to The Washington Post he will take a sabbatical next semester to focus on research. He cancelled the class on public health he had been scheduled to teach.

In November, FIRE criticized Yale’s delay in expressing public support for the Christakises’ right to free speech and called on the university administration to do more. FIRE also praised Yale’s eventual statement that it would stand by the Christakises.  

According to the Yale Daily News, Yale College Dean Jonathan Holloway told the paper he didn’t “have much to add to [Erika’s] decision,” other than that “[i]t makes the situation more straightforward from a [human resources] point of view,” since Christakis is a lecturer paid per course.

The Daily News also reported evidence that the controversy created a chilling effect in class:

Sarah Householder ’18, who is currently taking Christakis’ “The Growing Child in Global Context” seminar, said that the protests changed the energy in the classroom. Householder said Christakis became “hesitant” and “distracted” after she took a week off during the most intense student protests.

Householder added that the class had engaging, serious discussions about issues of child development around the world.

FIRE President and CEO Greg Lukianoff commented on the matter to Instapundit over the weekend:

As I wrote in The Washington Post: “If either professor steps down now or in the coming months, it must be understood to represent Yale’s glaring failure to live up to its own glowing promises to protect and honor freedom of speech on campus.”

Editor’s Note: This story has been updated to include Yale’s official statement on Erika Christakis’ resignation, released yesterday:

Statement by Yale University on Erika Christakis

Erika Christakis is a well-regarded instructor, and the university’s leadership is disappointed that she has chosen not to continue teaching in the spring semester. Her teaching is highly valued and she is welcome to resume teaching anytime at Yale, where freedom of expression and academic inquiry are the paramount principle and practice.

 

Schools: Yale University Cases: Yale University: Protesters at Yale Threaten Free Speech, Demand Apologies and Resignations from Faculty Members Over Halloween Email