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Yale Faculty Defend Freedom of Speech, Express Support for Christakises in Open Letter

By November 30, 2015

Forty-nine current or emeritus faculty members at Yale University have signed an open letter of support for Erika and Nicholas Christakis’ right to “free speech and freedom of intellectual expression.”

The Christakises—who serve as masters at Silliman College, one of Yale’s residential colleges—have been at the center of a free speech controversy ever since Erika Christakis sent an email to her Silliman College students questioning administrative intrusion into student autonomy and expressive rights in the context of controversial Halloween costumes. The open letter, reported on today by the Yale Daily News, is a response to student demands that the Christakises resign following Erika’s email and Nicholas’ public defense of his wife.

The open letter states that “while the university stands for many values, none is more central than the value of free expression of ideas.” The letter goes on to cite Yale’s famous 1975 Woodward Report, which promises students and faculty members the right to “think the unthinkable, discuss the unmentionable, and challenge the unchallengeable.” The letter also expresses distress over the fact that Erika Christakis’ “modest attempt to ask people to consider the issue of self-monitoring vs. bureaucratic supervision” has been treated by many as an expression of support for racist speech.

“We have an obligation to say something reasonable about this,” Professor of Applied Physics A. Douglas Stone told the Yale Daily News in an interview about the letter. “The silence of so many people in terms of really defending the Christakises has solidified the narrative that they did something wrong.”

Stone authored the open letter, which has been signed by many prominent faculty members and administrators, including Calhoun College Master Julia Adams, Saybrook College Master Thomas Near, School of Management Dean Edward Snyder, and School of Music Dean Robert Blocker.

Yale Daily News reports that Yale College Dean Jonathan Holloway has been approached by many faculty members who are concerned about a chilling effect on free speech after the Halloween email controversy erupted. Holloway joined Yale President Peter Salovey earlier this month in expressing public support for the Christakises.

“It’s not good for our community to feel constraint in our expression of reasonable and relevant views,” Stone told Yale Daily News. “That’s unhealthy for Yale.”

The open letter, which is limited to current or emeritus Yale faculty, is still soliciting additional signers. Faculty interested in signing onto the letter can fill out a form found at the end of the open letter.

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