Report of the Committee on Freedom of Expression at Yale | Yale College

Chairman’s Letter to the Fellows of the Yale Corporation

December 23, 1974

To the Fellows of the Yale Corporation:

The following report is the result of the findings and deliberations of a committee appointed last September by President Kingman Brewster, Jr. The President was responding in part to a resolution adopted by the Yale College Faculty on May 2, 1974, requesting him “to appoint a faculty commission to examine the condition of free expression, peaceful dissent, mutual respect and tolerance at Yale, to draft recommendations for any measures it may deem necessary for the maintenance of those principles, and to report to the faculties of the University early next term.” Guided by the Rules of Governance adopted in 1970, the President appointed a committee of thirteen consisting of five faculty members, two members of the administration, three graduate students, two undergraduates, and one member of the Yale alumni. Their names, with one exception, will be found at the end of the report.

In efforts to fulfill its assignment the committee not only reviewed the record of the past decade but also sought to inform itself about attitudes and opinions of all members of the University community who wished to make their views known. Repeated invitations in the press brought in numerous written statements, many of them thoughtful and informative. The committee also held advertised public as well as private hearings and recorded hours of testimony and advice.

It is gratifying to report that the committee found strong support for the maintenance and defense of freedom of expression among those whose views were received. A smaller number held reservations of various kinds about how much freedom should be tolerated. Some felt that freedom of speech was too dangerous, or that enjoyment of free speech should await the establishment of equality or the liberation of the oppressed. Only one appeared willing to advocate censorship and suppression of unpopular speakers.

How well the views last mentioned are represented in the dissenting statement of one member of the committee it is impossible to say. At least it serves as some indication of the difficulties the University might face in implementing the principles supported by the committee. Printed exactly as delivered, the dissenting member’s statement was only received after the committee had finished its deliberations, completed the writing of its report, and disbanded for the holidays. The committee was therefore unable to comment on the faithfulness with which its views are represented, the scrupulousness with which its words are quoted, or the accuracy of factual allegations.

From the beginning of its investigations the committee has been aware that Yale’s problems are shared by sister institutions at home and abroad. Correspondence with some of them has reinforced the impression that a movement which in its inception in California a decade ago proudly invoked the name of Free Speech has in latter days showed signs of repudiating its original commitment. While this investigation is confined to the experience at Yale, it has been the hope of the committee that its statement might inspire in other universities a rededication to the principles asserted in this report.

The Secretary of the University has kindly agreed to make available to those requesting them the full texts of the President’s baccalaureate address of May 19, 1974 and the public statements of the Yale Corporation that have been quoted in this report.

C. Vann Woodward


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