Part 5—Yale dean swings five-pound hammer: When we read Wednesday's New York Times, we thought of our nation's Yale students.
We were reading Eduardo Porter's weekly "Economic Scene" column. As we've noted in the past, Porter's weekly columns are longish and information-based. Presumably for those reasons, his columns are never discussed.
This Wednesday, Porter wrote about the nation's treatment of "deep poverty." Early on, a bit histrionically, he explained what deep poverty is:
PORTER (11/18/15): Even after accounting for every government assistance program—housing subsidies, food stamps, help with the electricity bill—nearly 16 million Americans still fall below 50 percent of the poverty line, measured by the Census Bureau’s revamped poverty measure that includes the effect of government support. That translates to roughly $8.60 per person per day for a family of four. That group is six million people larger than half a century ago.For better or worse, Porter used a statistic designed to shed a bit more heat and a bit less light.
No other advanced nation tolerates this depth of deprivation. It amounts to one in 20 Americans—a share that has refused to shrink despite five decades of economic growth.
“This should become a major issue,” the eminent Harvard sociologist William Julius Wilson told me. “Unfortunately nobody has organized for these poor people. There is not a mobilization of political resources among the poor.”
How much is $8.60 per person per day for a family of four? In more accessible terms, that's $12,600 per year for a family of four. According to Porter, roughly five percent of Americans live on this kind of income.
Porter quoted a well-known professor saying this should be a political issue. Because so few of our ranking professors are anything like Professor Wilson, that statement will figure in today's unfolding tale.
Why did Porter's column make us think of Yale students? In part, because we'd recently checked the demographic status of New Haven, Connecticut, the East Coast city within which this group attends its Halloween parties.
Sure enough! Of 179 "incorporated county subdivisions" in the Nutmeg State, New Haven ranks 175th in per capita income, according to the leading authority.
We'll guess that New Haven's numbers are skewed and confused by the presence of Yale personnel in the city. But as of the 2010 census, 24.4% of the population were living below the federal poverty line, which hits especially hard in a high cost-of-living state like Connecticut.
Among residents under age 18, 32.2% lived below the poverty line. We have no numbers concerning deep poverty, though there may be some of that too.
We aren't in the habit of criticizing youngish people. That said, this is the city within which Yale students lay out the costumes they'll wear to their drunken fraternity parties, and debate the emails of faculty members concerning such seasonal garb.
We aren't in the habit of criticizing people who are youngish. We will discuss the journalists, professors and even the deans who may help turn their brains to mush as they wail and flail and serve us the stories we very much like about the world those students live in.
Very few of those professors seem to have Professor Wilson's values or priorities. Consider the recent discussion between Professor Cobb, who's also a journalist, and Professor Holloway, the current dean of Yale College.
The discussion was published by the New Yorker, a ranking member of our foppish journalistic elite. In our view, the discussion is rather weak from a journalistic perspective. At one point, the Dean of Yale College even comes close to spotting the Klan, without the journalist to whom he's speaking voicing a peep of protest.
We won't get to that discussion today, fascinating as it seems. For today, let's consider a recent profile of Dean Holloway as we think about the types of people who are conveying their values to students at Yale.
For starters, let's make an obvious point. We're sure that Dean Holloway is a perfectly decent person. He doesn't rob banks in his spare time. He's kind to friends, family and neighbors.
We'll assume the same about Professor Cobb, although we'd have to say that, as a journalist, he's rapidly establishing himself as one of our least helpful windbags.
Who is Jonathan Holloway? This Monday, in the New York Times, Rachel Swarns profiled the dean. As we ponder the discussions swirling around Missouri and Yale, we might want to think about the people who are helping the nation's college students form their values, perspectives and priorities—their overall view of the world.
Who the heck is Jonathan Holloway? We assume he's a good, decent person. Is he also a bit of a pander bear? Several of our analysts cringed when they encountered this passage:
SWARNS (11/16/15): The unexpected intensity of the emotional demonstrations on far-flung campuses, from Claremont McKenna College in California to the University of Missouri to Ithaca College in upstate New York, has left college administrators scrambling to respond at a time when concerns about the nation’s racial fault lines have gripped many cities across the country."Few would seem to be better prepared" to handle the current moment? Why does Swarns offer that view? Presumably, because Holloway is the first black dean of Yale College.
Few would seem to be better prepared to handle such a moment than Dr. Holloway. Yet even he has found himself confounded at times by the unpredictability of the swelling movement.
At a recent impromptu protest, nearly 200 black students encircled the 48-year-old dean, with some accusing him of being disengaged and unresponsive. For more than two hours, he listened. At times, he got choked up.
“Students who are dear to me said: ‘You know, I always knew that when times were tough here that you would always have our back. That helped me get through. And now I don’t know if you do,’” Dr. Holloway said in an interview on Friday. “It broke my heart.”
The bespectacled dean has lost five pounds since the campus erupted in a series of rallies and demonstrations this month, and the student activism shows few signs of waning.
Despite that fact, Holloway has found himself accused by some of Yale's black students! In a later passage, Swarns reports the kinds of accusations which may emerge at times as fraught as these. With giant social issues at stake, even a dean like this may not be entirely safe:
SWARNS: [S]ome students complained that there was only silence at first from Dr. Holloway and from Peter Salovey, the university president, about the Halloween-related incidents and the broader issues.Did Holloway show more concern about swastikas on campus than about a faculty email concerning Halloween costumes? We have no idea! But even Holloway was being accused—and elsewhere around the nation, college officials have been losing jobs. Does that explain why Holloway spilled to Swarns about the way he got choked up as he listened to the students he loves so dearly? Does that explain why he even told the scribe that he had lost five pounds, reflecting the way their loss of faith in him has "broken his heart?"
By contrast, some students noted, the dean had moved swiftly last year to condemn the appearance of swastikas on campus, sending an email to the student body that said, “There is no room for hate in this house."
Is it possible that the dean is pandering to the people who are getting deans fired? What kind of leader would do such a thing? Perhaps a Yale lifer like this?
SWARNS: Dr. Holloway, who earned his doctorate in history from Yale in 1995, has spent 16 years on the faculty and wears a navy blue Yale tie to the office most days. (He keeps six Yale ties in his closet on regular rotation.) He is, in many respects, a quintessential Ivy League insider. “A team player,” he said, describing himself.The man who swings that five-pound hammer also rotates six Yale ties! He recognizes the students' pain concerning that email about Halloween. Does he recognize the pain in greater New Haven? Or is that Wilson's thing?
But as an African-American and a scholar of black protest movements, he is also intimately familiar with the sense of marginalization experienced by some students, who have described being subjected to racial slurs, casual insults and tone-deaf comments from classmates and faculty members.
“Their pain was pain I recognize; I didn’t need to have a translator to understand that,” Dr. Holloway said. “Not only do I live life on this planet as a black man, I teach the civil rights era. It’s what I do.”
Even so, some students complained that the dean had become disconnected from their problems.
We'll tell you what a cynic might say about that profile by Swarns. A cynic may say that the dean is worried about his soft, cushy job. A cynic might think that the dean is pandering to the students who could get his ascot fired.
A cynic might think he swung his five-pound hammer as part of a panderama. A cynic might even cringe again as the profile continues:
SWARNS: Even so, some students complained that the dean had become disconnected from their problems.Message to the students he loves: He only skipped their meeting because he was speaking about DuBois! Nothing else could have kept him away!
When black students initially invited Dr. Holloway to meetings about their concerns, he sent representatives from his staff. (He said he had longstanding commitments, including giving a talk at the New Haven Public Library on a new edition of W.E.B. DuBois’s classic, “The Souls of Black Folk.”)
Only one thing is of interest here—the wisdom, values and perspective being offered to college students by their professors and deans and by the nation's journalists. We were very much struck by Holloway's statements in his discussion with Journalist Cobb. He even managed to drag in the Klan. Is he trying to save his own job?
We don't know the answer to that, but we can tell you this:
In a famous piece of tape from Yale, an undergraduate woman is shown behaving in an extremely emotional way about a rather silly email sent by a faculty member. The rest of New Haven has disappeared. She's virtually melting down.
At Missouri, an undergraduate was quoted last week saying she is so "exhausted" she can barely go to class.
In this earlier New York Times profile from Yale, a very impressive young woman is quoted saying that she is oppressed by the specter of John C. Calhoun. “I’m constantly thinking about Calhoun the slave owner staring me down,” this sophomore student is quoted saying. “It’s supposed to be my home, but I feel like I can’t be my full self here."
That young woman was valedictorian of a very large, high-achieving high school just two years ago. Is she being well served by her deans and professors? Is her nation being well served by those rather comfortable people?
Our view? Our nation is crawling with grabbers and climbers. It can sometimes seem that some such people are possibly serving black students poorly as they swing their various hammers, bringing themselves the large rewards available in this society.
We'll discuss that possibility more next week. In our view, the journalism has been quite poor, and thoroughly scripted, concerning Missouri and Yale. As readers, we're handed the novels we greatly enjoy. Are students well served in the process?
Meanwhile, Porter's piece has gone neglected, along with the bulk of New Haven. There are few Professor Wilsons, it sometimes can seem, and a lot of frat parties at Yale.