Yale president stands by embattled professors at center of email controversy

Students walk on the campus of Yale University in New Haven on Nov. 12.
Students walk on the campus of Yale University in New Haven on Nov. 12. –Shannon Stapleton/REUTERS

Yale University’s president has issued a statement supporting two embattled professors whose emails about Halloween costumes angered much of the New Haven campus.

With the subject line “Moving Forward Together,’’ the message from university president Peter Salovey praised Nicholas and Erika Christakis as exceptional teachers with a “longstanding and deep dedication to undergraduates,’’ according to the Yale Daily News.

The controversy surrounding the professors began Oct. 30 when, in response to an email that told students to avoid culturally insensitive costumes, Erika Christakis wrote another email to students saying universities “have become places of censure and prohibition.’’

“Is there no room anymore for a child or young person to be a little bit obnoxious … a little bit inappropriate or provocative or, yes, offensive?’’ she wrote. “Nicholas says, if you don’t like a costume someone is wearing, look away, or tell them you are offended. Talk to each other. Free speech and the ability to tolerate offence are the hallmarks of a free and open society.’’

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Since then, a group called Next Yale that represents students of color has demanded that Yale fire the two professors.

In an extensive statement released Tuesday afternoon, Salovey addressed most of the group’s demands. But he ignored the request to terminate the teachers’ employment.

Just after he issued the statement about policy changes, Salovey and Yale College Dean Jonathan Holloway sent a joint email to students in Sillman College, of which the Christakises are master and associate master, saying that they “fully support’’ the professors’ commitment to serving the college.

The Yale Daily News also reported that, in a different email also sent Tuesday, Nicholas Christakis invited Sillman students to a follow-up meeting this weekend that will focus on steps to move the conversation forward.

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