September 30, 2009
Yale is distinct from its Press—A Commentary by Anthony Kronman ’75
The following commentary was published in the Yale Daily News on September 30, 2009.
Yale is distinct from its Press
By Anthony Kronman ’75
Speakers representing the widest imaginable range of points of view are routinely invited to the Yale campus by departments, student groups and individual members of the faculty. Sometimes a speaker will be thought objectionable by a segment of our community. Within very wide limits, however, Yale is committed to the principle of free expression, painful as that commitment sometimes is.
The ideals underlying Yale’s commitment to free expression are set out in the Woodward Report of 1975. These ideals continue to be a guide and inspiration for us. Three things make it possible for Yale to meet their very considerable demands. The first is a belief, widely shared within the Yale community, that free expression is a great engine of enlightenment and discovery, hard as its effects on particular members of the community may sometimes be. This belief is itself one of the pillars of our sense of community. The second is an old and deeply entrenched culture of civility that softens the sharpest antagonisms and helps to heal the deepest wounds that uninhibited free speech can sometimes cause. And the third is our confidence that we can provide for the peace and safety of the Yale campus, a geographically defined space with clear borders.
None of these same considerations apply, in a straightforward way, to the work of Yale University Press. To begin with, the Press exercises tight editorial control over the books it publishes — in contrast to the University, which does not seek to edit the intellectual life of the Yale community. The mission of the Press is to disseminate the fruits of scholarship, and in doing so it makes, and must make, countless judgments regarding which books to publish, in what format and the like. Second, the books published by the Press circulate in the world at large, where no common and long-established traditions of civility comparable to the ones that characterize the internal life of the Yale community exist. Third, and most obviously, neither the Press nor Yale generally has the ability to assure the peace and safety of every forum in which its books are read and discussed, around the world.
When these distinctions are kept in mind, it is not surprising that Yale Press’ decision not to publish the Danish cartoons should be followed, in short order, by a visit of one of the cartoonists to the Yale campus. In fact, these events bring out in a vivid way the fundamental difference between the work and ethos of the University, on the one hand, and that of the Press on the other — related but different institutions with different missions and different responsibilities.
Anthony Kronman is Sterling Professor of Law at the Law School and a member of the Board of Governors of the Yale University Press.