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Yale, realistic-looking stage weapons, and the prospects of zero tolerance policies:

Like Eugene, I'm happy that Yale has reversed its foolish decision to ban the use of realistic-looking weapons in theater productions. I hope that this reversal - which probably came as a result of widespread opposition to the ban among both Yale students and outsiders - will deter other universities from enacting ill-advised zero tolerance policies in the wake of the Virginia Tech tragedy. As the Yale Daily News noted, the new policy was met with widespread condemnation and derision :

The ban affected at least two shows that went up over the weekend: the play "Red Noses" and the opera "Orpheus in the Underworld," and attracted national media attention as well as causing a stir among students involved in theater on campus. Several students complained that the requirement infringed on their free speech, while others pointed out that the policy was unlikely to assuage anxiety about Virginia Tech.

Hopefully, this episode will dampen enthusiasm for similar policies elsewhere in the academic world. University administrators tend to be very risk-averse and will avoid instituting draconian zero tolerance policies if doing so would cause a backlash that will make their lives difficult.

As for the suggestion by Yale Dean of Student Affairs Betty Trachtenberg (the official who instituted the ban) that critics of the policy are "not using their own intelligence," I will only say that people who live in glass houses should avoid throwing stones - especially realistic-looking ones. However, I don't want to put down Dean Trachtenberg too much. By instituting this policy and generating a backlash against it, she has unintentionally performed the valuable public service of demonstrating that college students and the general public have little appetite for harsh zero tolerance policies. If her error helps to prevent similar ones at other schools, it is a price well worth paying.

Related Posts (on one page):

  1. Yale, realistic-looking stage weapons, and the prospects of zero tolerance policies:
  2. Yale Rescinds Ban on Realistic-Looking Stage Weapons:
  3. Zero Tolerance Comes to Campus:
  4. Yale Bans Realistic-Looking Onstage Swords:
dearieme:
Was it Trachtenberg's character flaws that we saw most clearly, or her intellectual flaws?
4.24.2007 7:35pm
Kovarsky (mail):
ilya,

thanks.
4.24.2007 7:40pm
Tom Holsinger (mail):
Yale was very wise. Their Drama Department has ways of keeping silly outsiders from intruding on the Department's turf. As in,

Dress one actor up as Cho, armed with some Super-Soakers, and another as the Wicked Witch from the Wizard of Oz, with a sign on her chest stating "Dean Trachtenberg", and a day-glo orange nerf baseball labelled "magic wand".

Then film their duel outside Trachtenberg's office. Have an announcer loudly proclaim the terms of the duel - the Wicked Witch has to hit Cho with the magic wand before he can squirt some water on her. If he succeeds, she must scream, "I'm melting, I'm melting" and go into dying convulsions. If she succeeds in hitting him first, he has to surrender his Super-Soakers and go into exile.

With judges dressed as the Easter Bunny and a bunch of Tooth Fairies (rugby players in tutu's, with wings, tiaras, and pipe wrenches), all carrying signs saying "Dean Trachtenberg Is Unfair! She Believes In Magic But Not In Us!"
4.24.2007 7:52pm
Kovarsky (mail):
Tom,

?
4.24.2007 7:54pm
Waldensian (mail):
Tom, put down the hash pipe. Put it down, man.
4.24.2007 8:21pm
Falafalafocus (mail):
Tom's idea sounds intriguing. But I join the others in saying: "what??!"
4.24.2007 8:26pm
Charlie (Colorado) (mail):
Hey, it's performance art.

In the meantime, though, Ilya, I'd say that if you're betting on public embarrassment and derision to overcome a Yale Dean's sense of self-importance, you're probably making a losing bet.
4.24.2007 8:30pm
Vinnie (mail):
Tom knows how to deal with irrational people. (Or has experienced a lot of peoples attempts.)
4.24.2007 8:37pm
Non-Eli:
How much can we really expect from an educational institution that taught George W. Bush English and Bill Clinton legal ethics?
4.24.2007 8:57pm
Ilya Somin:
How much can we really expect from an educational institution that taught George W. Bush English and Bill Clinton legal ethics?

Clinton graduated from YLS before legal ethics became a required course in the wake of the Watergate scandal. Who knows how history might have turned out had the reform been instituted earlier:)?
4.24.2007 9:06pm
Viscus (mail) (www):
First of all,

Let us get over Clinton and the Monica Lewinski fiasco, shall we? Much ado about nothing. (Of course, other allegations, if true, would be much more serious. But none of those other allegations managed to stick. Though, didn't he settle with whats her name?

Second of all,
Give me a break. Even liberals disagree with the Yale Dean's silly decision. Okay... Must of us understand that the linkage between swords used in a play at Yale and the Virginia Tech massacre is far-fetched and irrational. This sort of thing would not have likely been replicated elsewhere to a large degree anyway.

The Yale Dean was not acting primarily as a liberal. The Yale Dean was acting primarily as an irrational and silly person.
4.24.2007 9:28pm
CEB:

The Yale Dean was acting primarily as an irrational and silly person.

At least she wasn't acting as a "savage and uncivilized" person.
4.24.2007 9:32pm
Viscus (mail) (www):
CEB,

I agree. Not savage and uncivilized. Irrational and silly.
4.24.2007 9:33pm
Richard Aubrey (mail):
I'm not sure I get this. Was the ban because somebody might be hurt by weapons which weren't fake enough?
Or was it because the precious elite who attend Yale productions might, in the wake of the VT shootings, be unbearably traumatized?
4.24.2007 10:00pm
K Parker (mail):
You critics of Tom H. are all wet. That sounds like wonderful street theater to me!

As to where he gets it, I'd suspect from his day job. :-)
4.24.2007 10:18pm
David Maquera (mail) (www):

Let us get over Clinton and the Monica Lewinski fiasco, shall we? Much ado about nothing.


Yes, I am sure that "much ado about nothing" is what Bill told Hillary repeatedly when Hillary first found out.
4.24.2007 10:19pm
Tom Holsinger (mail):
Gentlemen,

Look up the term "guerilla theater".

I used it successfully against a Republican senatorial candidate in October 1968 at UC Santa Cruz, which by no coincidence whatever was also the last time the Regents of the University of California held a public board meeting.

My father, as a long-time California Democratic Party operative, had done the opposition research on a GOP candidate for the nominally non-partisan 1962 statewide Superintendent of Public Instruction position. His name was Max Rafferty. My father learned all sorts of interesting details about Mr. Rafferty, and decided not to use in that election so that Mr. Rafferty would eventually run for a more important office at which time Pop could release it and swing the election.

Mr. Rafferty won in 1962 and, in 1968, defeated moderate Republican incumbent Senator Thomas Kuchel in the GOP primary. The Democratic nominee was Alan Cranston, who by then was a washed-up has-been sacrificial candidate against Kuchel. Especially in 1968 with the Vietnam War wrecking the Democratic Party and Republican Richard Nixon of California running for President.

So Pop's holding back of the opposition research was suddenly quite important.

Sadly, the press was not interested in Rafferty's pre-World War Two fascist past as a member (officer I think) of the southern California Silver Shirts and how he and his buddies wrecked student newspaper offices.

Nor was the press interested in Max's fetish for whips, black leather and Nazi uniforms as detailed in his ex-wife's divorce papers

My father did not mind this omission, especially, as Max Rafferty was caricatured as The Blue Max by SF Chronicle humor columnist Art Hoppe, and my father lived in fear that the press would pick up on Alan Cranston's college roommate, Lee Falk, a comic writer and artist, who used the youthful, good-looking, Alan as the model for his cartoon strip characters Mandrake the Magician and The Phantom. Pop figured that if both candidates became public cartoon figures, the public would elect the more entertaining of the two, and Alan Cranston was dreadfully boring.

But by gum, the press was deeply interested in Max Rafferty's World War Two draft and health records. How the poor guy suffered from such flat feet and other spinal/leg/foot problems that he was 4-F and escaped military service. Until the war ended. Then he had a miraculous recovery. As detailed in what were not then especially confidential medical records.

Because Max had made all sorts of interesting statements denouncing anti-Vietnam War college students as draft-dodgers and cowards.

And Max Rafferty, as Superintendent of Public Instruction, was a Regent of the University of California. So he came to the October 1968 Board of Regents meeting, which was held at Crown College of the UC Santa Cruz campus.

Where I happened to be a college sophomore. And, as I recall (could be wrong), the particular day of the Board of Regents meeting was October 31, 1968. Right before the election.

There were, and are, no fratnerities at UC Santa Cruz. But a bunch of like-minded guys had formed a student organization dedicated to pranks, called the Harlequin Society. At the time we all lived on the first floor of Dorm Five at Stevenson College. And our motto was "Omni Momento Nascitur Stultus", which we hoped translated as "There's a Sucker Born Every Minute".

So, for the Regents meeting, we rigged ourselves out with crutches, bandages wound around feet, etc., prepared large placards with labels such as, "Show Us the Way, Max, Our Feet Hurt Too!" and "We Know the 3R's, Teach Us the 4-F's!".

There was a crowd of students blocking the front entrance to the Crown cafeteria, but they gladly gave way for us and our guerrilla theater. The media camera crews loved us. We pranced and shouted a cadenced, "Limp, limp, Limp! Limp! LIMP!" for a few minutes, then rolled into "It's VJ Day, the war's Over!"

The Regents snuck into the cafeteria in the service entrance hidden in grocery vans, and so escaped facing us. But we made the evening news across the state!

And Alan Cranston beat Max Rafferty in California's 1968 U.S. Senate race. Polls after the event showed Max's draft-dodging story to be decisive, and the news shows of our guerrilla theater production to be the most critical statewide depiction of his draft-dodging in World War Two.

And the Board of Regents of the University of California immediately changed its meeting practice from holding public board meetings to holding only private ones.

Professor Somin,

I doubt Clinton would have passed the ethics exam in California at the time. He'd have given legally accurate answers and flunked it. I did.

I clerked for the SEC's Enforcement Division while at Hastings, and one of my assignments was to build a case against a crooked attorney. My experience trying to penetrate the attorney-client and work-product privileges taught me exactly what an attorney could and could not do.

But, the first two times the California State Bar required that bar applicants pass an ethics exam (February 1975 and July 1975), the exam asked what an attorney could do but the required answers were what an attorney should do. I graduated from Hastings in the spring of 1975 and took the July bar exam.

I passed the general bar but failed the ethics exam due to giving legally accurate answers to the questions as worded. This made me too unethical to practice law.

There was an uproar about the results of the July 1975 ethics exam, so the February 1976 ethics examiners were told to accept legally accurate answers. And I passed that one.
4.24.2007 10:21pm
Viscus (mail) (www):
David Maquera writes:


Yes, I am sure that "much ado about nothing" is what Bill told Hillary repeatedly when Hillary first found out.


Unless there is something we don't know about you and Bill, your not Bill's wife. So, from your perspective and my perspective, "much ado about nothing." From Hillary's perspective -- is castration enough??
4.24.2007 10:31pm
Charlie (Colorado) (mail):

The Yale Dean was not acting primarily as a liberal. The Yale Dean was acting primarily as an irrational and silly person.


You know, you shouldn't leave a straight line like that lying around. Someone could put an eye out.
4.24.2007 11:36pm
Oh come on:
The Yale Dean was not acting primarily as a liberal. The Yale Dean was acting primarily as an irrational and silly person.

You could say that the... no, it's too easy. I'm better than this. Carry on with your business.
4.24.2007 11:42pm
logicnazi (mail) (www):
I really wish I could believe she did this on purpose to diffuse the slide to silly no-tolerance rules.
4.25.2007 1:32am
Fub:
Tom Holsinger wrote:
Pop figured that if both candidates became public cartoon figures, the public would elect the more entertaining of the two, and Alan Cranston was dreadfully boring.
Makes sense to me. Alan Cranston did have less charisma than an undertaker. But Max Rafferty was a cartoon figure no matter how much he tried not to be.

Trying to picture Alan Cranston gesturing hypnotically, or hanging out in the Skull Cave, makes my head hurt.
4.25.2007 2:51am
zhongliu (mail):
4.25.2007 5:23am
Tyrone Slothrop (mail) (www):

If I go to see a play by Anton Chekhov, I'm expecting to see a gun on the wall and I'm expecting to see it go off. So there's a pretty strong assumption of the sort of risk that Dean Trachtenburg is worried about. But maybe I know this because I went to a better undergraduate school than Yale?
4.25.2007 10:19am
Houston Lawyer:
Maybe she meant it as a joke, like Sheryl Crow and the toilet paper issue or John Kerry and the draft.
4.25.2007 11:24am
rmark (mail):

"The Yale Dean was not acting primarily as a liberal. The Yale Dean was acting primarily as an irrational and silly person."

And the difference is?

(that was too tempting)
4.25.2007 4:03pm
Tom Holsinger (mail):
Oh ye of little faith:

"November 1997
by Mark Alden Branch


Tap Night for Yale's singing groups has always been a volatile affair. Pranksters routinely padlock gates, lob water balloons, and kidnap promising candidates in their quest to impede the progress of singing groups in pursuit of choice freshmen. But last year, things went unusually smoothly, perhaps because of the presence of a slight, well-coiffed grandmother walking the quad with an enormous Super Soaker water gun (confiscated from a student) and a "make-my-day" expression. She was Betty Trachtenberg, the Yale College Dean of Student Affairs ..."


"... Dress one actor up as Cho, armed with some Super-Soakers, and another as the Wicked Witch from the Wizard of Oz, with a sign on her chest stating "Dean Trachtenberg", and a day-glo orange nerf baseball labelled "magic wand".

Then film their duel outside Trachtenberg's office. Have an announcer loudly proclaim the terms of the duel - the Wicked Witch has to hit Cho with the magic wand before he can squirt some water on her. If he succeeds, she must scream, "I'm melting, I'm melting" and go into dying convulsions. If she succeeds in hitting him first, he has to surrender his Super-Soakers and go into exile ..."

4.25.2007 4:16pm