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From the Editor

One of my more vivid memories of the strike of 1977, which took place during most of my first semester at Yale, is how sorry the upperclassmen all felt for us freshmen because we’d been deprived of the real Yale in our very first weeks. But since we hadn’t known any other Yale, and we weren’t the ones standing in picket lines in the rain, I never could see that we had much of a problem. Besides, I wasn’t entirely sure what the “real” Yale was.

“The Yale administration calls the public spectacle of the strike ‘street theater.’”

It’s a safe bet that the Class of 2007 will remember their own freshman-year strike much better. The first strike deliberately timed to greet the entering freshmen on their arrival started on August 27, with a march, chants, and civil disobedience—83 arrested for stopping traffic. On College Street, in front of Old Campus, there was the traditional pandemonium of illegally parked parents trying to unload too many cardboard boxes, and on top of it the rally-cum-street-fair pandemonium of the protest—crowds of strikers in their red and black “ON STRIKE” placards filling up all the space on the sidewalks, strike leaders with megaphones starting up songs and chants (“Shame on Yale! Shame on Yale!”), and a couple of big papier-mache sculptures, one a yellow chicken and one a red humanlike figure. The Yale administration calls this public spectacle of the strike “street theater,” and on this all-important day of freshmen and parents they had brought in a few key actors of their own. Senior Yale officials stood in prominent places around Old Campus, wearing large nametags and looking tired, a little grim, incongruous among the placards and bullhorns, but respectably, reassuringly ready to serve in loco parentis.

Of all the people I talked with, those having the worst time were the Greek chorus and tragic heroes of the play, the strikers themselves. They all wanted to be working, but they all felt strongly that they were getting the short end of the Yale stick. A year ago, the union had published an internal memo from a member of the Yale Corporation proposing a substantial hike in President Rick Levin’s pension, and it still rankled. “I don’t understand why, if Levin can get a raise, we can’t get one,” said one Local 35 member, and everyone else agreed. Most of them didn’t know how much Yale had offered them—they trusted the union’s judgment—but they knew they were worried about their retirement. (The contract proposals are described in Light & Verity.)

Inside the Old Campus, the university seemed to have won over its audience. The lawns were deep green, the Victorian Gothic stately, and the parents were just as proud and the freshmen just as eager as on any of those iconic late-summer days in the past when a new class has moved into Old Campus. None of the freshmen I spoke with seemed at all troubled by the strike. They’d known what to expect; the university had e-mailed them; they didn’t think the strike would affect their Yale experience, and although they were happy to help me they obviously had much more urgent things to do.

Their parents were surprisingly relaxed about the strike. A first-year student’s mother said, “It’s not a problem. They have some legitimate complaints.” One father of a prospective applicant mused, “My guess is that the timing of this was meant to frighten the university, but I think it was a sign of strength that they can take it.” His desire to send his daughter to Yale hasn’t wavered.

Some even saw something to celebrate. “Protest is essential for society to work,” said David Sussman, a physician and the father of Adam, a freshman. “Protest without intimidation is advocating what the university believes in. My son and the other students coming here today have been given a demonstration of how the system can function at its best, which is not when everyone is happy and everything is fine, but when two opposing views have to be settled. I don’t think the students have been hurt. If anything, they’ve been helped by starting their careers this way. What more could a school like this ask for?”

Dr. Sussman, I believe, knows something about the real Yale. To his son and the rest of the Class of 2007, welcome and good luck.  the end


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