Yale Decision to Limit Access to Controversial Lecture Runs Counter to Free Expression Commitments
PEN America says public should still have access to the vide as a matter of public concern
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
(New York, NY) — Yale University’s School of Medicine has decided to restrict access to a recording of a talk by psychiatrist Dr. Aruna Khilanani. The lecture, delivered online April 6 as part of the school’s “Grand Rounds” lecture series, generated public outcry over Khilanani’s discussion of racial stereotypes about white people, and some violent subject matter including fantasies of shooting them. The School of Medicine has said the talk was “antithetical to the values of the school” and cited the “extreme hostility, imagery of violence, and profanity expressed by the speaker” as grounds for overriding the considerations of freedom of expression that would ordinarily counsel making the lecture publicly accessible. Khilanani has said that her words have been “taken out of context,” and that she prefaced her remarks as using “provocation as a tool for real engagement.” She has criticized the school’s decision to limit access to the video.
“Limiting access to Khilanani’s talk runs counter to the university’s own commitment to free expression, in what appears to be an unusual exception being made because of objections to the content of her remarks” said Jonathan Friedman, director of free expression and education at PEN America. “The School of Medicine has made the right choice to speak out and affirm its values, in keeping with its educational mission and responsibility as an institution of higher learning. But members of the public should have access to this video, as a matter of public concern, and be able to reach their own judgements on its contents. Given the provocative and at times menacing messages in her lecture, offense and public outcry is understandable, but reactions should be based on a full hearing of what she said and how she said it.
“If the lecture Khilanani was invited to give was intended to be public the school should not now deny access to it. They do not need to feature it; but it should be accessible. Otherwise the decision to limit access would weaken academic freedom, setting a precedent where future lectures could be restricted whenever school leaders determine a set of remarks are beyond the pale. Free expression policies must not be discarded when provocative, offensive, or discomforting remarks are challenged—rather, those are the difficult times when free speech must be most robustly upheld.”