The Magazine


Sep 29, 1997, Vol. 3, No. 03 • By CHARLES KRAUTHAMMER
Widget tooltip
Single Page Print Larger Text Smaller Text Alerts

WE'VE HAD THE CHICAGO SEVEN. We've had the Camden Eight. Make way now, fellow finde-sieclers, for the Yale Five.

The Yale Five are orthodox Jewish students who are challenging Yale's rule that they must live in campus dormitories. The Five want out because they find the mixed-sex, free-for-all, condoms-on-demand atmosphere of the dorms repellent to their own code of sexual modesty and abstinence. They are not seeking to change anyone else's behavior. They simply want to be relieved of the requirement that they live in an atmosphere that they compare, with considerable scriptural support, to Sodom.

The Yale administration has not taken kindly to this expression of exclusivity. It has told the students: Take it or leave it. No dorm, no Yale.

Oh, how far we've come. In the early '70s, I lived in what was at the time the only coed dorm at Oxford. True, it was a long way from the mixed-sex communal shower of today -- one wing of my dorm was for the St. Anne's ladies, the other for the Balliol boys -- but it did offer possibilities.

And more than possibilities. Seven marriages came out of Hollywell Manor that year (including my own). But not before a lot of, well, fun. So much fun, in fact, that the master of Hollywell Manor -- all him Professor Grayson -- felt compelled to call a student meeting to protest all the "fornication" going on under his nose.

We were amused by his concern, charmed at his use of a word seen only in print, and positively giddy at his proposed compromise: fornication restricted to the hours of nine a.m. to five p.m.

Working hours! Today, a man of Grayson's negotiating creativity would be chairing some peace process or other. At the time, however, we just thought he was nuts. I was tempted to suggest punch clocks. My future wife stayed my hand, however, and, astute as ever about affairs of the heart, stood up to point out the perverse logic of the Grayson compromise: Nineto-rivers were surely less likely to be engaged in committed and serious relationships than the rest of us. (I paraphrase.)

The master seemed flummoxed by the distinction. His concern was obviously not with the moral hierarchy of fornicators, but with their efficiency and with appearances. In retrospect, it was the beginning of the end of the universities' age-old role of enforcing (what was then known as) morals. It was only 1971, and the grownups' resistance was already half-hearted and hollow.

Of course, Grayson failed. He was already, as we used to say at the time, on the wrong side of history. Oxford, and the rest of the academic world, quickly gave up and gave in -- so that today, all incoming Yalies claim as their birthright a sexual ease that we, their pioneer forebears of the '60s, could only have dreamed of.

And dream we did. Hence the campus popularity in the '60s of the now (justly) forgotten novel The Harrad Experiment, a fantasy about sexual utopia: a university (Harrad = Harvard + Radcliffe) at which free love is the rule. At the time, it seemed as outrageously futuristic as 1984.

Well, the future is now, and it is a riot of role reversals. It is now students, acting in loco parentis, who are carrying the banner of modesty. And it is the old fogies who are resisting. Complained one history professor, "The university would be in chaos if it bent over backwards to accommodate everyone's sensitivities." Indeed, the masters of Yale seem barely able to contain their exasperation with the sensitivities of these quaint sectarians. If the Yale Five had sought special dispensation to perform voodoo in the common room, they might have gotten a less condescending reception.

The further irony, of course, is that the Yale Five, wedded as they are to an outworn morality, are a quaint sect. If they were not, their story would not be splashed across the newspapers; their cause would not be a cause celebre. The fact is that out of the 1,700 Yale underclassmen required to live in the dorms, exactly five are saying: Let me out of here.

Yale is willing to tolerate their exotic practices, but certainly not to make any special dispensation to accommodate them. Why? Here Yale appeals to the universality of rules: Every unmarried, under-21 freshman and sophomore is required to live in campus dorms. Rules are rules.

The revolutionary Five point out that this appears to be the only rule governing dormitory life at Yale. Once in the dorm, says Elisha Dov Hack, " anything goes." Students sharing rooms, showers, beds. Corridors with kids in various states of undress. The "freshperson" issue of the Yale Daily News introducing newcomers to the rituals of dormitory life, acquaints them with the term "sexile": a person exiled from his room while his roommate is having it off. In short, a nirvana -- a Gomorrah (take your pick) -- of sexual deregulation.

But no, protest the fogies. The residency rule is not just a rule; it is a rule with a reason. The new students are required to live together to ensure that they are immersed in the "community of scholars" that is the university. Somehow (and looking back) I find it hard to imagine the shower as a place where a lot of Kierkegaard is transacted.

Contributing editor Charles Krauthammer is a syndicated columnist.