In this post, I discuss the first week of spring break, the Buckley seminar, and the start of the Coronavirus pandemic.
Estimated Reading Time: 5 minutes
Today marks the end of the first week of spring break. (Unlike most other schools, the break at Yale is two weeks.) As a result, my entry will be much shorter than usual, as I did not have any classes this week. That does not mean, however, that it was not an eventful week. It most certainly was for various reasons, the most notable of which was the beginning of the Coronavirus pandemic.
For the first three days of the week, I participated in a seminar put on by the William F. Buckley Program. As I have discussed before, I am a Buckley Fellow, and I try to participate in as many events as possible. The program is known for putting on multi-day seminars during various breaks throughout the year, one of which traditionally occurs during spring break.
Free Market Fairness
This year, Professor John Tomasi of Brown University led the seminar, which focused on his book Free Market Fairness. The seminar revolved around the ideas he promotes in it.
About twenty students participated in the seminar, and the seminar included significant amounts of time for discussions between the students. It was something to see how interested and passionate some of the students got about the subject matter. The Yale undergraduates are a unique breed, I must say. (Only a handful of graduate students, including myself, participated.)
I was incredibly impressed by this seminar. Professor Tomasi is brilliant and is well-known for his work in political philosophy. He has even served as a political and economic advisor to the Chilean government. Opportunities like this are why I came to Yale, and I am still exceptionally grateful to be here.
A Conservative Oasis
Monday and Tuesday night, the Buckley Program sponsored dinners for the seminar participants. I would strongly encourage anyone who comes to Yale to participate in the program. While it is true that it mostly attracts conservative students—as one of the only places at Yale that actively welcomes conservatives, this is understandable—not all participants fit this mold.
The program values intellectual diversity and promotes respectful dialogue and debate. Given the lack of places at Yale where conservatives feel welcome, it is understandable that the Buckley program would attract conservative students. Liberal students are welcome—and celebrated—just about anywhere else on campus, so they don’t have the same social incentive to participate in the program. Still, students of all political beliefs are welcome.
The Divinity School’s Reputation
One interesting thing that I learned from interacting with students from across Yale this week is that the Divinity School is generally held to be the most leftist organization on Yale’s campus. More liberal than Yale College—which is infamous for its students playing the social justice warrior caricature—more liberal than the School of Forestry—which revolves around leftist environmentalism. The most liberal, left-wing organization on campus is, in the eyes of Yale students, the Divinity School.
I don’t find this that hard to believe. If someone asked me to describe Yale Divinity School through a political lens, I could only say, “Imagine if Marx went to synagogue.” I cannot name one conservative of any stripe on faculty at Yale.
Even if such a faculty member did exist, I would imagine that he or she would keep it quiet. I would be shocked if any faculty member voted for Trump. (Though I understand, of course, that being conservative and voting for Trump are not necessarily synonymous, as I didn’t vote for him myself.)
Still, the militancy that I see in other places at Yale is mostly absent, at least as far as I can tell. People are more kind-hearted than the displays I see elsewhere, but it is nonetheless telling that at a place like Yale, the Divinity School is considered the most left-wing corner of campus.
The real big event for the week, however, was the rapid spread of the Coronavirus and the associated response. Before the seminar started, Yale put out a statement encouraging all events hosting more than one-hundred people be canceled and that caution be exercised for all other non-class events. The Coronavirus, however, had not yet emerged as a significant concern.
On Monday, there were no announcements that suggested there were any plans to suspend classes. Tuesday, we heard that Harvard had suspended in-person classes and was moving to an online format as a precaution against the spread of the Coronavirus. By Wednesday, Yale made a similar announcement.
We are now scheduled to move to online classes at least through April 5th. Undergraduates were told that they had to leave campus. They were encouraged to return home and discouraged from returning. Everything seems to be in a state of constant uncertainty, as no one knows how far the Coronavirus will spread or how long this pandemic will last.
After Spring Break
Right now, after spring break, my classes will resume in an online format. While the tentative plan is to return to class after April 5th, I received Zoom invitations from my professors suggesting they are planning to maintain this format through the end of the semester. So, I don’t have any idea what is going to happen. I’m in wait-and-see mode. Indeed, no one seems to know what we should expect from the Coronavirus.
I suspect, however, that things will continue as normally as possible. I still have papers due and will still attend lectures, albeit through Zoom. The seminars will also be conducted via Zoom, but I’m not sure how that will play out. My Theologies of Religious Pluralism class, in particular, may be strange, given that we do a lot of splitting up into small groups to discuss topics before rejoining the wider class.
On the one hand, this is paradise for me. Not having to leave the house for days or weeks at a time is my idea of heaven. On the other hand, however, the suffering that the Coronavirus has brought diminishes the personal joy that I feel over not having to leave the house.
In addition, my children’s school has been canceled through the end of the month, and there are rumors that they are also going to try to implement their own online format. It all happened quite suddenly. Someone in their building had tested positive for the Coronavirus. The initial announcement was that school would just be closed Friday, but then Friday was quickly extended to the end of the month.
So, this is where we are now. What a strange situation this is. I hope that the concern over the Coronavirus passes quickly, and we are all able to resume our normal lives. There is also some talk that the transition to the online format may affect my GI Bill benefits, which would be a bit of a financial hardship for me. So, I’m hoping that this gets resolved quickly.
Everything is a big question mark right now. I guess I am now attending the world’s most prestigious online college. As it stands, I don’t intend to leave my house again for quite a long time, and I’m doing just fine with that. I suspect others, however, are not.
The Coronavirus marks the first widespread pandemic in the United States in a hundred years. Hopefully, it ends soon. I also hope it is the only such event I will experience during my lifetime.
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