When [Yale student Suzanne] Jovin was murdered, justice took a backseat to damage control. Within days New Haven police and Yale officials publicly fingered political scientist James Van de Velde, Jovin’s senior essay adviser. He was a star lecturer and had been a residential college dean. He was also a former White House appointee under George H. W. Bush and a member of the U.S. Naval Intelligence Reserves. Most Yale professors lean to the left of the student body; few in the political-science and international-relations departments have real-world experience. Van de Velde was the subject of personal jealousy and political animosity. Many faculty members — including Brodhead — looked askance at his desire to emphasize practical policymaking over theory. Some questioned, for example, his willingness to help Jovin write — in 1998 — about the threat posed by Osama bin Laden to the U.S. to be unscholarly. From an academic point-of-view, Van de Velde was a black sheep.br> Jim Van de Velde was an excellent professor. I had him for two classes, one on international diplomacy and one on international drug trafficking. The fact that I am writing a Ph.D. dissertation on drug trafficking suggests that his was one of the more influential, memorable, and valuable classes I took.
Yale administrators did not care that there was neither evidence nor motive linking Van de Velde to Jovin. Her body had been found a half-mile from his house. Just as at Duke, Brodhead spoke eloquently about the principles of due process, but moved to subvert it.
He was an unapologetically tough grader and a stickler for brevity and clarity. Where most professors didn’t care much about the format of your papers, I remember he assigned a research paper in the form of an official memo advising the President. It was to be “no more than two pages, in twelve-point Courier font, single spaced, with a line space between paragraphs, and one-inch margins.” (Actually, there were even more requirements than that.) We realized with horror that we needed not only to research something meaningful, but we then had to compress it into two tiny pages, footnotes included (those were in ten-point Courier). As I recall, a third of our course grade depended on this exercise in brevity.
Everyone who uses words for a living ought to have to do that.
VAN DE VELDE WAS CERTAINLY an anomaly: if you are familiar with the TV series Alias, I would suspect that Victor Garber’s all-business, no-BS Jack Bristow character was a caricature of Van de Velde, though Bristow lacked Van de Velde’s dry humor. VdV’s military bearing (he was a lieutenant commander in Naval Intelligence) and pragmatic focus set him apart, and as Rubin suggests, probably generated some friction among his colleagues.
Students loved him, though. He was one of few faculty members we talked about in any depth, because here was a guy with a Mysterious Past who did who knows what for The Government in exotic places like Panama. We speculated on whether he was the CIA’s talent scout, the guy who could put you in touch with Langley if that appealed to you. (Though I’m sure he knew folks in that line of work, I’m told the scout was actually another professor.) I’ve got a few great anecdotes about Van de Velde, which I will spare you, but suffice to say he was a quietly subversive force, a very adult presence in a frequently childish institution.
I’m not drawing this comparison to perpetuate stereotypes of academics; scholarship is an honorable profession with its own culture. But I do wish to point out that for an institution with such an all-fired lust for diversity that they welcome even Mullah Omar’s personal adviser as a special student, Yale’s tolerance for someone who was so genuinely different as Van de Velde was awfully brittle. When the chips were down, Yale didn’t treat him as a colleague, but as a PR problem.
If Yale approves of you, Yale will close ranks to defend you. That’s why almost all of the discussion on campus of the Taliban Man, Sayed Rahmatullah Hashemi, was a defense of one of their own against a threat from “outsiders” — like Fox News and the Wall Street Journal. And that was why, when it emerged that a Comparative Literature professor named Paul de Man, a prime mover behind the postmodern, nihilistic technique of “deconstruction,” had been a Nazi collaborator and propagandist during World War II, his colleagues closed ranks to defend him and keep his past a secret.
But rather than giving him the benefit of the doubt, Yale cut James Van de Velde loose.
I WAS SHOCKED TO HEAR he was a suspect in a murder, but I never felt it was possible that he did it. I’ve been wrong about that sort of thing before, though; two people I knew from high school turned out to be murderers. I learned back then that what I feel is irrelevant to how things actually are. But here’s what I think:
A man of faith in a godless age is hitting Americans where it hurts.
Mr. and Mrs. American Spectator Reader, let P.J. O’Rourke talk sense to your kids.
In Britain, defending your property can get you life.
The debacle of this president’s administration is both a cause and a symptom of the decline of American values. Unless Congress impeaches him, that decline will go on unchecked. An eminent jurist surveys the damage and assesses the chances for the recovery of our culture.
It won’t take long for conservatives to scratch this presidential wannabe off their 2008 scorecard.
The American Christmas, like the songs that celebrate it, makes room for everybody under the rainbow. Is that why so many people seem to be hostile to it?
Was the President done in by the economy, or by the politics of the economy?
H/T to National Review Online