Wayne Dick has just finished his sophomore year at Yale. It is not a year he is likely to forget. For engaging in free speech -- and only speech, however offensive to some on campus -- he has been sentenced to two years' probation by the Yale College Executive Committee. Should he apply to law or medical school, his rap sheet will be included in his record. Indeed, it will dog him on many of his other journeys.
The student's offense occurred in the wake of the annual GLAD (Gay and Lesbian Awareness Days) Week at the college. Dick wrote and mimeographed a parody poster, "Bad Week '86/Bestiality Awareness Days." The wit was hardly equal to Jonathan Swift's, but nothing on the poster was legally obscene or defamatory. (From the poster's schedule of alleged events: "Lambda -- Yale's own Animal House announces their first Barnyard Rush." Lambda is a homosexual and lesbian rights organization.)
There was considerable anger at the poster, and not only among participants in GLAD Week. Eventually, after a check of the copy shops, the perpetrator was revealed to be Wayne Dick. Anonymous speech is protected in the outside world. But, as Dick was to discover, Yale is a closed state.
Charges were brought against him for "harassment and intimidation against the gay and lesbian community and toward individuals named in the poster." All the charges were based solely on Dick's parody. There were no counts of physical intimidation or harassment.
The trial took place before the Yale College Executive Committee -- three students, three tenured faculty, three untenured faculty and various revolving deans and associate deans. All proceedings are secret. The accused may have a faculty adviser present, but the latter is not allowed to cross-examine witnesses and in other ways is an anxious ghost rather than an active advocate. All rulings are final, but an appeal is allowed if "substantial new evidence" is uncovered. Which body hears the appeal? The very same executive committee that has condemned the perpetrators in the first place.
Moreover, if the accused is found guilty, he or she does not receive a written decision explaining the reasons for the verdict and the precedents on which it was based. Just thumbs down. Nor is the vote of the committee, including defense if any, revealed. The procedures of England's Court of the Star Chamber in the 16th and 17th centuries have been at least partially preserved at Yale.
In his defense, Dick cited Yale's undergraduate regulations, which have incorporated the 1975 Woodward Report on "Freedom of Expression at Yale." (It was written after physicist William Shockley, a Pied Piper of racial inferiority, was prevented from speaking at Yale by enraged students.) The Woodward Report emphasized that "it may sometimes be necessary in a university for civility and mutual respect to be superseded by the need to guarantee free expression . . . because obstruction of . . . expression threatens the central function of the university."
The executive committee somehow interpreted the Woodward Report to justify a guilty verdict against Dick. Afterward, a dean of the college told me that despite certain possible due-process defects in the way Dick and other Yale students are tried, "this is a system that works." Henry VIII would have agreed.
The dean of Yale Law School, Guido Calabresi, does not agree. "Wayne Dick's treatment by the executive committee," Calabresi told me, "was absolutely dreadful, outrageous. It would have been perfectly appropriate for faculty and administrators to say that the poster was disgraceful and that he should be ashamed of himself, but he should not have been in any way punished. I have supported gay rights from the beginning, but this was an ideological decision by the committee that violates his free speech rights."
Dick wrote to outgoing Yale President A. Bartlett Giamatti, with a copy to the new president, First Amendment expert Benno Schmidt. In the letter, the convicted student asked, "Please advise me as to other views that I am also not allowed to criticize, so that I won't unknowingly violate my probation and the standards of Yale University."
Neither Giamatti nor Schmidt has answered the letter, but Giamatti, speaking at a Yale baccalaureate ceremony at the end of May, warned students to beware the "tyranny of group self-righteousness. . . . They are on the left and right. . . . They are terrorists of the mind."
Wayne Dick needs no such warning.