The Disinvitation Dinner at Yale University features speakers whose invitations to speak at colleges were revoked after protests from social justice warriors. Last year’s inaugural dinner featured columnist George F. Will. This year’s speaker on April 28 was former New York City Police Commissioner Raymond W. Kelly, who was shouted down by protesters at Brown University when he attempted to deliver a speech on proactive policing in October of 2013.
In 2010, Yale students founded the William F. Buckley Program, which hosts the dinner, to promote conservative ideas on campus. It was an impressively prescient move on the students’ part, as the last six years have seen a marked uptick in anti-conservative actions on college campuses.
At first blush, Kelly seemed an unlikely belle of the ball for the black-tied Yalies in attendance. Most conversations over the pre-dinner cocktails were prefaced with “what year did you graduate?” From the tony older gents and ladies to the fresh-faced young men and women still in school, there was an air of power very different from that wielded by the police.
Kelly comes off almost as a figure from a different age. Always well-dressed, he cuts a Bella Figura, but beneath it is still the bulldog glare and power of a tough New York beat cop. I had dinner with him and his wife years ago at a fundraiser for a theater company. We ate and drank and told stories of our upbringings. At one point I complimented him on his cufflinks, emblazoned with the NYPD commissioner’s shield.
After dinner, he pulled me into a separate room and motioned to his body man, a mountain of humanity in an ill-fitted suit. Kelly pointed at his own breast pocket, and from the body man’s emerged a gift-wrapped jewelry box. Kelly handed me the box and said, “Since you noticed them, these are for you.” Sure enough, inside were the cufflinks.
I bring up the story because it says a lot about Kelly’s style. Not many guys can roll like that, carrying around personalized cufflinks to hand out as gifts. Kelly can. As I remarked to a class of 1970 semi-retired hedge fund attorney as Kelly entered the reception swarmed by admirers, “Not bad for an Irish kid from the neighborhood.”
Pass the Free Speech, With a Side of Arugula
Lauren Noble, the founder and apparently the spark plug of the Buckley Program, addressed the crowd as we tucked in for our Heirloom Tomato and Burrata Salad. She explained the stifling culture conservatives face on college campuses across America. Noble’s goal, and noble it is, is to give Yale students the opportunity to hear conservative ideas that are so lacking in their general education.
After Noble, current Russia and European studies major Josh Altman told the crowd about his recent trip to Russia. He described meeting an anti-Putin activist who expressed how wonderful it must be to study at a world-renowned institution where free speech was admired and respected. Altman informed the starry-eyed dissident that if he ever found such an institution, he would let him know.
Having stuffed ourselves with Filet Mignon and English Peas, Kelly was introduced by Richard R .West, dean emeritus of New York University’s Stern School of Business. West listed Kelly’s remarkable accomplishments as police commissioner. By any reasonable statistical measure, it was a tenure of incredible reduction in almost every category of crime. But that has never stood in the way of Kelly’s critics.
Like New York Jets fans who argue Tom Brady “really isn’t all that good,” progressives find ways to explain New York’s success fighting crime as a result of anything but Kelly being good at his job. They cite general economic success or national crime reduction as evidence it wasn’t Kelly who was responsible for the dramatic results. This, of course, ignores the police failures of cities like Chicago that presumably also benefited from these national trends.
The Politics of Proactive Policing
Kelly came to the stage as we were finishing our Five Texture Chocolate Cake (for the record, I could only identify three textures). His prepared remarks consisted of two sections: an account of the incident at Brown, then a short version of the speech he had intended to give there.
His description of the aborted Brown speech betrayed everything so wrong with our so-called liberal academia. He had been invited to speak on his methods of proactive policing by a professor there. When the protesters showed up, shouting the event down and promising to shut it down, that professor took the stage. Standing there, right next to Kelly, he apologized to the students for having extended the invitation.
As Kelly told the story, it was clear his anger at this insult had not abated much. He described looking that professor dead in the eye and saying, for him, not for the crowd, “How dare you.” As Kelly later put it, “People of character invite. They don’t disinvite.”
Kelly thumbnailed the speech he had wanted to give at Brown. There was nothing remotely offensive about it. He described how the NYPD used data to pinpoint high-crime areas on a block-by-block basis. He described how the NYPD had gone out of its way to diversify to better police New York’s population, informing us there are officers from a remarkable 106 countries in the force.
Then he arrived at the three words that had caused all the trouble for him at Brown: Stop, question, and frisk. The controversial NYPD practice was roundly condemned as racist by those on the Left, and eventually found unconstitutional by one progressive judge in the city. But Kelly was completely unapologetic in regard to the program, also widely praised by his former boss, Mayor Michael Bloomberg. As far as Kelly was concerned, stop, question, and frisk saved lives, and mostly young, black lives at that. It is clear not just from his words, but also from his actions that those lives matter very much to him.
The Right Way To Fight Social Justice Warriors
In recent months there have been viral videos of conservatives such as Milo Yianniopolis, Christina Hoff Sommers, and Ben Shapiro engaged in shouting wars with progressive protestors on college campuses. Cathartic though these exchanges may be, they are of very little value, and nobody on either side comes off looking very good. In some cases it seems as though conservatives are courting these reactions for their own benefit. This is the wrong approach.
What the Buckley Program gets so right with its Disinvitation Dinner is the stayed and dignified approach to condemning campus censorship. Devolving to the level of the stammering, slobbering leftist activists helps nothing. In some ways it can seem to justify their measures, just as Donald Trump’s calls for thuggery legitimize protests against him.
The answer isn’t anger, it is organization. Because of the efforts of Noble and her cohorts in the Buckley Program, Ayaan Hirsi Ali, an activist for women’s rights and a critic of Islamic extremism, was able to speak in New Haven, despite protests. Unlike at Brandeis University, where Ali was disinvited, Yale had an organized and well-thought-out conservative response to the attempt to silence her. This is harder work than a screaming match, but it is also much more effective.
Yale’s Buckley Program should serve as an example to conservative campus organizations across the country. Most won’t be able to hold fancy galas at the Plaza— after all, Yale is gonna Yale—but the basic principles can still be adopted. Don’t fight fire with fire; don’t get in the gutter with people who think free speech should be sacrificed on the altar of systemic everything-ism. Just find a room, any room, off campus if it must be, and let people freely talk. That is a conservative value that will resonate.