[Ilya Somin (guest-blogging), March 30, 2006 at 6:09pm] Trackbacks
The "Yale Taliban" and The Limits of Academic Tolerance:

VC's recent discussion of ideological tolerance on campus naturally leads us to the question of how far such tolerance should extend. This is the key issue raised by the case of former Taliban spokesman Sayed Rahmatullah Hashemi , the nondegree Yale student who is now being considered for admission to the undergraduate program.

My own view is that an applicant's political ideology, no matter how odious, should be ignored in academic admissions decisions. In the case of public institutions, such nondiscrimination is required by the First Amendment. For private institutions like Yale, I would argue that it is the right policy, though not legally mandatory. Although schools may have to admit the occasional Nazi, Communist, or radical Islamist, that is better than letting university bureaucrats exclude any applicants whose views they find objectionable.

Hashemi's admission, however, cannot be justified even by my expansive theory of ideological nondiscrimination. This man was not just an ideological sympathizer of the Taliban. He was a paid agent. Being an actual agent of terrorists and oppressors is vastly different from merely having views similar to theirs. Yes, there is always the risk that some admissions office will decide to label the US or Israel or some other democracy a "terrorist" state and ban applicants who once worked for those governments. Practically speaking, however, I highly doubt that any major university would be willing to incur the opprobrium of doing so. Stigmatizing an entire nation (or even just its government) will be much more costly to universities than merely rejecting an individual applicant because the school objects to his views.

Finally, it should be emphasized that Yale was not simply applying ideological neutrality when they decided to accept Hashemi. They actually chose to take him because of his Taliban experience rather than in spite of it. As then-Yale Admissions Dean Richard Shaw admitted, Hashemi was accepted because of his "personal accomplishments that had significant impact" (see above link). Given that Hashemi was in his early twenties at the time and had never done anything else with "significant impact," this is clearly a reference to his time with the Taliban. Even if Yale chooses not to ban applicants who worked for the Taliban, it should at least not count Taliban experience as a point in their favor.