Yale Bans Realistic-Looking Onstage Swords:

The Yale Daily News reports:

In the wake of Monday's massacre at Virginia Tech in which a student killed 32 people, Dean of Student Affairs Betty Trachtenberg has limited the use of stage weapons in theatrical productions.

Students involved in this weekend's production of "Red Noses" said they first learned of the new rules on Thursday morning, the same day the show was slated to open. They were subsequently forced to alter many of the scenes by swapping more realistic-looking stage swords for wooden ones, a change that many students said was neither a necessary nor a useful response to the tragedy at Virginia Tech....

Brandon Berger '10, who plays a swordsman in the show, said the switch to an obviously fake wooden sword has changed the nature of his part from an "evil, errant knight to a petulant child." ...

Do Yale students have a hard time telling theater from reality? Are they so emotionally fragile that they would be traumatized by seeing a realistic sword on stage?

Is the administration contemplating some weird scenario in which a cunning and patient mad killer-actor decides to kill people by substituting a real sword for the fake one (and would be stopped by this rule from bringing a real sword, or a real gun, in a bag)? Is it afraid that one of the actors will run off-stage waving a fake sword, and lead the police to shoot him for fear that it's a real sword? Or am I missing some other, less far-fetched, justification?

Thanks to Instapundit and Power Line for the pointer.

UPDATE: Commenter Nikki points out: "I wonder if Dean Trachtenberg realizes that elsewhere, the university encourages sword-wielding psychos to practice their craft." Let's make them use wooden swords, too.

Zero Tolerance Comes to Campus:

On the day after the tragic Virginia Tech shootings, I wrote that "we should guard against costly overreactions [to the event] such as the draconian 'zero tolerance' policies implemented in many schools after the Columbine attacks in 1999."

Sadly, as Eugene pointed out yesterday, at least one school has already succumbed to the zero tolerance temptation: Yale University reacted to the Virginia Tech tragedy by banning the use of "realistic-looking" swords in theater productions on campus. As the Yale Daily News points out in the article linked above, the new rule has already harmed several theater productions which will have to make do with unrealistic props that might reduce the versimilitude of the plays in question. Obviously, many classic plays have battle or duel scenes that could potentially be enhanced through the use of realistic-looking swords. Just think of Hamlet and Henry V. And, as reasons that Eugene cogently explained in his post, there is absolutely no reason to believe that the Yale rule will prevent mass murder or any other kind of violence on campus.

In and of itself, the new Yale rule probably isn't that important (except to the school's theater students). But I fear that it may be the beginning of a broader trend towards enacting "zero tolerance" rules that do little or nothing to reduce violence, but - especially in their cumulative effect - may well reduce the quality of life on campus.

To reiterate an argument from my earlier post, it is essential to recognize that on-campus murders of any kind are extraordinarily rare. We should not, therefore, adopt draconian rules to prevent them unless there is strong evidence that they really will significantly reduce their incidence. Obviously, reducing the incidence of an already highly uncommon event is quite difficult to do. The new Yale rule doesn't even come close to meeting this standard. Hopefully, university administrators at other schools will have better sense than to imitate it.

CONFLICT OF INTEREST WATCH: I suppose I should mention that I am a Yale Law School graduate and therefore have a tie to the school. I doubt that this biases me in favor of Yale's rule. If anything, it probably makes me even more annoyed by it than I would have been otherwise!

Yale Rescinds Ban on Realistic-Looking Stage Weapons:

The Yale Daily News reports:

Stage weapons will again be allowed in University theatrical productions, in a reversal of last week's ban, Yale spokeswoman Helaine Klasky said Tuesday morning.

Administrators decided Monday afternoon to require that audiences instead be informed of the use of stage weapons before the start of every performance, she said. In the wake of the Virginia Tech massacre, which left 33 students dead last Monday, Dean of Student Affairs Betty Trachtenberg had told students that they would be required to substitute obviously fake props for realistic stage weapons in theatrical productions.

I'm glad to hear that the ban has been rescinded. And of course I'm delighted to hear that those Yale theater patrons who would be deeply disturbed by seeing things that look like real swords (but that are sure to be fake swords) will now be warned ahead of time.

By the way, Dean Trachtenberg's view, criticizing the ban's critics:

I think people should start thinking about other people rather than trying to feel sorry for themselves and thinking that the administration is trying to thwart their creativity. They're not using their own intelligence. We have to think of the people who might be affected by seeing real-life weapons.

OK, as someone who tries to use his own intelligence, I'll bite: What exactly should we think of people who might be affected by seeing a real-looking (not real-life, but real-looking) sword in a play?

Thanks to reader Adam Sofen for the pointer.

Yale, realistic-looking stage weapons, and the prospects of zero tolerance policies:

Like Eugene, I'm happy that Yale has reversed its foolish decision to ban the use of realistic-looking weapons in theater productions. I hope that this reversal - which probably came as a result of widespread opposition to the ban among both Yale students and outsiders - will deter other universities from enacting ill-advised zero tolerance policies in the wake of the Virginia Tech tragedy. As the Yale Daily News noted, the new policy was met with widespread condemnation and derision :

The ban affected at least two shows that went up over the weekend: the play "Red Noses" and the opera "Orpheus in the Underworld," and attracted national media attention as well as causing a stir among students involved in theater on campus. Several students complained that the requirement infringed on their free speech, while others pointed out that the policy was unlikely to assuage anxiety about Virginia Tech.

Hopefully, this episode will dampen enthusiasm for similar policies elsewhere in the academic world. University administrators tend to be very risk-averse and will avoid instituting draconian zero tolerance policies if doing so would cause a backlash that will make their lives difficult.

As for the suggestion by Yale Dean of Student Affairs Betty Trachtenberg (the official who instituted the ban) that critics of the policy are "not using their own intelligence," I will only say that people who live in glass houses should avoid throwing stones - especially realistic-looking ones. However, I don't want to put down Dean Trachtenberg too much. By instituting this policy and generating a backlash against it, she has unintentionally performed the valuable public service of demonstrating that college students and the general public have little appetite for harsh zero tolerance policies. If her error helps to prevent similar ones at other schools, it is a price well worth paying.

Related Posts (on one page):

  1. Yale, realistic-looking stage weapons, and the prospects of zero tolerance policies:
  2. Yale Rescinds Ban on Realistic-Looking Stage Weapons:
  3. Zero Tolerance Comes to Campus:
  4. Yale Bans Realistic-Looking Onstage Swords: