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Duly Noted

Monday, May 7, 2012, 10:23 am

Yale Gives Gen. McChrystal an Accountability-Free Soapbox

By Lindsay Beyerstein

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Gen. McChrystal speaking in Canada.   isafmedia, Creative Commons.

Retired Gen. Stanley McChrystal is teaching an off-the-record seminar on leadership at Yale:

Like all his sessions, it was off the record — students are not supposed to talk about it outside class — because General McChrystal wanders into anecdotes about sensitive operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. [NYT]

If McChrystal's opinions are really that sensitive, he shouldn't be sharing them with a room full of university students. Academic freedom gives instructors broad leeway to discuss controversial issues. Yale should be inviting provocative instructors.

However, professors, and the institutions that employ them, should also be accountable for what they teach. The Yale community has a right to know, broadly speaking, what's being taught for Yale credit. No one would object to a policy of "Please no livetweeting lectures and don't give interviews without permission" but a blanket ban on discussing the course is an affront to the values of a university.

If students can't take what they learn and apply it elsewhere, why are they earning academic credit for this course at all?

Later in the story, we learn that McChrystal is already using his black box of a classroom to spin the Rolling Stone debacle that made him a retired general in the first place. He refuses to address the veracity of the Pulitzer-prizewinning story with the New York Times directly, of course.

Therin lies the pitfall of off-the-record conversations. The potential upside is candor. The downside is that quality control goes out the window. People will spout all kinds of crap if they know they won't be called on it.

McChrystal wants an accountability-free soapbox, and that's not what a university classroom should be. 

Shame on Yale for indulging McChrystal.

Lindsay Beyerstein is an award-winning investigative journalist and In These Times staff writer who writes the blog Duly Noted. Her stories have appeared in Newsweek, Salon, Slate, The Nation, Ms. Magazine, and other publications. Her photographs have been published in the Wall Street Journal and the New York Times' City Room. She also blogs at The Hillman Blog (, a publication of the Sidney Hillman Foundation, a non-profit that honors journalism in the public interest.

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