Happy New Year!

This web log (blog) is for anyone interested in the issues of the day - and in Yale University's surprising influence on them. In the months to come, it will become a place of dialogue on these issues and the roles of Yale and the Yale presidents in dealing with them. Its outcome will be a book that I'm writing with Robert A. Back (MA ’60, International Relations) entitled Yale and the Modern World: the Yale Succession, the 2004 Presidential Election and the Future of Politics.

I'm Steve Sewall, a writer and educator originally from New Haven and now living in Glenview, IL after spending 25 years in Chicago, working mostly in the fields of education and media. Although my undergraduate degree was from Harvard ('64) and my Ph.D. from U. C. Berkeley (English, '91), I received a M.A.T. from Yale in 1966. My two brothers, Rick ('65) and Dave ('69) both attended Yale.

This blog links to the Richard B. Sewall Blog from which you will be able to download the thirteen chapters of the unpublished book about teaching at Yale written by my father, Richard B. Sewall, a Yale English professor from the mid 30's to the mid 70's. He is now 94 and living with my brother Rick in the Boston area. He would welcome comments and recollections from past students and colleagues.

Concerning the Yale succession, the opinion piece below gives an overview of concerns to be discussed at this blog. The piece has been submitted to the Yale Daily News, Yale's campus paper. Feel free to EMAIL your comments. Enjoy!

URL for this blog, in case you got it via e-mail, is http://yalesuccession.blogspot.com/.

Reflecting on the Yale Succession

by Steve Sewall
Text 814 words
Revised 2/20/03

In 1949, Yale Daily News Editor William F. Buckley (’50) and my father, Yale English professor Richard B. Sewall, had a memorable exchange at Freshman Commons. They were there to help freshmen of the class of ’53 make the most of their years at Yale. But they disagreed passionately about the purpose of education. Is it active (Buckley) or contemplative (Sewall)?

Buckley, the big man on campus, urged the freshmen to join, heel, compete and succeed. Yale, he said, is your chance to build the networks that will sustain you throughout life. Sewall, a teacher and scholar, urged the freshmen to read, write, discuss and understand. Yale, he said, is your chance to reflect on life itself. Years later, ’53 alumnus Jim Thomson summed up the student response: “We all knew Sewall was right, but we wanted to be like Buckley.”

Since 1988, three Yale graduates have led the United States (Bush ’48, Clinton ‘67JD, Bush ’68). This Yale succession is historic. Never before have three (or even two) successive U.S. presidents studied at the same university. During its tercentenary year, mother Yale codified this lineage by gathering its presidential progeny, separately, back to Yale. At graduation, President George W. Bush jokingly likened himself to the Prodigal Son.

Today, Yale uses its presidential lineage as a beacon to attract students, raise money and extend its global presence. But no one studies it. By falling silent on something historic happening in its own backyard, Yale’s community of scholars risks losing its perspective on history. Equally at risk is America’s political press, given its stunning silence on one university’s four-term (and counting) lock on the White House.

So what’s being overlooked? Under scrutiny, the Yale succession is a key to recent history and a gateway to leadership issues of concern to Yale as a “laboratory for future leaders”, in President Richard Levin’s phrase.

All three Yale presidents owe their White House tenures to the Big Money that has tightened its grip on local, state, and national government since the advent of televised attack ads in the 1960’s. In addition, Big Money’s grip on education and media has helped the Yale presidents advance America’s post-Cold War bid for military and economic empire without ever consulting or informing voters. Finally, it was on the Yale presidents’ watch that Big Money corrupted and inflated corporate and political America until the bubble burst, plunging the world into a recession that economists say could last for years.

No economy, national or global, can stand forever on a corrupt political base. Healthy societies, like healthy families, require trust. The seismic convergence of ethics and economics that toppled Japanese and American markets in 1991 and 2000, respectively, now rattles the entire world. Corruption and terror, widely seen as two unethical sides of the same coin of oil and empire, depress financial markets around the globe.

In America, the Dow Jones average reflects a general loss of faith in institutions fueled by Machiavellian venality in politics and by Enronitis in business. The restoration of integrity – a sea change in America’s civic and commercial life - is the task of a generation. It entails creating a new “balance of public and private interests in the global economy”, writes Jeffrey Garten of Yale’s School of Management. If not apparent now, the need for change will become clear as investor mistrust causes market rally after market rally to fizzle.

Does the United States, in its commitment to freedom and democratic values, have the will to effect change? And does Yale, as a laboratory for future leaders, have the will to lead the way in imagining and implementing change? The unwillingness of Japan’s elite universities to produce a generation of tough-minded reform leaders helps explain why that former economic superpower, now in its thirteenth year of recession, could be stagnate for years to come. Will America be next?

Significantly, the Ivy League aura that shields the Yale succession from scrutiny is fading. In Secrets of the Tomb, a recent history of Skull and Bones, Yale grad Alexandra Robbins (’98) shows how four generations of Bonesmen created the Bush dynasty that comprises two thirds of Yale’s presidential troika. Looking ahead to 2004, Robbins describes a possible Bush/Kerry contest as “the first Bones versus Bones presidential race”.

In this pairing, Yale comes off more as a club for oligarchs than a laboratory for leaders. Three more Yale-trained presidential hopefuls bolster this impression: Vermont Governor Howard Dean (’71) and Senators Joe Lieberman (’64, JD ‘67) and Hillary Clinton (‘67JD).

In 1949, Yale, in its wisdom, sent Bonesman Buckley and “barbarian” Sewall to Freshman Commons to encourage the class of ‘53 to pursue success and understanding. Today, Yale’s silence on the Yale succession suggests that Yale, to its peril, may be pursuing success alone. The cure for non-reflection – for apathy - is thoughtful dialogue. The stakes are high. Let the dialogue begin.

Steve Sewall (M.A.T.’66.) is a Chicago area educator and media activist. With Robert Back (MA ’60 International Relations), he is writing a book, Yale and the Modern World: Bush/Clinton/Bush, Big Money and the Presidential Election of 2004.