Beverly Gage Resigns from Yale's Grand Strategy Program, Citing Political Pressure from Large DonorsHistorians in the News
tags: Yale, Henry Kissinger, Beverly Gage, academic freedom, Cancel Culture
The Brady-Johnson Program in Grand Strategy is one of Yale University’s most celebrated and prestigious programs. Over the course of a year, it allows a select group of about two dozen students to immerse themselves in classic texts of history and statecraft, while also rubbing shoulders with guest instructors drawn from the worlds of government, politics, military affairs and the media.
But now, a program created to train future leaders how to steer through the turbulent waters of history is facing a crisis of its own.
Beverly Gage, a historian of 20th-century politics who has led the program since 2017, has resigned, saying the university failed to stand up for academic freedom amid inappropriate efforts by its donors to influence its curriculum and faculty hiring.
The donors, both prominent and deep-pocketed, are Nicholas F. Brady, a former U.S. Treasury secretary under Presidents Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush, and Charles B. Johnson, a mutual fund billionaire and leading Republican donor who in 2013 made a $250 million donation to Yale — the largest gift in its history.
Days after the 2020 presidential election, Professor Gage said, an opinion article in The New York Times by another instructor in the program calling Donald J. Trump a demagogue who threatened the Constitution prompted complaints from Mr. Brady.
Four months of wrangling over the program later, Professor Gage resigned after the university administration informed her that a new advisory board it was creating to oversee the course under previously ignored bylaws would be dominated by conservative figures of the donors’ choosing, including, against her strong objections, Henry A. Kissinger, the former secretary of state under President Richard M. Nixon.
Her resignation, which Yale has not yet made public, raises the question of where universities draw the line between honoring original agreements with donors and allowing them undue sway in academic affairs. It’s a question that can become turbocharged when colliding political visions, and the imperatives of fund-raising, are involved.
Since taking over the program, Professor Gage has expanded the syllabus to include grass-roots social movements, like the pro-democracy movement in Hong Kong and the civil rights movement in the United States. Until late last year, she said, she had received no criticism from the donors or the administration about the course’s direction.
In a statement, Yale’s president, Peter Salovey, offered praise for her teaching and scholarship. But the administration disputed her claims that Yale had given in to donor pressure.
Professor Gage, who was recently nominated to the National Council on the Humanities, was renewed by Yale as program director in July 2020. (She is also a contributing writer for The New York Times Magazine and has written opinion pieces for The Times.) She described her previous relationship with the donors as supportive.
But she said the tone abruptly changed last November, a week after the presidential election, when Bryan Garsten, a Yale political scientist who teaches in the program, published an opinion article called “How to Protect America From the Next Donald Trump.”
The next day, Professor Gage received an email from Mr. Hill saying Mr. Brady had called “to grouse” about the article, “complaining that there was no grand strategy in it.” According to the email, which was viewed by The Times, Mr. Brady also said that “this is not what Charlie Johnson and I signed up for.” (Mr. Hill died last March, at 84.)
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