Yale’s Snowflake Justice and Public Shaming of Yelping Dean Jean Chu - Higher Education
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Yale’s Snowflake Justice and Public Shaming of Yelping Dean Jean Chu

by Emil Guillermo

No one I know of trusts Yelp reviews. But Yale sure does.

Yale, you know as a paragon of higher ed.

Yelp, if you don’t know, is a child of high tech digital fancy. It’s a website that aggregates public opinion on things like restaurants and services in order to provide a rating that consumers can rely on.

Dean Jean Chu

Despite all its algorithmic gloss, Yelp’s small sample sizes render it basically as no more than whimsical gossip — far from reliable information. It’s even been gamed by restaurants and providers in the past with fake or insider reviews to get better scores. A few establishments have even sued critical reviewers for libel, an obvious transgression against free speech.

To me, Yelp is simply a sometimes entertaining way to pick up hearsay information, not decent intel.

It should not be the final arbiter for whether anything is good or bad.

That is, unless you happen to be the dean of Yale’s Pierson College, like June Chu who as of this week has been placed on leave with her future uncertain.

Chu’s position is not an academic post, but is still an important position as a representative of the college.

But since the Yale Daily News broke the story of the Yelping dean, she’s been subject to ridicule for her candid reviews of local restaurants.

Here’s an example of a one-star review Chu gave one restaurant:  “To put it quite simply, if you are white trash, this is the perfect night for you! This establishment is definitely not authentic by any stretch of any imagination and perfect for those low class folks who believe this is a real night out. Over salted and greasy food.”

As Yelp reviews go, I’ve seen worse.

Does it rise to the level that requires Dean Chu being placed on leave?

Given the state of justice in America, this is inconsequential low level stuff.

But it is indicative of what I call “snowflake” justice.

“Snowflake” is the modern slang term that refers to the unique sensitivities of a thin-skinned generation unable to cope emotionally with criticism, and thus prone to taking offense at just about anything.

Like a Yelp review.

Granted, Chu did more than one opinionated review that may be considered salty.

But it’s more distressing when Yale, which was lenient at first on the matter, has now changed its review of Chu.

Professor Stephen Davis, the head of Pierson College, indicated his evolution on the matter in a written statement last week when he wrote how he could not see “a path toward healing and reconciliation.”

“Today, I am grieving because I no longer can envision such a way forward,” Davis wrote. “The additional posts that surfaced compounded the harm of the initial two, and they also further damaged my trust and confidence in Dean Chu’s accountability to me and ability to lead the students of Pierson College. Let me be clear. No one, especially those in trusted positons of educating young people, should denigrate or stereotype others, and that extends to any form of discrimination based on class, race, religion, age, disability, gender identity or sexual orientation. Yale unequivocally values respect for all.”

I can see Davis’ point if Chu were blathering such nonsense in an official capacity as a Yale employee.  But as a private person, about restaurants and food? What is subject to judgment next? Are college administrators going to go after one’s love of salty rap lyrics? Taste in “R” rated films? Other personal proclivities? Or in the case of a Yelp review, free speech?

The school’s overreaction is absurd. Dean Chu deserves a stern warning, and a reprimand, for her public statements, but not much more.

I am a firm believer in diversity in the academic world and throughout society. But this is an example of “Snowflake Justice,” at its worse.

It’s a virulent strain of PC that goes too far when it puts an administrator’s livelihood on the line based on any perceived transgressions on Yelp.

Emil Guillermo is an award-winning journalist and commentator. He writes for the civil rights organization AALDEF at http://www.aaldef.org/blog

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