Yale, India, and the failure of the `global university'
YALE UNIVERSITY FROM JANUARY 2 to 8, 2005, Yale University president Richard Levin visited India.
Dr. Levin's university is named after Elihu Yale, a fervid Anglican who served in the British East India Company between 1670 and 1699 and was governor of Fort St. George at Madras from 1687 to 1692. After his reign, American Puritans in Connecticut seeking patronage for a college appealed to Yale's history of support for missionary activities in the East Indies and Americas. The colonial administrator was responsive, initially sending books on Anglican subjects. In 1718, Yale finally donated textiles and arms towards the construction of the university's first building, forever stamping it with his name.
In India, Dr. Levin noted Yale University's commitment to educating "distinguished leaders" and its focus on the "transparency and accountability of public and private institutions." Curiously, he failed to mention Elihu Yale's own record of leadership and accountability while in Madras.
As governor of Fort St. George, Yale purchased territory for private purposes with East India Company funds, including a fort at Tevnapatam (present-day Cuddalore). He imposed steep taxation towards the upkeep of the colonial garrison and town. His punitive measures against Indians who defaulted included threats of property confiscation and forced exile. This spurred various Indian revolts, which were ruthlessly quelled by Company soldiers. Yale was also notorious for arresting and trying Indians on his own private authority, including the hanging of a stable boy who had absconded with a Company horse.
More audaciously, Yale amassed a private fortune through secret contracts with Madras merchants, against the East India Company's directives. This imperial plunder, which enabled his patronage of the American university, occurred through his monopolisation of traders and castes in the textiles and jewel trade. By 1692, Elihu Yale's repeated flouting of East India Company regulations, and growing embarrassment at his illegal profiteering resulted in his being relieved of the post of governor.
Though Elihu Yale's legacy in India was notably absent from Dr. Levin's pronouncements in India, he did mention another historical link between the university and India. In 1892, Sumantro Vishnu Karmarkar from Ahmednagar graduated from Yale.
The university president proudly upheld as one of its "distinguished alumni" from India. Although this was intended to be symbolic of Yale's global diversity, Dr. Levin sidelined the university's historical complicity with the exploitation and exclusion of minorities. For example, Yale's first endowed professorship, first library fund, and first student scholarship came from slave owners and slavery proponents. Indeed, pro-slavery leaders were among Yale's earliest professors and administrators in the 18th century. In 1831 such forces suppressed the construction of a Negro College at Yale for educating African-Americans. From the 1930s to the 1960s, the Yale administration honoured this dubious history by naming nine of its colleges after slavery proponents and owners.
Yale University's history, bound up with violence against both Indians and African-Americans, is forcefully symbolised in a portrait that hangs in a campus boardroom. This picture from the early 18th century shows Elihu Yale adorned in colonial splendour, with a black slave kneeling in the foreground, silver collar and long metal chain hanging from his neck. In India, Dr. Levin claimed that Yale embodied the best of a "global university," with a mandate to educate the "citizens of the world." Yet the university's refusal to acknowledge how its history is bound up with colonial profiteering and violent slavery makes this lofty rhetoric hollow and disingenuous.
In 2001, Yale refused to release the licence, and it was only through sustained pressure from local unions and international relief organisations that the University was embarrassed into agreeing to legal non-interference. Clearly, Dr. Levin's argument for India to adhere to intellectual property rights is intertwined with Yale potentially gaining lucrative profits from its patents being enforced in India's consumer market.
Yale's investments have previously breached the administration's own ethical guidelines, such as prior investments in apartheid-era South Africa.