Document 25: Excerpts from Russell Baker, "The Courts of First Resort," New York Times, 26 July 1977, p. A29.


   This document is an example of the critical commentary that appeared in the media after the decision in Yale v. Alexander. A similar sentiment was expressed by a Yale University official quoted in a New York Times article reporting on the case: "If women students aren't smart enough to know how to outwit some obnoxious professor, they shouldn't be here in the first place." A few weeks after the Baker editorial appeared, Time Magazine ran a short article entitled, "Bod and Man at Yale," describing the lawsuit and reporting statements by the attorneys on both sides. In the article, Yale's attorney, Jose Cabranes, denounced the suit as "reckless and obviously designed to attract maximum publicity for groundless charges."66

The Courts of First Resort

By Russell Baker

   A lawsuit against Yale University alleges that women students have been sexually harassed by the Yale faculty. The court is asked to make the university make the faculty behave itself, as indeed the faculty should, if in fact it has been misbehaving, which Yale officially denies.

   Is this the kind of problem that really requires solution by the ponderous and expensive machinery of the courthouse? There are surely quicker and cheaper ways of making professors mind their manners. In a more imaginative past when Americans were accustomed to dispose of such nuisances without help from Blackstone, the problem would have been solved handily with a private initiative.

   A robust father might have appeared carrying a shotgun at the office of one of the more obnoxious offenders. A large brother or boyfriend might have blackened his eye. A small woman might have cooled his passion with a hat pin, and an only slightly clever small woman might have crushed his ego with a few simple words thrust neatly into his vulnerable asininity.

   To be sure, these solutions have defects. Damaging a man's ego is a cruel act of violence. So are bruising his eye, puncturing his buttock and unleashing a father with bloodshot eyes to wander the campus. On the other hand, all provide immediate relief and cost nothing. Moreover, and most importantly, they afford the woman with a problem a healthy sense of self-reliance and ingenuity.

   The courthouse solution is not only expensive, troublesome to the victim and time-consuming but also debilitating to her self-esteem, for it reminds her that to cope with the problem which her mother could solve in an afternoon she requires the aid of lawyers, a judge, a jury, witnesses, transcripts, three years of litigation and two appeals courts.

   The Yale women who have taken this route are simply conforming to a new national habit, of course. Hand an American a problem and he immediately takes it to court. Half the population over the age of 30 is at law because it lacks the ingenuity to solve such humdrum problems as how to live with somebody who snores or dislikes your taste in television, and how to divide up the dishes, the children, the house and the jewelry before plodding on into middle age.


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