'Temporarily Relieved' · 16 March 2006

Yale suspends the anonymous emailer who blasted Taliban critics.

By John Fund--03/16/06

Yale University still isn't talking about why it admitted a former top Taliban official as a student, but yesterday the Yale Law School issued an apology to two alumni whom one of its officials had attacked in an anonymous email as "retarded" and "disgusting" for daring to protest Yale's admissions decision.

Harold Hongju Koh, the law school's dean, said that Alexis Surovov had been "temporarily relieved of his duties" as assistant director of annual giving while an investigation is conducted into whether he obtained information from confidential donor databases to launch his anonymous attack. Mr. Surovov was unable to explain to me how he had obtained personal information on Clint Taylor and Debbie Bookstaber, the two Yale alumni, without looking up their private records. "We deeply regret his inappropriate and unauthorized behavior," Mr. Koh's statement read. (See my Monday column for details on Mr. Sorovov's email.)

Mr. Taylor, now a graduate student at Stanford, says he is "glad Yale is showing it can distance itself from inappropriate actions. I wish they'd now similarly follow through with a much more serious case: the chief propagandist and ambassador-at-large for the Taliban attending Yale."

Indeed, while many at Yale are deeply troubled by Sayed Rahmatullah Hashemi's admission, the university's administrators clearly don't yet appreciate the growing outrage over someone whom Richard Shaw, Yale's former dean of admissions, claimed to the New York Times was a prize diversity catch for the school.

A scan of just this week's headlines might give Yale officials some clues as to why the outrage exists. The Taliban, the medieval fascist regime that harbored Osama bin Laden before 9/11, may be history. But its remnants are at war with America even today.

Last Sunday, a Taliban roadside bomb killed four U.S. soldiers in Afghanistan. In a separate incident, suicide bombers in Kabul tried to kill an Afghan official responsible for persuading former Taliban members to support the new democratic government. The official survived, but the blast killed the two bombers along with a 12-year-old girl and an elderly yogurt vendor. Elsewhere, the Taliban killed four hostages--three Albanian Muslims and a German. The current Taliban propagandist, Qari Mohammad Yousuf, vowed that "we will kill anyone who is helping the Americans."

I spoke with an American military officer who is about to return to his post in Afghanistan. "I can't imagine explaining to my troops back there that while they just lost four of their comrades to the Taliban that one of America's most prestigious universities is giving a valued place as a student to a largely unrepentant Taliban official," he told me.

Others also have some standing to be concerned about Mr. Rahmatullah's presence at Yale. Yesterday, Sen. John Cornyn of Texas, chairman of the Judiciary Committee's Border Security panel, wrote Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff demanding that he explain exactly how Mr. Rahmatullah was given an F-1 student visa.

Then there is Sheri Clemons, a 50-year-old social worker from Brooklyn. She vividly recalls the 9/11 attack that was plotted by Osama bin Laden while he was under the protection of the Taliban regime. She was going to her office at Praxis, a private agency that assists the HIV-positive and paroled criminals. As she tried to escape the World Trade Center area, a subway grate collapsed underneath her, and she broke her back and legs. She remains disabled and can walk only the shortest of distances.

"Yale is subsidizing the education of an official from a regime that wanted to eradicate Western civilization," she told me. "The terrorists wanted to do me harm simply because of who I am in the world--a freethinker, a Jew and a lesbian." When I asked her if she has a message for Yale, she replied, "If I were able to physically travel to New Haven, I would tell Yale shame on those who have shamed a great university in this manner. Why couldn't they have identified someone from the ranks of emerging Afghan women to benefit from this precious educational opportunity?"

Even Yale isn't defending its action by suggesting that Mr. Rahmatullah has recanted all of the extremist views he espoused during a propaganda tour the ambassador made of the U.S. a few months before 9/11. No one at the International Education Foundation, the Wyoming-based group that is sponsoring his stay in the U.S., will explain an essay Mr. Rahmatullah wrote last year that appeared on its Web site (since removed) in which he called Israel "an American al Qaeda" aimed at the Arab world. In that essay he also claimed the Taliban "did what they had been taught to do. Whether what they had been taught was good or bad is another subject."

Yale will have more explaining to do to prospective students and their parents late this month when it begins sending out acceptance letters to 1,300 applicants for coveted positions in its undergraduate class of 2010. The highly selective school will also mail out 19,300 rejection letters. "I can't imagine it will be easy for Yale to convince those it rejects that the Taliban student isn't taking a place they could have had," a former Yale administrator told me. Mr. Rahmatullah boasts only a fourth-grade education and a high-school equivalency degree.

Helaine Klasky, a Yale spokeswoman, takes the position that Mr. Rahmatullah is not a freshman, merely a student in a program that doesn't grant degrees but offers participants a 35% to 40% discount on tuition. "We hope that his courses help him understand the broader context for the conflicts that led to the creation of the Taliban and its fall," she says.

But Yale has yet to explain why a Feb. 24 article in the Yale Herald, a campus weekly, called Mr. Rahmatullah "one of this year's freshmen" and said the bar for admission to his special program "is set so that potential part-time Yalies" like him "must be as qualified as their full-schedule counterparts." No retraction of that article has been printed.

Next month, Mr. Rahmatullah has told the New York Times, he will apply for sophomore status in Yale's full-degree program starting next fall. Until Yale stops stonewalling on discussing its reasons for admitting Mr. Rahmatullah and then standing by its decision, the outrage over him isn't likely to go away.