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A Lawsuit to Defend Academic Freedom
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Journalists and intellectuals are the first to be targeted in a time of authoritarianism, since facts and knowledge empower people, and this is inconvenient. This is why I and my colleagues sprang to action at the earliest signs of what was to come. So far, everything we predicted came true. However, concerning human affairs, what is predictable is also preventable. This is also why I launched my lawsuit against Yale and am now appealing it.
Immediately when Donald Trump became president, many of us psychiatrists and mental health professionals became very worried. Never before did we have such a person with the powers of the U.S. presidency and as commander-in-chief of the world’s largest military. Recognizing both our professional and civic responsibility, soon after inauguration in 2017, I had organized a conference at Yale School of Medicine. Some of the most distinguished and well-known academic leaders in my field participated, including Drs. Robert Jay Lifton, Judith Herman, and James Gilligan.
This conference then quickly led to one of the Big Five publishers contacting me. We rushed to write the book they commissioned in record time, in about a month. The Dangerous Case of Donald Trump: 27 Psychiatrists and Mental Health Experts Assess a President was out in five months, becoming an instant New York Times bestseller, and the initial printing quickly sold out.
Many media appearances resulted. At their request, I went to Washington, DC, several times and met privately with over fifty members of Congress. We then held a major conference at the National Press Club in Washington with thirteen experts of different disciplines, which Dr. Jeffrey Sachs chaired. It was considered important enough for C-Span to broadcast it for the full three hours. Then, with the coming of the Covid pandemic, we urgently began issuing our “Prescriptions for Survival.” Had our specific recommendations been followed, there is good reason to believe that most of those who died of Covid-19 in our country would be alive.
I had no illusions about the growing authoritarianism under Donald Trump, and that the inclination of most would be to put their heads down and to become silent. This is precisely why I spoke up publicly as never before, while there was still time to gather our voices—for it was a time to speak up more, not less.
However, a time of authoritarianism is also when professionals and professional organizations start subordinating the standards of their profession to the demands of power. This is why the American Psychiatric Association (APA) denounced and silenced all mental health professionals from the media, shortly after which it obtained a new building in Washington, DC, and boasted: “Our name shows in bright lights, and we are close to Congress.” This also helped its purse: it received windfalls of federal funding, as never before in the history of the organization.
Similarly, the notorious lawyer Alan Dershowitz pressured Yale, and I was dismissed, in mid-2020, precisely when the presidential campaign was at its highest. It was exactly when all were worried about the chance that Donald Trump would remain in the White House, and if so, that he was going to pay back all his enemies, for that is how he thinks. Yale no doubt feared that grants to the University were going to disappear.
Ironically, the department chair who terminated me was the same chair who affirmed two years earlier, in a “State of the Department” address, Yale’s commitment to free speech and presented me as an example of a faculty member who spoke responsibly. All this dramatically changed within forty-eight hours of receiving a complaint from Dershowitz.
I felt I had to bring a lawsuit against my alma mater, because this situation is far more important than just what happened to me. It involves very critical issues for our universities, professional free speech and responsibilities, and our democracy. What Yale was coerced to do in my case represents a serious threat to the integrity of academia and to their basic mission in our democracy to allow for the open discussion and sharing of our best available knowledge. Adding to the suspicions surrounding my legal case, initially the District Court ruled that it was meritorious and should proceed; then, a new, considerably more junior judge incomprehensibly replaced the senior judge who made that ruling, without explanation.
Much like the APA, which quickly received unprecedented funding and opened a new building in the center of Washington, DC, this junior judge was almost instantly promoted to the Appellate Court—where my current case will be heard—after her unfavorable ruling against me. The senior judge, who is highly-respected and has a far more considerable track record, has not been promoted.
Now, only if the Second Circuit Court of Appeals rules on Monday that my lawsuit against Yale can proceed will we be able to get to the bottom of what happened, through the legal discovery process and testimony under oath by all involved: Yale administrators, APA officials, Alan Dershowitz, myself, and well-known academic and journalistic colleagues who are strongly supporting me.
Dr. Bandy X. Lee will be holding a SPECIAL SESSION of “Ask Dr. Lee about Societal Mental Health” for subscribers today at 12 noon EST/9 a.m. PST on Zoom. She will talk about her lawsuit against Yale University and the very important Circuit Court hearing on Monday, June 5, 2023. All subscribers will receive the Zoom link an hour before the session.
Dr. Lee is a forensic psychiatrist, social psychiatrist, and expert on violence who has applied her mental health knowledge to advise criminal courts, civil courts, governments, and international bodies for 25 years. Since 2017, she has endeavored to educate the American public on applying mental health principles to our current societal crises, which are placing us at existential risk.