The beginning of this semester bodes well for Yale. Last month, President Richard Levin told The New York Times that he favored re-examining early decision. Next week, as a direct result of a campaign by students and others last year, we will not have classes on Martin Luther King Jr. Day. It seems as if perhaps the administration is turning over a new leaf.
Indeed it may be. We ought not be dismissive of progressive victories, and Monday’s holiday and Levin’s comments on the admissions process are indeed victories. Ever since Yale abandoned non-binding early action in favor of binding early decision several years ago, those who care about student diversity in elite higher education have bemoaned the increase in early acceptances.
Similarly, when Yale became, last year, the last major employer in Connecticut to give its workers the day off on Martin Luther King Jr. Day, students called for a “day on” to celebrate King’s life and work.
But we ought not celebrate too much. After all, words are hardly substitutes for action, and a symbolic holiday does not actually improve Yale.
When Levin spoke to the Times, he carefully qualified his statement so that he would not actually be forced to act. Levin said that Yale could only change the early-decision system in a pack of other schools, thus giving him a perfect out.
Similarly, celebrating the life of Martin Luther King Jr. is easy, and Levin’s words in his speech on Monday will again come cheap. What Yale needs is action — meaningful reform to attract more faculty and students of color.
Those who apply using early decision are likely to be those from schools that are used to “playing the game” — private and some suburban public schools — and early decision limits the ability of those dependent on financial aid to find the best package. If Yale abolishes early decision, it will create a student body more diverse than it is now.
Diversity is, after all, what we should be celebrating on Martin Luther King Jr. Day. But MLK Day is not about resting on our laurels and simply celebrating King’s work. More than any other American holiday, it is about challenging ourselves to do better.
That is why I, and others like me, argued that Yale should make King Day the only holiday it celebrated specially during the academic year. It is a special holiday devoted to improving ourselves and our society.
It is because of that spirit of the holiday that we cannot merely celebrate winning the “day on,” as the organizers call the activities planned for Monday. We must recommit ourselves to making the University more diverse and more just. That means emphasizing plans to increase the number of professors from diverse backgrounds.
It means committing to increase the number of doctoral students Yale trains in fields where those who are not white men are underrepresented, so that a supply of professors exists for all universities.
In the wake of Levin’s surprise comments in December, it means that he must commit to working with his colleagues at our peer institutions to ensure that they, too, will move toward a more fair admissions process.
For Levin — and the rest of Yale — to get credit for the words and symbols we celebrate, meaningful action must follow.
Jacob Remes is a senior in Saybrook College. His columns appear on alternate Wednesdays.