A more ‘democratic’ Corporation?

The Yale Corporation held its annual February meeting this weekend, shrouded in as much secrecy as ever despite a small group of students’ ill-conceived effort to “democratize” the University’s highest decision-making body. Corporation members did not take students up on their invitation to meet in Woolsey Hall, at least in part because their schedules were packed and in part because Yale is not a democracy. Attempts to turn it into one make for a good show and no progress whatsoever.

On this meeting’s agenda were building repair schedules, fund-raising analyses, the effects of national security policy on the University, and a long list of long-term projects with little bearing on students’ day-to-day lives. There was a brief discussion of the academic review. Someone made casual conversation about the unions. The one big announcement was a sizeable increase in the University’s term bill, based on a review of Yale’s endowment. So while the Corporation, because of its closed doors, mysterious plenary sessions and overblown mythology, may seem an appealing focal point for students looking for a greater voice in the decisions of this University, it is far from a worthwhile target.

Yale would do well to make a good-faith gesture to students by increasing access to Corporation members in a productive setting open not just to marginal student groups but to anyone with questions, comments or individual concerns — a Master’s Tea, for example, before each meeting with one or two Corporation fellows. In matters with direct effect on student life, the University offers ample opportunity to serve on decision-making bodies — the Teaching and Learning Committee, for one, and the various committees involved in the ongoing curricular review — and generally solicits student feedback to help inform major University decisions.

What Yale does not offer and should consider, though, is an official forum for students to make suggestions or air grievances throughout the year: one with more power than the Yale College Council and more civility than the open forums it hosts and to which President Levin subjects himself semiannually. A standing committee of students, faculty and administrators, charged with hearing what members of the Yale community have on their minds — including, but by no means limited to, union issues — might make demonstrations such as this weekend’s unnecessary.

While some would argue the Student Committee for Corporation Reform’s call for an open meeting on Feb. 7 is already unnecessary, it serves as an indication that at least one small group of students feels it has no adequate outlet for articulating what it sees as serious problems. The heckling at YCC open forums is evidence that a more formal system is critical to fostering productive discussion. Such a committee, if it were effective, would give all students a specific procedure for communicating with Yale’s higher-ups and would provide the University with another source of input from students — average, random and representative students as well as radical, vocal and organized ones.

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