As classes ended Monday and some students began their attempts to cram a semester’s worth of work into one feverish week, two Yale groups tried to present Yale President Richard Levin with some supplementary reading of his own.
During a late afternoon rally on Beinecke Plaza yesterday, professional students tried to present to Levin a petition with 461 signatories demanding more loan forgiveness from Yale. In a separate rally which followed, some community members as well as members of Yale unions and associated groups attempted to give Levin hundreds of slips of orange paper describing ways they believe Yale could work more closely with them.
“There’s one common theme for today’s gathering and that is Yale needs to listen,” Local 35 President Bob Proto, whose union local represents Yale’s service and maintenance employees, said of the second rally, which more than 350 people attended. “We’re prepared to keep the fight going because it’s worth making Yale a better place.”
Assistant to the President Nina Glickson told protesters that Levin was not in Woodbridge Hall and collected both the petition and slips of paper on his behalf.
Levin and officers from Yale’s Office of Public Affairs were unavailable for comment Monday. Levin met with professional students March 24 to discuss the issue of financial aid. He and other University officials have previously pledged to work on improving Yale’s relationship with its unions.
Saying they were “drowning in debt,” professional students and their Graduate Employees and Students Organization supporters donned life jackets and snorkels and rallied first. The professional students, many of whom wore signs on their backs listing the amount of money they owe Yale, asked Levin to find ways to reduce their loan burden after graduation. The effort is being led by a coalition including GESO and students from schools where the group does not organize, said GESO organizer Justin Ruben FES ’02, who led chants of “President Levin, hear our cries — cut our debt burden down to size.”
The students at the rally said they owed tens of thousands of dollars to Yale. Danielle Aubert ART ’05 said she already owes $32,000 and has another year of school left.
The rally represents a move to the protest phase of the students’ plan of action to achieve debt forgiveness, Dani Simons FES ’04 said, though she said the group also plans to continue meeting with University officials.
Jennifer Seaich DIV ’04, who spoke at the rally, said it is difficult to push the issue successfully because the students graduate after only a few years.
“[The issue] never goes away, but we do and that’s why they never have to address it,” she said.
She urged those students in attendance to continue the fight next year.
Many of the people who attended the first event stayed on the plaza for the second rally, which urged Yale to work more closely with its unions. The slips of paper are intended as personal notes to Levin, GESO spokeswoman Rachel Sulkes GRD ’01 said.
“People have written down what they’re here to fight for,” she said.
Yale’s workers are proud of the work that they do, but they also want to have a better relationship with the University, said Connecticut Center for a New Economy President Andrea Cole, who spoke first. She said if Yale was truly working together with others, there would be progress on a number of issues, including layoffs, visa restrictions, pay equity, property taxes, benefits for retired employees and organizing rights.
Twelve speakers representing the various groups at the rally addressed the crowd and read what they had written on their slips of paper. The readers said Yale should work more closely on a variety of issues, including reducing casual employees, engaging the community and working with instructors to improve teaching quality and diversity.
“So we ask Yale, why not work together?” each person said at the end of each reading.
After the speeches, the crowd stood in line to give their slips to Glickson while supporters performed street theater showing how they believe Yale would be different if it had a better relationship with its students and workers.
“I think we want to give the University a real sense of how committed we are to building this new relationship,” Local 34 President Laura Smith, whose union local represents Yale’s clerical and technical workers, said about the rally.