Yale President Richard Levin held court in an open forum with students and city residents Wednesday evening to discuss issues ranging from the University’s voluntary monetary contribution to the city to Yale’s financial aid policy.
At the Yale College Council forum, about 70 audience members questioned Levin on issues such as increasing energy efficiency of buildings during renovations, supporting a Reserve Officers Training Corps on campus and increasing faculty diversity. Several members of the New Haven Student Fair Share Coalition called on Levin to increase the University’s voluntary contributions to the city as a compensation for the property tax revenue New Haven loses due to the University’s tax-exemption status.
Currently, the state legislature compensates the city for part of the lost revenue, leaving a portion unpaid. But the coalition is calling on Yale to donate money to fill this gap. Levin said the coalition’s proposal could influence the state legislature to cut back its current compensation to the city.
“We’ve divorced what we’re going to do from property taxes,” Levin said, noting that the assessed value of Yale’s property does not influence the University’s contributions to the city.
Levin also mentioned the University’s role in funding projects that benefit New Haven, such as the new police station on Ashmun Street, behind Swing Space, which will contain facilities for community programs.
The intricacies of the University’s financial aid programs were another topic brought up by several students. One student asked Levin how the University’s financial aid packages compared to those at Harvard College and Princeton University, which recently revamped their systems of student contribution.
In response to questioning, Levin defended Yale’s financial aid program.
“We have not quite made the aggressive moves that Harvard and Princeton have, but we are significantly more generous than anyone else,” Levin said.
Levin said Harvard’s plan to eliminate parental contributions from families with yearly incomes of under $40,000 would only save such families about $500. He called Princeton’s elimination of student loans “a PR move,” because Princeton did not actually change the amount students have to contribute to their financial aid packages. Levin said Yale, on the other hand, actually reduced the amount of student contributions by about one-third several years ago.
Another student asked Levin about the lack of gender and ethnic diversity among faculty. While Levin said the University had made considerable strides in improving the faculty gender ratio, he said increasing ethnic and racial diversity is still a difficult task. Levin said it is challenging to attract minorities away from more lucrative non-academic careers.
“The number of candidates has been falling for 20 years,” Levin said. “The pool is very small.”
Broaching the topic of military recruitment on campus, Alexander Yergin ’07 asked Levin why the Reserve Officer Training Corps program is not sponsored by the University.
“I feel that as a university that receives a large amount of federal funding, we should give back to the government by giving [academic] credit to ROTC,” Yergin said.
But Levin said he disagreed with Yergin’s statement. Many students would object to offering credit for ROTC because of the army’s policy towards gays, said Levin, who added that he personally disagreed with the army’s policy.
“I think it’s a shameful policy, frankly,” Levin said.
At the conclusion of the forum, YCC President Andrew Cedar ’06 said the council is currently working on “almost all” of the issues brought up. Cedar further suggested that student groups work with the YCC to address these issues.
“The YCC is working on a lot of these issues, and our efforts are strengthened when it’s not just us,” Cedar said.