Yale is a wired campus, and for the most part, that’s good for students. But when it comes to phone service, the University may sometimes be a bit too wired. Even as a growing percentage of students have cell phones, official University communications rely on landlines that few students ever use. In the Yale directory, students are listed with a phone number they have never used; on forms, they are asked to write a “room phone number” they cannot even remember. For better or for worse, cell phones have quickly become a staple of life for nearly every Yale student, yet Yale’s communications offerings have stayed the same.
That’s why the benefits of a proposal by the Yale College Council to create a University-wide plan for students seem quite clear. With the promise of thousands of new customers, companies have an incentive to offer the University a good deal for a pooled plan, and such an arrangement is already in place for Yale employees and for students at schools like Vanderbilt and Stanford. A University-sponsored plan could also offer a way around the roadblocks international students face when trying to buy a phone without a credit history within the United States. With ITS officials claiming they are ready to begin negotiating with cell phone providers as soon as the Yale College Council provides a list of what students want, we hope the YCC moves forward quickly to ensure an arrangement can be made for next fall.
But as Yale pursues a campus-wide plan, it should take a few practical considerations to heart. The quality of reception varies widely in New Haven by provider and location, and Yale should be certain that the company it chooses offers the best possible service throughout the entire campus. In addition, while it seems reasonable to offer a nine-month plan for students who do not want a phone at home, a full-year contract must be an option if Yale expects students to sign up. Even as the University seeks a discounted rate through bulk purchasing, it must also provide a sufficient level of choice to ensure that students are attracted to a Yale-sponsored plan regardless of where they live or how many minutes they use.
Likewise, as the University considers offering students Yale-sponsored cell phones, it should also reconsider some aspects of how communications at Yale works. In an age where many students never even install a landline phone, Yale should at least offer undergraduates the option of posting their cell phone numbers in the University-wide directory. In return, Yale should take the step — already in place at many colleges across the country — of limiting access to the directory to members of the University community in order to ensure student privacy.
Still, cell phones should not be seen as a total replacement for landlines — at least not yet. Traditional phones offer not only an antidote to spotty cellular reception, but a more reliable link to emergency dispatchers as well. With an established phone network in place, there is no need to completely scrap Yale’s traditional phone system right now. But on an increasingly wireless campus, that system should not be the only option Yale offers, either.