A last word on financial aid reform

To the Editor:

As evidenced by the recent contents of this page, the cause du jour of Yale’s activist community is now financial aid reform. This is certainly a worthy cause, but it is often being examined from the wrong perspective.

One argument made by reform proponents is that students who receive financial aid have a very different Yale experience than students who do not, especially in terms of extracurricular activities and study abroad. This, however, is not necessarily the case. Several of my friends on financial aid have been able to take advantage of the many opportunities that Yale has to offer. For example, several have received fellowships to study abroad instead of having their families pay for it. Moreover, it is certainly possible to work and take part in other extracurricular activities. I have had a job during most of my time at Yale, and I have still been able to commit to many other activities around campus. And this is not unusual. Students on financial aid may need to work a little harder, but I never knew a Yalie who was averse to a little hard work.

I do understand, however, that the system is not perfect and that reform is necessary. And the University seems to be open to this. That is why Thursday’s protest at the admissions office didn’t really make sense. It is certainly in Yale’s best interest to offer aid to its students that is competitive with what is offered by schools like Harvard and Princeton in order to attract the brightest students in the world. But, where do we draw the line? Apparently, many believe that the system is entirely unfair because some students have a different Yale experience if they are on financial aid. Everybody has a different Yale experience — Yale is what you make of it. That is also life. There will always be someone who is better off than you are or who has more opportunities than you do. You make the most of what you have.

It is also important to remember that Yale is very generous compared to other schools. I have never heard of a student who didn’t come to Yale for financial reasons, and I know several students who would never even have been able to consider Yale had it not been for the University’s generous aid packages. Moreover, much of this aid is in gift form from the university. Just because Yale has an $11 billion endowment does not mean that students are entitled to more, as a cartoon in the Yale Daily News recently implied. In short, the purpose of financial aid is to offer students with limited economic means the opportunity to attend Yale, not to act as an equalizing factor among its students.

Matthew Daly ’06

Feb. 28, 2005

To the Editor:

I was dismayed by the shortsightedness the News demonstrated in its editorial response to last Thursday’s sit-in. In fairness, I am not at Yale presently and have not followed the events leading to the sit-in closely enough to comment on the strategic effectiveness of the tactic of the sit-in. However, my suspicion is that you fail to understand the necessity of student confrontation with the Yale Administration.

In my experience, ultimate and total decision-making authority at Yale lies with President Levin and the Yale Corporation, while students are reduced to pleading for improvements on issues of substantive concern to them. As a member of Students Against Sweatshops at Yale (SAS), we similarly built consensus over many months among vast swathes of the student body. We similarly were able to gain support for our position through an overwhelmingly passed Yale College Council resolution. We similarly were repeatedly rebuffed and disrespected by President Levin. We similarly were forced to engage in greater confrontation by occupying Beinecke Plaza for 16 days. While it did not lead to victory on our primary demand, SAS’s actions instigated the creation of open public forums at Yale that benefit current students and its administration, as well as an education for us and our fellow students in the way Yale works as an institution. Further, SAS’s work created the seeds for further efforts toward greater student voice at Yale, just as SAS benefited from previous work by other groups.

Over time, engaging the administration directly and repeatedly in a variety of forms, both conciliatory and confrontational, will enable students to hold the Yale administration more accountable on a variety of issues and reduce the need for direct action. Surely, financial aid is not the only thing you would improve about Yale. Perhaps more pertinently, surely you do not want to be a part of a community in which your voice as a stakeholder counts for next to nothing on issues that concern you.

Saurav Sarkar ’00

Feb. 28, 2005