Last week’s Yale College Council election brought out more candidates and voters than ever before, and earlier this semester a sizeable portion of the student body voted in favor of a student activities fee. These demonstrations of unprecedented student involvement in YCC-related issues have thrust the council into a more public role than before. Next year, more eyes will be watching as newly elected president Steven Syverud ’06 works to sustain the council’s relatively newfound visibility and to take the Council in a direction about which his predecessor has expressed reservations.
Andrew Cedar ’06 took the helm as YCC president earlier this year with pledges to reform dining, University Health Services, environmental policies, student access to Yale President Richard Levin, low-income financial aid, and inequities in residential college funding. The Council failed during the year to make significant headway in issues like equalizing college funding and UHS reform, while facing criticism from some for a lack of persistence in convincing the administration to place more attention on politically charged issues, such as graduate student unionization and the University’s sexual assault policy. But under Cedar’s leadership the YCC reacted to issues that gained unexpected attention — including dining, financial aid, the activities fee, and alcohol policies — and in doing so created a more public face for the council by focusing less on student services and more on student policy, Cedar said.
“Our role on this campus is starting to become more relevant, not only to students but to the administration,” Cedar said.
But Cedar said Syverud will likely take the YCC in a slightly different direction of which Cedar is wary. Cedar said he is concerned that Syverud’s platform does not contain enough issues outside of student services. Syverud’s campaign promises include reforming academic advising, creating late night dining options, reducing text book prices, holding movie nights on campus, improving the student airport shuttle bus and reaching out with low-income recruiting.
Cedar cited the institution of a $50 student activities fee for the fall semester, as well as the end of dining hall restrictions in all dining halls except Berkeley College as some of the YCC’s accomplishments in the area of student services. He also mentioned the YCC’s work to bring about financial aid reform, as well as the council’s development of a new low-income recruitment program and its work with the administration on the alcohol policy as examples of the YCC’s increased influence in wider reaching policy issues, types of issues that he hopes next year’s board will take on.
Treasurer Andrew Schram ’06 said the YCC is “gaining respect in the eyes of students.” Vice-President Chance Carlisle ’05, noted the council’s work in shaping the administration’s decision to suspend dining hall restrictions as well as the YCC’s influence in the administration’s deliberations on alcohol policy.
“It’s been a better year for the YCC because of the relationships we’ve built,” Carlisle said. “They’re tough, good, solid relationships built on mutual respect and trust.”
But Carlisle said he would have liked to see the YCC engage in more political debate on issues such as the Graduate Employees and Students Organization strike.
YCC representative Alan Kennedy-Shaffer ’06, who ran and lost in the most recent presidential election, criticized the current board for not being aggressive enough with the administration on all issues, especially the more politically charged ones.
“What the YCC actually accomplishes depends on the courage of its leaders to take a stand, push the administration,” Kennedy said.
Syverud said the YCC would take a stance on political issues, but only those which have a concrete effect on undergraduates. But both he and Brittenham said they would avoid using too much of the council’s time on political issues which the YCC has little power to affect.
“I have heard from a lot of previous members that getting involved in political things has been generally unproductive for the YCC,” Brittenham said. “We were generally not able to make a huge effect, and it created a lot of tensions within the council.”
Syverud has made it clear that his board will focus on student services issues. Reinstituting the airport shuttle service, holding used book bazaars and running campus-wide movie nights in conjunction with the Yale Film Society are among the items he said he hopes to accomplish. He said he expects to be able to “check off” every one of these goals by next spring.
“Everything we’re talking about is feasible,” Syverud said. “But just because they’re pragmatic doesn’t mean they’re not significant.”
But Cedar has suggested that the Council should pursue a more ambitious agenda.
“It worries me to have the leadership of the YCC focus on student services,” he said, adding that he would like to see the YCC continue to work on broader issues such as environmental policy. “Steven has made it very clear that he’s going to your more every day student services, bread and butter type of council.”
Syverud said he has been working on some broader issues, notably through the Yale Ambassadors Program for recruiting low-income students and the Freshman Day of Service.
“We do student services very well, but it’s not a complete categorization of us,” he said.
Both Syverud and Brittenham mentioned dining services as an issue they would continue to work on. Although Cedar said in the past the YCC has run up against budgetary constraints, Syverud and Brittenham said they feel the relationship they have built with the dining services office is strong enough to overcome the office’s traditional hesitation.
“They’ve really realized that late-night dining is one of those things that really needs to be implemented regardless of cost,” Brittenham said.
She said dining services plans to submit a proposal for late-night dining — among other changes — to the administration.
But this year’s YCC members have already worked on the issue of late-night dining, Cedar said, and they consistently were hindered by budget constraints.
Next year’s board also stressed the need for change in UHS in particular.
“The first thing we want to do is collect information,” Secretary Elect Kasdin Miller ’07 said. “We haven’t really done a thorough evaluation.”
The YCC plans to collect information through the preexisting standing committee, and also to establish an online forum where students can submit their concerns about weaknesses in the student health system.
But Cedar said UHS will be “a hard animal to tackle,” having dealt with the issue during his time as YCC president.
Syverud said part of his optimism comes from what he called a new willingness among administrators to enact change. In particular, he said Yale College Dean Peter Salovey is usually receptive to the YCC’s suggestions.
“I’ve been pretty impressed with Dean Salovey in his general receptiveness and by the fact that when we mention something he actually goes and does research and figures out how it can be done,” he said.
Additionally, Syverud said he plans to hold meetings with administration members such as President Richard Levin, Salovey and Assistant to the President Nina Glickson, in order to lay out the YCC’s plans for next year. He also said he wants to hold meetings with the cultural house deans.
“This divide that has been breached between the YCC and the cultural houses is not going to exist next year,” he said.
Though he admits that fostering relationships with the cultural houses has traditionally been difficult, Syverud said the Asian American Students Alliance’s endorsement of his candidacy as well as his work with some of the cultural houses on the Yale Ambassador’s Program makes him optimistic. He also said some of the money generated by the new intercollegiate activities fee could go to funding cultural house events.
Syverud’s term as YCC president will begin next fall. Cedar, who will be a senior next year, said he will remain involved in the YCC but not in an official capacity.