Renovations process must be transparent

In Wednesday’s News, Berkeley sophomore Alicia Breakey effectively defined the problem with undergraduate housing at Yale when she drew a distinction between the facilities of “the pretty colleges” and those of “the ugly colleges.”

True, the latter group of colleges to which Breakey referred — Calhoun, Ezra Stiles and Morse — have been repaired more recently than others, or, in the cases of Morse and Stiles, built more recently than others. This was the argument Yale administrators gave last spring when defending the exclusion of these three colleges from the University’s large-scale renovations campaign. But as the campus transforms around these three colleges, the level of improvements provided by the renovations — not to mention the leaks and flooding that have plagued Calhoun, Morse and Stiles in recent years — consistently demonstrate that substantial changes are long overdue for all Yale’s residences if the equity of the residential college system is to be restored.

This week, we were glad to see the University finally acknowledge this fact. But based on the general language administrators employed when breaking the plans of “major” renovations for the other three colleges Tuesday, we were stunned to learn the following night that these plans have already begun in some earnest. Though there seems little reason to criticize the work we have seen from perennial renovations designers at KieranTimberlake Associates, the relative secrecy of this design process seems to limit feedback from those who know their subjects the best.

Granted, some aspects of these three colleges already resemble the products of renovations elsewhere. The preponderance of single suites in Morse and Stiles would be difficult to increase substantially, just as the preponderance of furniture-limiting angles would be difficult to decrease without knocking them to the ground. And there are complaints common to all three colleges that the architects could be reasonably expected to glean from their meetings with administrators and — apparently — with some students. But we believe it similarly reasonable to expect some student concerns to be ignored or missed if the process remains as private as it seems to have been to this point.

For the University to bring Calhoun, Morse and Stiles up to par with the other nine colleges, much of the work will involve renovating facilities, not necessarily dorm rooms. With this in mind, students must be widely consulted regarding the types of facilities they would like access to, with the support of feasibility studies we expect KieranTimberlake to have conducted. While students in other colleges have not been comparably consulted, their renovations processes were also considerably more transparent, with student input encouraged if not directly solicited. We believe more can be done.

Bearing in mind that most current undergraduates will have their degrees long before ground is broken on any of these three renovations, a survey limited to students in those colleges would be of limited use. With an eye to the wide range of facilities available in other colleges — from printing presses to squash courts — a campuswide survey regarding the utility of different options would be a tremendous boon to the development process. With lessons learned from the pretty colleges, we are hopeful that the ugly ones can receive well thought-out makeovers, too.

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