PR worries should not preclude leadership

This year, as it does every year, Yale placed third in the U.S. News and World Report national college rankings. Although The Princeton Review — a far superior publication, in our opinion — recognized Yale as the home of the nation’s best collegiate newspaper, authorities seem to agree our university typically follows its perennial rivals, Harvard and … well, Harvard.

True, the gap can seem slim. The authors of the U.S. News rankings confess that Yale’s two-point loss resulted from minor disparities in “faculty resources” — factors including salaries and class sizes. But Yale has difficulty shrugging off its role as a follower these days: The most attention the University garnered this year boiled out of a statement from former admissions dean Richard Shaw, who told The New York Times that former Taliban diplomat Rahmatullah Hashemi earned his place at Yale because a similar applicant had been lost to Harvard, and Yale didn’t want that to happen again.

This past week, Harvard’s trial abolition of early admissions made headlines nationwide. Despite opening the door for a review of the program, Yale President Richard Levin has been as unenthusiastic as we were about the possibility of a similar move here — less enthusiastic, certainly, than he has been publicly for the past five years. And it is too obvious that a desire not to be seen as following Harvard is the prime mover here.

Otherwise, it is difficult to reconcile the Levin of 2001, who said of early admissions, “If we all got rid of it, it would be a good thing … the only one who benefits is the admissions office,” with the Levin who issued a statement last week arguing the effects of abolishing early admissions cannot yet be adequately predicted. The old Levin consulted with the U.S. Justice Department to see if a coalition of universities could reform their admissions policies simultaneously. The new Levin says Yale should keep focusing on education and expanding financial aid.

We agree with the new Levin, but it’s a shame the voice of the old one was lost. The bigger shame, though, is that Yale has not followed through on those promises. The Student Ambassadors Program, Yale’s biggest move toward informing lower-income students about the school, comprises 130 students. And since Harvard took a decisive lead on financial aid this past spring, Yale has been mum about the possibility of expanding its dwarfed aid package. Yale can do better.

Last week, when Harvard made its announcement, Levin was on a fundraising trip, raising the money that typically helps pay for capital construction projects. But when no one can walk a block of Yale’s campus without seeing a construction site, it is time for the administration to begin tapping financial aid resources from beyond the endowment, as well. UConn recently snagged $500,000 from an insurance company earmarked for 60 students from Hartford public schools, where only one in three students typically move on to four-year colleges. Follower or not, this is the kind of move Yale can and should be making, many times over.

Certainly, there is value in careful deliberation on issues like early admissions. But the new Levin clearly knows exactly what Yale needs to do to increase access for qualified students whose family income may deny them an Ivy League education. There is no excuse for hesitation on that front.

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