Though we are told that a formal decision has yet to be made, it is all but official: Yale’s 12 residential colleges are going to get some company. And while the administration has yet to confirm where it seeks to plant two to four new dormitories — the first in almost half a century, since Morse and Stiles — it seems reasonable to expect that the three dead-end streets behind Grove Street Cemetery are the leading contenders.
As of last month, after all, development rights on those streets are now Yale’s and Yale’s alone, and University President Richard Levin reportedly directed new movement on dormitory plans at roughly the same time. That space was among the prime locations under consideration during Yale’s last look at expansion. This was no coincidence.
But putting location aside for the moment, University officials clearly expect Yale’s campus to grow considerably larger in the near future. Speculative questions posed to department chairs have suggested 10 percent; depending on their relative size, even two new colleges may add closer to 20 percent. Such an expansion offers a great many new opportunities to the University and its students, but we are waiting to be convinced that the administration appreciates the dangers expansion may present to the Yale undergraduate experience.
Any expansion, of course, will strain Yale’s current teaching resources beyond the University’s ability to salve with more teaching assistants. Already, many if not most prominent undergraduate seminars are perennially swamped. The administration’s questions to department chairs suggest that they understand the need for increased faculty recruitment — now would be an ideal time to push for an increase in women and minority hires — but this problem is an ever-present and longstanding one, not an issue for the far-off future.
And with an eye to the likeliest site of these new colleges, the question of teaching space is just as important. The area behind Grove Street Cemetery is currently much too far removed from central campus to seem comparable to most of Yale’s other dorms. The University’s push in that direction — from the new police station and community center to the planned replacement for University Health Services — mark the beginnings of an attempt to expand toward Dixwell, certainly. But if Yale truly wants to extend the perimeter of what is considered “central campus,” those dead-end streets will also need a major classroom building on the order of a Linsly-Chittenden or a WLH, not just service facilities or a nicer replacement for the Poli Sci trailer.
Such a move might seem to run counter to the University’s development of Science Hill-area research facilities, which have grown by leaps and bounds in recent years. But those facilities largely benefit graduate researchers; for many of us, one of Yale’s strongest pulls versus Harvard and its other larger peers was this school’s focus on undergraduate education and its sense of community. These new colleges, in conjunction with a new primary classroom building or buildings, would be Yale’s last, best shot to truly link what is now central campus with Science Hill.
To effectively expand the undergraduate community, the University needs to ensure that it also commits to expanding the idea of where Yale College is. Oh, and leave Saarinen out of it this time. If either of these two dicta are ignored, Yale won’t really be building new residential colleges — just two to four more buildings from which undergrads flee after sophomore year.