Dixwell is not Allston, but should it be?

Ever since Yale announced, over the summer, its intention to acquire three abandoned city streets in Dixwell, speculation has been rife about what Yale will build on the new land. The focus increasingly seems to be on the likelihood of building two new residential colleges on the site, and although President Richard Levin has said that a final decision will not be made until December 2007, administrators are already discussing whether the two new colleges would be used to expand the student body or to relieve space pressure in the existing 12 colleges.

While any new colleges are not likely to open until even the class of 2010 has long since moved on, the News firmly believes that the new beds should be used to alleviate the housing crunch in the existing 12 colleges and thus reduce the pressure to annex students. Yale’s residential college system is a wonderful aspect of our university because the colleges so effectively build community among students of disparate interests, but scattering juniors across random Old Campus suites does not serve that unifying goal.

But the decision between reducing annexing or expand ing the undergraduate population has broader implications for the character of Yale College. Even before Yale and New Haven cooperated this summer on transferring ownership of those three streets, Yale has made no secret that it is expanding toward Dixwell, with the construction of the Dixwell-Yale Community Center on Ashmun St. and the proposed relocation of University Health Services to that same area. We hope any final decision on the use of Yale’s new land in Dixwell will be prefaced by a serious and open discussion of what Yale hopes to achieve by expanding its campus.

This is a particularly important discussion when the Dixwell expansion is viewed in the context of Harvard’s and Princeton’s own plans for expansion. Our peer institutions have been explicit that their plans reflect a new image for their institutions. Harvard University, under the direction of its former president, Larry Summers, began planning a major campus expansion in the Allston neighborhood to be focused on expansion of Harvard’s science program, as well as its professional and graduate schools. And Princeton University, under the leadership of Shirley M. Tilghman, is poised to establish a system of four-year residential colleges and to expand the student body by 11 percent by 2012.

To preserve the ideal of the residential college as a four-year home, any new colleges should be used to reduce the number of annexed students. But as our peer institutions expand, Yale should be mindful that our facilities and resources do not lag behind Harvard’s and Princeton’s. Maintaing the integrity of the college system and our leadership as an institution are separate issues, but the planned expansion into Dixwell will provide an opportunity to consider Yale’s growth in the context of our peers’ more ambitious plans. As Yale’s plans for Dixwell take shape in the coming months, we will be returning to this issue to examine the ramifications of Yale’s actions for our institution and for our city.

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