Chaotic room-reservation system handicaps groups

The Yale administration has got to make its facilities easier for undergraduate student organizations to use.

Let’s start with some good news: We live on one of the most beautiful campuses in North America. And give the administration credit for fostering that aesthetic. I can’t manage to keep my bedroom neat. It’s no small feat that Yale’s administrative organs have kept the school looking nice and have raised the massive amounts of money every year necessary to build new facilities and renovate our old ones.

But for a university that has proven so competent at this Herculean task of constant upkeep, it is astounding how incompetently Yale manages to farm these resources out to student groups, and how difficult it makes the lives of undergraduate organizations seeking to use college facilities.

I am just wrapping up a semester-long stint running the Yale Political Union. I will certainly miss many parts of the job next semester. But one thing I will not miss is the weekly traditional scramble as our officers rush frantically around the campus, desperately searching out adequate rooms in which to hold our weekly events. Without exaggeration, this single weekly problem constituted the most stressful part of the entire experience. And I know other organization heads who have had exactly the same experience.

Part of the problem is that the system is so decentralized as to be almost feudal. Suppose you want to organize a panel discussion on some topic of interest with guest speakers. You’re probably looking for an auditorium of some sort, or at least a room that can accommodate an audience. Who do you talk to?

The Registrar’s Office, with the keys to many of the major classroom locations, would seem the logical place. But it only controls a small portion of the spaces that student groups are potentially interested in using. It doesn’t control the law school auditorium, or any of the law school classrooms. It doesn’t control Woolsey Hall, or WLH 201, or the auditoriums in the British Arts Center or the Art Gallery. It doesn’t control the Luce Hall auditorium or the auditorium in the Whitney Humanities Center. It doesn’t control innumerable other useful campus locations. And it certainly doesn’t control any of the individual common rooms or other possible venues in each of the 12 residential colleges. Every single one of these different spaces is managed out of a separate office. And right to use these spaces is bestowed upon favored petitioning students by a small army of Yale secretaries and senior assistants, who guard their powers with all the jealousies of congressional committee chairmen.

There is no mechanism whatsoever for telling whether a given space is free, except to call or visit these scattered offices one by one. With any academic or administrative function — arguably rightly — given precedence over an undergraduate student group, this frequently means that student groups must scramble at the last minute to secure rooms.

This aggravating state of affairs is made worse by the fact that many of these offices have instituted policies that make use of the facilities over which they rule prohibitively expensive for a student organization. Any group wishing to reserve the SSS 114 auditorium, for instance — for any reason whatsoever, even if it’s eight guys hoping to hold a chess tournament there — must now pay $340 to cover a mandatory security cost. The law school auditorium is worse — any undergraduate group wishing to use it gets charged $880 automatically for “custodial services” and other sundry expenses. Some of the college masters’ offices take an equally extortive approach to their college facilities. For most of my career at Yale, for instance (though I don’t know if the policy is still in effect), the Silliman Master’s Office charged over $100 for any group outside of Silliman College to reserve the college’s beautiful common room for any reason.

These policies place a needless burden on undergraduate organizations without houses, tombs or vast endowments, which either struggle to pay these sums or outright cannot afford to. If it is expensive to pay for a space to be cleaned up after a student group uses it, fine: Charge the student group if the students fail to clean up after themselves or cause wear and tear on the room that they use. But don’t charge us just for the privilege of using Yale facilities. We do quite a bit of that already: It’s called paying tuition.

The current situation is a powerful incentive for student groups simply to squat rooms rather than reserve them in advance — it’s a whole lot cheaper and a whole lot easier. If the University wants to prevent this, it badly needs to streamline its broken system. The power to reserve every single room at Yale — every classroom, every auditorium, every college common room, even in the law school or other graduate facilities — should be placed under the control of one office. Then, having reasserted control over it own facilities, Yale should immediately drop the absurd existing policy of forcing student groups to pay to use their own school. It is unworthy of a university that is in other spheres so supportive and concerned with undergraduate quality of life.

Roger Low is a senior in Branford College. His column appears on alternate Thursdays.