Levin discusses colleges

A dramatic increase in the number of applications to Yale College, a growing international student population and the need to relieve overcrowding underlie Yale’s decision to consider building two new residential colleges, University President Richard Levin said at an open forum Tuesday night.

At the Yale College Council-sponsored event, which drew about 30 students, Levin said the University is not yet committed to going forward with the expansion and has to consider questions relating to classroom capacity, transportation and the impact on the Yale education. Earlier this month, Levin created two student-faculty committees to examine the effect new colleges would have on academic resources and student life.

University President Richard Levin speaks at an open forum sponsored by the Yale College Council last night. Levin discussed the reasons behind Yale’s decision to consider expanding with the construction of two new residential colleges.
Ming-Yee Lin
University President Richard Levin speaks at an open forum sponsored by the Yale College Council last night. Levin discussed the reasons behind Yale’s decision to consider expanding with the construction of two new residential colleges.

“I want the committees to honestly consider the trade-offs involved,” Levin said. “This is not a done deal. I wouldn’t be going through this process and taking up the time of 30 devoted faculty members and students unless I really thought this was a serious question.”

Levin said he has considered expanding or renovating Yale’s campus in the past and backed down after investigating the proposals further. He pointed to an idea he had immediately after becoming president to move the Divinity School downtown, which was abandoned after students and faculty members reacted negatively to the suggestion.

The steep rise in the number of applications to Yale College over the last three decades is one of the chief reasons for the possible expansion, Levin said.

He said Yale received around 10,000 applications a year in the 1970s and about 12,000 a year when he became president, but it now receives approximately 20,000 applications each year.

“Every year we turn away hundreds of students who are superbly qualified,” he said. “Most students probably have friends at home who they feel are at least as good as some of their friends here but who were rejected by Yale. That is to some degree a problem.”

The number of international students has also risen in recent years and should continue to grow, Levin said. The average Yale College class in the early 1990s had around 25 international students and now has over 100, he said.

Levin said the new residential colleges would also be used to reduce the housing crunch on campus, which currently forces between 100 and 200 students to live in “undesirable annex housing” on York and Park streets. He said the University has not yet decided whether the freshmen in the new colleges would live on Old Campus or reside in their colleges for all four years at Yale.

“If you ask students in [Timothy Dwight College] or [Silliman College], more than 80 percent favored four-year colleges, but if you ask students who had the Old Campus experience, more than 80 percent favored three-year colleges,” Levin said. “The conclusion is people are having a pretty good experience here under both modes of organization.”

There are currently enough beds on Old Campus to house the new colleges’ freshmen if annexed upperclassmen lived in their colleges instead, Levin said, but Calhoun, Jonathan Edwards and Trumbull colleges, which traditionally annex significant numbers of upperclassmen to Old Campus, would have to be made smaller as a result.

Levin said the University’s relationship with New Haven — which ultimately derailed an effort to build four new residential colleges in the 1970s — has improved enough that he expects the city to be supportive of a future expansion. He said community leaders in the Dixwell neighborhood, where the new colleges would be located, have been enthusiastic about the idea.

YCC Secretary Zach Marks ’09 said he thinks the forum was helpful in answering students’ questions about the plan.

“It was a great chance to hear from an official source instead of just reading speculation about it,” Marks said. “I think [Levin] was pretty honest and open about it. There might have been a fear going in that he was going to be more tight-lipped than he was, but that didn’t happen.”

Larry Wise ’08 said he was impressed with Levin’s frank, straightforward answers to questions and his precision in laying out statistics about the expansion. But he said he thinks Levin could have provided a more complete answer when asked why the University might be building two new colleges from scratch instead of working with existing buildings.

“The one thing I would have liked to hear more about is the reasons, beyond economics, why he wouldn’t like to turn [Swing Space] into a residential college and then maybe add another college,” Wise said.

On Friday, the YCC will present Levin with the names of three students it has selected to serve on each of the committees, Marks said.

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