Univ. to conduct student poll

Within the next two weeks, the University will poll undergraduates in order to gauge opinion about its proposal to build two new residential colleges, officials said Wednesday.

The survey, commissioned by the two committees charged with examining Yale’s proposed expansion, will be the second attempt to gather student input about the viability of the proposed colleges and their potential ramifications for life at Yale. The committees’ first attempt — a series of open forums held over the last few weeks — attracted fewer than 175 of Yale’s 5,300 undergraduates, according to head counts by News reporters.

Science majors discuss whether the addition of two new colleges would benefit the Science Hill area.
Ge Yang
Science majors discuss whether the addition of two new colleges would benefit the Science Hill area.

The questionnaire, which is still being finalized, will be posted on the YaleStation Web site before Thanksgiving break, committee members said. Combined with the input from the open forums, the poll should allow the committees to gauge student opinion about the expansion, William Sledge said. Sledge, a former Calhoun College master, chairs the committee addressing the proposed expansion’s impact on student life.

The forums — the last of which was held Monday night in Silliman College — were initially attended lightly but attracted more attention as time went on. Two weeks ago, a lone student sat in the Calhoun College dining hall at the scheduled start of the first forum. Although a handful of students ultimately attended, the smorgasbord of treats and refreshments and the high-tech sound system assembled for the event turned out to be unnecessary.

But last Thursday’s forum in the Morse College dining hall attracted almost 75 students — almost too many to make it feasible to have a back-and-forth discussion, committee members said. The forum in Silliman attracted about three dozen students, who were split into small groups to share their thoughts with committee members.

But committee members said they still gained valuable feedback from the forums. Administrators frequently lingered after the forums to mingle with individual students and brainstorm ideas, some of which the committees are now seriously considering, members said.

“We got a number of good new ideas and we heard about different ways to approach some of the issues we’d been struggling with,” Dean of Undergraduate Education Joseph Gordon, the chair of the academics committee, said in an e-mail.

Committee members said they were particularly interested in hearing students’ opinions on how the University might be able to better integrate Science Hill with central campus, where Yale’s 12 existing colleges are located. The proposed colleges would be built along Prospect Street, behind the Grove Street Cemetery.

Committee members received an “enormously creative response” to that question, Sledge said.

“We got a very good and clear idea of what students are nervous about and concerned about — and many are [nervous],” he said. “We got that, and that’s helpful.”

Among the ideas proposed by students were retrofitting the first floor of the Becton Center to house commercial space, perhaps including a coffee shop or a fast-foot outlet. Another student proposal, based on Jitneys in Atlantic City, N.J., called for small transport vehicles to run 24 hours a day, seven days a week in a set route around the cemetery, Sledge said.

At Monday’s forum, committee members asked students their opinions of both of those ideas, signaling they may very well wind up under serious consideration by the committees.

Sledge said his committee will now compare notes from the forums and begin to draft its recommendations about the proposal. The committees are expected to release their recommendations in January, and the Yale Corporation will vote in February on whether to expand.

Thus far, students appear opposed to the idea of expansion. In a News poll of 515 undergraduates surveyed Oct. 29-30, only 23 percent of students who responded said they supported building two new colleges, while 48 percent opposed it and 29 percent said they were undecided.

The University’s questionnaire is being developed by the six students who were appointed by the Yale College Council to serve on the committees. The Office of Institutional Research has lent its expertise to the project, Sledge said.

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