Yalies have available surprisingly few fora for talking about Yale. Perhaps our physical proximity to one another renders unnecessary institutionalized discussion: When I encounter someone on College Street while walking towards SSS from LC, we’ll talk for a few minutes about Yale’s latest deal with China. But our alternatives are few. The Yale Political Union might debate Yale issues, but aside from one helpful (though poorly attended) debate last year on the plan to build new colleges, the YPU seems more interested in allowing students to argue national politics in front of famous people. I am sure the Yale College Council — whatever they are — does important things, too.
With all this in mind, I am glad that the student members of the Student Life and Academic Resources Committee are surveying the undergraduates about the proposed Yale College expansion. If you don’t remember their e-mail of last Thursday, check your inbox again. That survey is a chance to explain your position on the new colleges. (It runs through Wednesday.) The administration, I’m told, is genuinely perplexed about student opposition to the expansion of Yale College. The results of the survey are sure to be as thoroughly reported as those of the latest Chinese Communist Party Congress, and the details of the expansion have been chronicled more accurately than most imperial ascensions. But this issue, like so many others, has not been debated by Yalies in any public or systematic way. In the spirit of debate, let me present — collected from common rooms, lunch tables, office hours and chance encounters on College Street — the best arguments for and against expanding Yale College.
We would have more Yalies. Yale would need to increase massively the number of faculty and non-professorial employees. Particular personnel issues aside, this would require more space: 10 percent more teaching fellows fighting for tables at MacDougal and so on. Where are they going to put the seven new political science professors? The cemetery? The steam tunnels? Hamden?
The new colleges, up on Science Hill, would create a sub-campus away from most of the undergraduate housing. The effect would be parallel to the “Quad” by the river at Harvard. Every student’s greatest fear would be getting “hilled,” or assigned to the new Bush or Taft College far, far away. For four years, his friends would not visit and his social life would suffer.
If his social life did not suffer, it would because of the Concorde service the administration promises to install between the new colleges and main campus. OK, so we’ll only need buses, not high-speed airplanes. The point is that Yale will no longer be a walking campus but a driving campus. When visiting friends, heading to the library or the gym, and going to class requires starting a car or having a driver, the college experience is different. In a very real way, the quotidian Yale experience of future classes would differ from ours. You would catch a shuttle to office hours rather than walking. No longer seeing classmates and professors on the street, Yalies would live more atomized lives as less social members of a larger society. To become a modern research university, Yale rightly sacrificed a certain social familiarity. Is this proposed transformation as important? What does it profit Yale if she loses her soul?
Expansion might gain us the world. A classmate down the hall argued that the new colleges would allow the admission of 350 of the brightest Chinese students, who would return from an American liberal arts education to undermine the Chinese regime. Yale might fill the other 350 new beds with legacy students. Certainly, it could be argued, qualified legacy admissions secure the continuity of the Yale family. I don’t know what “qualified” means, and that is the problem. Undergraduates who wouldn’t mind hopping in our roommate’s car on a cold day like this one might still suspend judgment on the question of admitting 700 students because they don’t know who the admits would be. By any proposed criterion, the pool of “qualified” students rejected from our New Haven home will be negligibly reduced by the admission of 700 more.
The undergraduate community has not conversed about who Yale admits in general. It should. Yale is no democracy; the Corporation decides. But today they have asked for our input. We share neither a common curriculum nor a common experience, but we share the Yale name. Let us discuss what that ought to mean, today and in the future.
Michael Pomeranz is a junior in Silliman College. His column runs on alternate Mondays.