On student minds, Rihanna — not residential growth

From whether to build two new residential colleges to how to improve Science Hill for future generations, in the life of an institution like Yale, there are decisions to make.

Then there are the important decisions. Like: Timbaland or Sean Kingston? Rihanna or Soulja Boy?

In three weeks, the Yale Corporation is scheduled to decide whether to move forward with a plan to build the two much-hyped colleges. Last semester, asked students via e-mail to complete a questionnaire that would provide feedback to the two committees charged by the University with helping the Corporation make that choice.

Then, this month, the Yale College Council sent out a questionnaire of its own, aimed at an entirely different, but perhaps equally pressing, issue — whom to invite to perform at this year’s Spring Fling.

Regarding the question of building two new colleges, a choice that would change the face of Yale College forever, about 1,500 Yale students pondered the issue and then offered their opinions.

But when it came to influencing the YCC’s decision about an hour-long concert this spring, more than twice as many Elis — almost 3,700 in total — quickly responded.

Priorities, anyone?

“I’m always pretty surprised by those numbers,” YCC President Rebecca Taber ’08 said. “I still don’t know why people respond to the polls they do.”

The residential-college questionnaire, developed by the six student members of the committees considering the proposed residential-college expansion, was the University’s second attempt to tap into student opinion about the feasibility of building new residential colleges for the first time in nearly a half-century.

The questionnaire was sent out in November following a series of open forums administrators held for students, which attracted fewer than 175 of Yale’s 5,300 undergraduates, according to head counts by News reporters.

“The following survey of undergraduate opinion is a tremendously important stage of this consideration,” read the e-mail about the survey. “Along with the forums … your responses to this survey will be crucial to our representation of student opinion in the committees’ final report to the Yale Corporation.”

Taber speculated that the low response rate to the questionnaire — which was advertised as taking 10 minutes, compared to two minutes for the Spring Fling survey — may have been a result of student cynicism about the University’s decision-making process.

A poll conducted by the News in October would seem to corroborate Taber’s theory. In that poll, 68 percent of respondents said they thought Yale administrators would not take student feedback into account when deciding whether to build the two new colleges.

“I think the saddest thing here was that maybe the people who weren’t responding to the poll weren’t responding to the poll not because they didn’t want to but because there’s this sense of, ‘What can we do?’ ” Taber said. “I don’t think the administration’s been clear on what role student feedback will have in the process, and I think we’d like to see a lot more of that transparency.”

But former Calhoun College Master William Sledge, the chairman of committee reviewing the expansion’s possible effects on student life, said his committee received valuable feedback from the questionnaire.

“It confirmed in an objective way what people were telling us at those forums and gave us a kind of sense of dimension,” Sledge said.

“It was definitely worth the effort,” he added. “I definitely appreciate the thoughtfulness of the students responding.”

Meanwhile, the two committees — Sledge’s student-life committee and a group chaired by Dean of Undergraduate Education Joseph Gordon looking at the possible effect on Yale’s academic resources — are busy fine-tuning drafts of their reports, which are due to the Yale Corporation in a matter of weeks. The a will converge on campus later this month, at which time it is expected to receive copies of the report.

At that meeting, the Corporation is not expected to approve the proposal officially. Rather, the Corporation may announce whether it agrees “in principle” to move forward with planning for the expansion.

Yale’s student body would increase from 5,300 to about 6,000 under the proposed expansion, which calls for the two new colleges to be built behind the Grove Street Cemetery, along Prospect Street.

The construction of the colleges is expected to cost at least $600 million to build, likely making them the most expensive residence halls ever constructed in the history of American higher education.

The six student members of the committees — Jonny Dach ’08, Lauren Russell ’09, Alice Shyy ’08, Emily Weissler ’09, Larry Wise ’08 and Jesse Wolfson ’08 — could not be reached for comment Wednesday night.

The members of the committees have a long-standing policy of speaking only through their respective chairs.

-Zachary Abrahamson contributed reporting.

Comments

  • anon

    This is sad, because building colleges in the proposed location -- instead of closer to the existing colleges -- will change the character of Yale forever.

    The university's planners simply don't understand the concept of how Yale's amazing life is based on the fact that you can walk everywhere in 2 minutes. When the new colleges are built, Yale's social life will be like any other school.

    Of course, everyone will have graduated by then,

  • But

    The real question is why the YCC won't just release the survey results. If our fearless leaders are truly interested in transparency, they wouldn't hide the voice of their constituency.