Elis remain lukewarm about college expansion

The University’s proposal to build two new residential colleges, which come before the Corporation later this month, has the support of only one in four Yale undergraduates, according to a poll conducted by the News last week.

In a poll of 362 undergraduates, 49 percent of respondents said they are against the expansion proposal, while 25 percent said they are in favor and another 25 percent were undecided. The results are nearly identical to those of a similar poll conducted by the News in October, when 48 percent of respondents said they were against building new colleges and only 23 percent were in favor.

The poll was sent via e-mail to 850 Yale College students and has a margin of error of 3.1 percent.

The Corporation will decide in principle at the end of next week whether to proceed with plans to build two new colleges behind the Grove Street Cemetery along Prospect Street and, in the process, to increase the enrollment of Yale College by about 10 percent to 6,000 undergraduates.

But all along — at a Yale Political Union debate on the topic last spring, at several forums held in residential colleges this fall and in scores of interviews — students have appeared wary of the concept. And this latest News poll shows nothing different: In essence, of the students who have made up their minds regarding the proposal, 66 percent have concluded that it is a bad idea.

Still, University President Richard Levin said Sunday he was not discouraged by the results — and even joked that the poll was good news, considering that support for the colleges did increase by two percentage points since last semester’s poll.

“It doesn’t surprise me that students would naturally be skeptical, since they pretty much like the experience that they have now,” Levin said.

Student sentiment will likely not have much of an effect on Corporation members when they convene on campus for a vote later this month.

“While individual faculty and students might say ‘Build it!’ or ‘Don’t build it!,’ all that’s kind of irrelevant,” said former Calhoun College Master William Sledge, the chairman of the committee examining the proposed expansion’s impact on student life. “It’s going to be a careful assessment of the Corporation of the pros and cons.”

That’s what the Corporation says, too.

In a recent interview, the News asked Corporation fellow Margaret Marshall, the chief justice of the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court, what effect it would have on the Corporation if a poll like this one found that the majority of students opposed the expansion. Would that kind of student resistance be enough to veto the expansion?

Marshall, sitting on a sofa in the lobby of the Omni Hotel, shook her head. “No,” she said.

“If you are in a fiduciary role, which the Corporation is, part of your fiduciary responsibility is how do we both govern for the present and plan for the future?” said Marshall, the former general counsel of Harvard University.

Students, on the other hand, are more likely to approach the expansion question from the clichéd logic of, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it,” Marshall said.

“I think the fact that students are skeptical is entirely appropriate,” she said. “If it were like, ‘Oh, yes, thank heavens, finally, at long last!’ — that sounds like something’s been waiting to burst.”

While student poll numbers might not have too much sway on the Corporation, Marshall did emphasize that the reports being authored by two committees examining the ramifications of the proposed expansion on academic resources and student life will have a significant bearing on the Corporation’s decision.

Those reports, however, are expected to be generally positive in tone.

The new colleges — if approved by the Corporation — would allow the University to boost the enrollment of Yale College by about 10 percent to 6,000 students. The construction of the colleges is expected to cost at least $600 million, likely making them the most expensive collegiate residence halls ever erected.

Comments