Levin misled students on college expansion

The Yale administration owes the student body an apology.

Thomas Kaplan’s article “Expansion: Not if, but when” (1/15) illuminates what many students have been feeling for months: Yale President Richard Levin and the university administration have never really cared what students thought about whether or not two new colleges should be built. When President Levin first sent out e-mails to the student body just over a year ago saying that the university would be examining the prospect of building two new residential colleges, it appeared that student input would be valued. There would be committees with students involved; there would be forums; there was a Yale Political Union debate!

However, what many of us initially suspected quickly became clear: the administration would do what it wanted — build new colleges — regardless of students’ concerns. Emblematic of this pre-formed decision was the placement of former Calhoun College Master William Sledge at the head of a committee examining the “possible” (read: coming soon!) effects of expansion on student life.

If the addition of two new colleges was not a foregone conclusion, or if they wanted to continue to at least provide us with the illusion of our voices mattering, administrators would have appointed a committee chair who was impartial and did not already support expansion.

Yet in early Dec., long before the committee’s work was done, Sledge told the News that the residential-college system needs to be fixed through “the momentum of a large project — something like building two new residential colleges” (“Veteran Sledge pushes for expansion of student body,” 12/5/2007).

I personally disagree with the idea of building two new colleges. The primary argument made by Sledge and President Richard Levin is that Yale is turning away too many highly qualified applicants. This might be a valid argument, except the students Yale is turning away are still going to excellent schools. Jian Li ’10, the student who sued Princeton after he was not admitted, was still able to come to Yale. I got rejected from Stanford, which many people consider to be less prestigious than our fine institution, and was still admitted here. At all top-tier colleges and universities, one can find students who were rejected from Yale.

Unless we want to perpetually expand the university, it will be impossible to ever admit all the qualified applicants. If Yale is really worried about having the highest-quality student body possible, the administration should focus on creating the most welcoming environment possible for those students who are accepted under the current system, rather than copping out and accepting more. In doing so, they will destroy the cohesiveness of the community by enlarging the student body and sticking hundreds of students in an isolated and undesirable location.

I lived in Jonathan Edwards last year, and it seemed like a huge burden to try to go see my friends in Timothy Dwight. Imagine having to trudge up Science Hill, walking around a cemetery in order to visit friends in one of the new colleges. And while new professors may be hired, I have yet to be convinced that class sizes will not grow.

Why am I even bothering, though? I’ve already stated that I believe the University does not care about the opinions of myself or any other students when it comes to deciding if, not when, new colleges should be built. I am writing because I believe the administration needs to know that ignoring student opinion is intolerable; bending the truth and masquerading in order to maintain an image of heeding student opinion is reprehensible.

While I do not support the idea of building two new colleges, if the administration had simply stated outright, “We feel that expansion is in the best interests of the university and we will be building new colleges,” I would have accepted the decision and would have hoped to offer useful advice on how to help a larger Yale maintain the sense of community that makes this place so special.

Instead, I am left disillusioned about the overall goals of the University and the decision-making process of Levin and other administrators. Perhaps with 600 more students they will begin to care what we think.

Kai Thaler is a junior in Jonathan Edwards College.

Comments

  • Anonymous

    Go Kai!

  • Anonymous

    It has always been clear that President Levin cares about Yale as a whole but not as much about the student population. While he has been a blessing for this university, raising billions of dollars and expanding our interestes and relationships throughout the world, Levin has never shown a great interest in student opinion. He rarely addresses or endorses student opinions on issues and he appears to have less direct interaction with the student population than almost any college president that I have heard of. In my four years at Yale I think I only met him once, which was graduation weekend at his house. In contrast, former Yale College Dean and current Duke President Richard Brodhead has spent plenty of time with the Duke students. In his first few months at Duke he was seen at student rallies, club events, basketball games and he even requested that every student make an appointment to sit down and meet with him to talk about their Duke experience and and concerns they had. I even had one friend who made a suggestion on improving quality of life at Duke and Brodhead immediately asked him to lead a group to write up a memo about their suggestion that he could then look over and discuss more with them. Some people feel that student interaction is the job of the dean and not the president. I disagree. Ignoring student opinion about expanding the college system is just another example of President Levin doing what he thinks is best overall for Yale but exhibiting no concern or interest in the student population itself. I would not ask for a different president of Yale. Levin is great. But I wish he would at least appear to care about what the students think.

  • Ferny

    I'm glad they didn't care. As students, most are actually incapable of thinking long term for their university.

    People are able to change how they interact on campus. It could be better if it was "different"

    Maybe that trek to TD won't seem as far. now.

    But yeah…I was hoping the university would make the choice.

  • Alum

    Its simple, really. Expansion here - as at Princeton - is all about the drive for "diversity." Yale wants to strengthen its reputation in the sciences, recruit more people from the lowest economic quadrant, increase the number of underrepresented minorities and international students --- all without squeezing traditional constituencies such as legacies, athletes and the offspring of the wealthy.

    These goals cannot all be achieved in the years ahead without increasing the size of the freshman class by 10% or more.

  • y08

    The burden of "trudging" three blocks to see friends is not a valid argument for not allowing more students to receive a higher quality education--which is what expansion will amount to as a result of expanded faculty and course offerings.

    Perhaps you might be happier if President Levin assists you in investing in a bicycle?

  • Anonymous

    This column is an embarrassment. Rather than ask where in the world Yale University is, it worries how far Science Hill is from Timothy Dwight College. This fretful kid needs to be told something: Grow up.

  • Hieronymus

    You have no idea, yet, how boring this type of self-centered claptrap gets over the year.

    "Yale President Richard Levin and the university administration have never really cared what students thought about whether or not two new colleges should be built."

    Hell-OOOooooo! You are a mere temporary resident; these new dorms have precious little to do with YOU, dunderhead! It is not you who will have to live there, walk there, etc. etc.

    "It seemed like a huge burden to try to go see my friends in Timothy Dwight."

    No doubt your visit was a burden, too… Ugh--how infuriatingly weak! Boo hoo! Likely the walk will do you good, lazybones.

    "I am writing because I believe the administration needs to know that ignoring student opinion is intolerable;"

    And what, pray tell, do you aim to do? Intolerable, you say? Put your money where your mouth is: if INTOLERABLE it is, then TRANSFER you must! Please do not let the door hit you on the way out.

    You young pups describe the world in absolutes (INTOLERABLE?!) yet have not the gumption to do much of merit. You worry 'bout the poor widdle footsoles of future Yalies? Get over yer damned self, Pip. Fer cryin' out loud, this gets so old…

  • y08

    I am so sick and tired about people whining about the construction of new residential colleges. IMHO, current undergraduates should have absolutely no say in the discussion of whether or not to build them because frankly its an issue that no current undergraduate is going to have to deal with. Undergraduate opinion should only be taken into account concerning the logistics and things that undergraduate students would like to see in a new residential college. The proposed site is simply not that far away unless you are lazy, and I am sure that Yale will make an effort to create retail space and enhance transportation to make that area a pleasant place to live and give people a reason to want to go there.

    The fact is, even if Yale didn't add more students, it still needs to expand its housing. It is overcrowded for the student body it has now, and that is just going to get worse. If Yale builds two more residential colleges it can ease the crowding AND allow more people to come. That sounds like a win win.

  • Hieronymus

    To #2:

    [Prefatory postscript: If your piece was subtle satire trolling--hats off to you! However, I rather doubt that was the case…]

    Yes, the way Brodhead supported the Duke rape hoax shows what a stand-up guy his really is! If only Levin were (even) more like his old #2 (and, indeed, I consider Brodhead akin to #2…).

    http://nationaljournal.com/taylor.htm

    The best thing I can say about Brodhead is that at least he is no longer Yale's problem…

  • Kai

    Yep, I'm lazy, self-centered, my friends in TD hate me, and I need to grow up. In fact, I walk more than a lot of people on campus (never use the shuttle buses, walk to the train station), but every single day you hear someone talk about a party or event that sounds interesting, but, they say "It's in TD and I don't want to go all the way there." So no, I'm not just projecting my own laziness onto future Yale students, it is an actual issue that exists.
    I could have made many more arguments against building new colleges, but they have already been made many times on the op-ed page. Thus my point, which all of you except posters #2 and 3 missed, is that the administration should have either actually paid attention to student opinion or just been honest and forthright from the start.
    And finally, aren't current undergraduates the people who best understand the social dynamics of the college system in its current iteration and thus in the best position to predict how changes will affect this? While it is of course impossible to get inside the mind of a future student, campus size and structure is an issue that influences many students' decisions about where to attend college, so if current students feel that a larger residential campus and student body would have negatively affected their perception of Yale, I believe this is a valid concern.

    Kai Thaler

  • childish

    Levin knows what he is doing. Prospect street is hardly Science Hill- it is a whole block before it. The distance between Silliman and the prospect street site is like 1.5 blocks, so cmon.

  • Anonymous

    @#11: "Science Hill" is on Prospect Street. The proposed site of the colleges is next to the School of Management just below Sachem Street, which most people consider to be part of Science Hill, even though it is true that laboratory buildings begin on the other side of Sachem.

  • Anonymous

    Nearly everyone who's commented so far missed the point of the op-ed. Even if you do think expansion is a good idea, how can you support the administration duping us like this? Instead of trying to convince the current student body that our opinion shouldn't matter because expansion is best for the distant future of Yale (a totally valid, though largely unprovable point), the administration pretended that they wanted to hear our concerns by forming committees and encouraging us to vote in opinion polls, all of which turned out to be a waste of time because expansion was a done deal. All the people telling the writer to "stop whining" or being "self-centered" and "fretful" are clearly expansion proponents who are totally ignoring the administrative unfairness being pointed out here. Yale's administration has demonstrated that they do not trust students' intelligence enough to be straight with us, and have now set a precedent that eschews actual debate in favor of coddling us by pretending that they have built some kind of consensus around the colleges. I'd have much preferred to hear from the beginning, "This expansion thing has nothing to do with you, current Yale students," rather than being made to falsely hope that the administration has any respect for the more immediate perspective we students can bring to the debate.

  • Hieronymus

    "Yep, I'm lazy, self-centered, my friends in TD hate me, and I need to grow up."

    Well, at least you're honest.
    "And finally, aren't current undergraduates the people who best understand the social dynamics of the college system in its current iteration and thus in the best position to predict how changes will affect this?"

    You mean, with all your worldly perspective? Four years of high school and some time in New Haven? I'm going with…no.

    As from TD and SM: they don't really need extra visitors anyway--they are communities unto themselves. Indeed, one might argue (building on a poster above) that those two colleges will benefit mightily from close neighbors.

    Ironically, I do not *necessarily* disagree that things might have been done better (I prefer the HGS as 13th college idea, with the new buildings for GRD), but I still rather think that undergrads are the LAST group I would consult for, well, pretty much ANYTHING. Temporary residents (and, for most of you, only THREE years in your residential college) at best…basically still a hi-skooler; nah, not really interested in your thoughts.

  • Andrew

    I agree with poster #13. I actually think the new residential colleges are a good idea (and I'm an undergrad.) But isn't anyone else besides poster 13 and Kai Thaler OFFENDED that the University pretended that they cared? Again, if they'd just been honest from the start that they weren't going to take student opinion into consideration, that would've been better. I'm not going to deny that students would not have been upset -- of course they would. But at least that way, we know the University respects undergrads enough to be honest with us.

    Now, if the University claims to be soliciting student opinion, I'm just going to write it off as pandering to a community that it obviously sees as too stupid to think on its own.

    Also, the belittling of undergrads by those such as poster #14 shows REAL maturity: calling undergrads high-schoolers shows your maturity. I'd like to see what happens when you have kids of your own and you have to deal with their lack of "worldly perspective." If you're a grad student, I feel pity for the undergrad students you have to deal with. I grovel and apologize on behalf of the dunderhead undergrads that walk around this campus for being too immature for your great wisdom.

  • Anonymous

    @Hieronymus:

    Great to know I attend a school whose alums (I'm guessing?) are so self-important and condescending they dismiss undergraduates as "hi-skoolers". I understand the fact that we undergraduates may not be in the best perspective to decide whether expansion is a good idea, but HOW DARE you act as though we undergraduates are in over are heads when we simply want to be meaningfully included in the discussion. This is college; we are college students - why expand a university if you don't think its students are intelligent enough to have an opinion about it? You are wrong to lose sight of this, and I sincerely hope all current or potential undergraduates will read this and be warned that Yale isn't expanding for them, it's expanding for murky political reasons which will never be fully explained to us because people aren't "interested" in our thoughts.

  • smarter than kai

    You were only misled if you actually took the administration seriously. Asking for student input is all part of the ritual that everyone (or at least I thought everyone) understood. It's like when someone runs for president, they have to make an exploratory committee… we all know what's going to happen, even if they deny having already made the decision to run for president.

    Anyone who has any understanding of university politics would understand that this was just a gesture, and it wasn't meant seriously. The administration doesn't answer to undergrads… they do answer to other constituencies. So there is absolutely nothing interesting about the fact that they made their decision regardless of student concerns… it's their job to make decisions without putting a lot of thought into what students' opinions are. In fact, if Levin had withdrawn his support based on student feedback, he should be fired, because it's not his job to be an advocate for what the undergraduates want.

  • Kai

    Well, Hieronymus, perhaps you'd care to enlighten us as to why your perspective so greatly trumps that of current students, since you are so certain of your superiority (and no, I'm not going to stoop to personally attacking you or your word choice). I've never said that my opinion on building the colleges is the correct one; that was not my argument. And maybe undergrads aren't the best people to ask, but if that's the case, then why didn't the administration just tell us that was how they felt, instead of pretending to care? I don't presume to know how to run Yale, and, while I think students can play an important role in decisionmaking, I'm not demanding that they let students sit with the Corporation board in Woodbridge Hall, or that we have some other ineffective organization like the YCC to write up silly proposals. If Levin wants to make executive decisions, by all means that is his right.
    One final piece of food for thought from a conversation I had with a friend: if a larger student body is so desirable, why does Yale Law School only admit about 160 students per year, as opposed to 420 like Harvard? Why aren't you out there advocating that everyone be admitted to YLS so that they can have access to its world class education?

    Kai Thaler

  • y09

    @#14:

    I don't really understand why you're even weighing in on this… three times.

    First, the intense contempt for Yale undergraduates… particularly since this issue concerns the undergraduate housing system. Are you suggesting we should instead defer to less "temporary" residents of Yale when discussing the expansion of the residential college system? Would an off-campus post-doc or a lonely, pretentious grad student in HGS be a better judge of the implications of new residential colleges on undergraduate life? Does your "worldly" perspective somehow give you vast insight into Yale College life that we ignorant undergrads never gained from experiencing it personally?

    Most importantly, as has been noted above, you missed the point of the article. The author isn't lamenting the expansion, he's complaining that when the administration solicited our thoughts about the effects of the new colleges, we took it as a genuine opportunity to air our thoughts about the good and bad features of the residential college system in its current incarnation. But ultimately, were just talking to ourselves -- the Yale Corporation not only seemed uninterested in our input on the new colleges, but also seemed to willfully ignore our suggestions for what we think should be fixed with the system now. Many of the concerns raised are legitimate -- I have more than a couple friends that have elected to transfer from TD or live off campus because they never got to spend time with their friends in other colleges -- and yes, Yale College is a tight-knit, social place, where spending time with friends in other colleges keeps the campus feeling connected and maintains our distinct undergraduate culture. Though perhaps if you've never been an undergrad here (or don't have many friends…) you wouldn't understand. I am, after all, basically still a hi-skooler, having experienced a mere 3 years of my 4 as a Yale College student; what do I know about residential college life that the Yale Corporation could possibly want to hear?

  • Anonymous

    hieronymus,

    That's fine that you disagree that undergrads shouldn't have been consulted to begin with. The problem is that we were, and we were led to believe that our opinion would count for something, which it actually turned out didn't.
    That's the main issue here, not expansion itself.

    Levin did in fact mislead students on college expansion, as the op-ed title reads, and it is this feeling of betrayal that the students are up in arms against.

    If Levin had made the decision for expansion without making his token effort to consult undergrads, some us, like myself, would have disagreed, but that's as far is it would go.
    Maybe I'm a little bit old school here, even though I am only a senior, but I believe that if you promise something, especially in a university setting, you better deliver, or at least have a decent excuse why you didn't fulfill your promise.
    I'm still waiting on Levin's excuse.

  • y05

    I'm willing to bet that most of the students complaining about the walk are humanities majors; for students in the sciences, Science Hill is not a far-flung destination. Furthermore, Hillhouse is a beautiful street and there are several underappreciated parts of Yale around Prospect and Sachem, notably the SOM courtyard, the cozy Mudd Library, filled with books that some other U.S. institutions keep under lock and key, and the Marsh Botanical Garden just up the street. How many current undergrads are even aware that Yale has two beautiful botanical gardens? As an alum with a few years to think about the Yale experience, I think that the placement of the new residential colleges is ideal. It's time for undergraduates to discover more of the university. Complaining about the distance is ridiculous and, from this perspective, is insular and immature and would be looked upon with surprise by future students at an expanded Yale. Further, I suggest that anyone criticizing Levin find out about the state Yale was in before he took the helm. Levin is probably the greatest living university president and perhaps the greatest president Yale has ever had. Most alumni realize this, and we, especially those who contribute regularly, are among the primary custodians of our university.

    Many of you who have posted are correct that Yale has a uniquely intimate and cohesive feel. I submit that this feeling is due to longstanding features of the departmental and higher-level structures of the university, and a sort of philosophy and spirit that has continued unbroken for hundreds of years. I recommend to all a book published in 1895 entitled Four American Universities: Harvard, Yale, Princeton, Columbia by C.E. Norton. The distinctions made therein between Yale and the other universities are as true today as they were a century ago. You will find that Yale's unique spirit has persisted through many periods of expansion and change. Do not fear for this great university; Yale will always be Yale.

  • Hieronymus

    Didn't mean to so sharply press on a nerve:

    I meant "recent" hi-skoolers.

    Expect no excuse from Levin: your naivete, as someone pointed out, was in believing the administration.

  • Yale '02 Alum

    Why should current students' opinions on the expansion matter? The undergraduate experience of current students will not be affected by the expansion. What Yale should have done would be solicit the opinion of students and alumni alike, and the opinion of current students should not be weighted more heavily than that of alumni.

  • Robert S.

    This alum has been, and continues to be, absolutely opposed to the expansion of Yale College. If the University really cared about the quality of undergraduate education, they would squeeze enrollment in the College back towards 4,000 students. This would bring enrollment back into balance with the current capacity of facilities in the college, both libraries and residential facilities. Facilities which should have been expanded in response to the added enrollment brought about by the addition of female undergraduates. (An unmitigated blessing I might add).

    Don't believe for a second that Yale University will expand the ranks of faculty to handle the extra enrollment in the college. Administrations since Bart Giamatti's have been shrinking faculty numbers since 1981, the year graduate students were allowed increased teaching responsibility. Check the numbers for yourselves to prove it. I do not believe that trend will end. As a result, I am convinced that today's undergraduate does not receive the same caliber of class instruction received by those in classes prior to the mid 80s. Even the world's best graduate assistants can't equal a regular faculty member with ten years of classroom experience under his belt.

    So, the expansion will proceed. In a few years, Yale will be bigger, but not better. Just wait.

    Robert Schneider, Ph.D., 1982

  • Hieronymus

    I repost a comment here:

    It might be more interesting to query those who were wait-listed or rejected from Yale as to whether they favor expansion.

    Indeed, I find tones of classism--and perhaps even racism--among those who seek to maintain the status quo at the expense of the slightly less qualified…

  • Hieronymus

    I beg to differ with Mr. Schneider (although, you will see--not really). I, indeed, DO believe that Yale will increase its faculty, just not with, oh, how shall I put this…just not the, um, "most useful" sorts.

    What an opportunity to fill out the soft sciences, the hate-mongers and thought police!

    That said: I do hold out hope that this is actually a way to beef up Yale's science offerings, and perhaps even a bridge toward to reclaiming the Drivelinanity School.

    BTW: I read the report; glowing it was. The concept makes sense, although I would prefer a more concrete plan (e.g., will Yale focus its efforts on science or follow the, IMO, negative path of puffing up "Those That Did In Larry Summers"?).

    I wonder whether Levin bought in to the idea that the best way to revitalize a city is to start an engineering school (forget where I read that…): attracts smart earners, relatively low sunk costs, etc… Hmm….

  • OH REALLY?

    In response to #25 "Indeed, I find tones of classism--and perhaps even racism--among those who seek to maintain the status quo at the expense of the slightly less qualified…"

    As a lower income, minority student i take offense to your assumption that Yale's expansion would necessitate an increase in the 'slightly less qualified' which is a terrible oversimplification of those who are waitlisted and that you attach class and race to that makes your statement somewhat problematic.

    The quality of students will remain the same even with more students being admitted, the admissions process will not change. The students, minority or lower income or otherwise, will be on par with current students. Wait-listing happens to students for many reasons and they arent always because the students are 'slightly less qualified, low income, minority students'.

  • Robert S.

    In response to #26, I have not been happy with what certain members of the Yale English department have inspired in humanities faculties all across the land. Most of the work is little more than drivel. I will confess that my academic work was in philosophy, but in those times, deconstruction was not respected in English speaking philosophy departments. Unfortunately, it is respected now, to the great detriment of the profession. And, for the record, I do not respect those that did in Larry Summers.

    I wish that Yale's science and engineering programs would be expanded and brought into league with Berkeley, Princeton, Harvard, and, let us all wish, Caltech and MIT. Yet, this is only a wish. Yale's institutional inertia against science and engineering is legendary. Indeed, remember Benno Schmidt? (Possibly that inertia has weakened since I was there. I hope so.) However, the level of expense in building and sustaining those programs is huge. The Univerxity has never shown a willingness to bear burdens like that.

    Given that I believe the expansion will take place, it would be nice to play it as a way to "fill out" the science and engineering programs. The administration probably won't do it. More science and engineering grad students will be admitted in order to teach those extra undergrads who opt for mechanical engineering over Derrida.