Levin urges Corporation to approve expansion plans

University President Richard Levin said Monday that he would recommend that the Yale Corporation proceed with planning to build two new residential colleges.

In an e-mail to the Yale community, which included the release of a long-awaited report examining the viability of expanding Yale College, Levin said he would ask the Provost’s Office to develop estimated capital and operating budgets for the construction and operation of the new colleges and for the Development Office to prepare a fundraising plan for those expenditures.

University President Richard Levin speaks at an open forum sponsored by the Yale College Council last year. Levin discussed the reasons behind Yale’s decision to consider expanding with the construction of two new residential colleges.
Ming-Yee Lin
University President Richard Levin speaks at an open forum sponsored by the Yale College Council last year. Levin discussed the reasons behind Yale’s decision to consider expanding with the construction of two new residential colleges.

“The expansion of our student population will give Yale the opportunity to deepen and enhance its contribution to society, fulfilling our vital mission to educate the most promising for leadership and service,” Levin wrote.

The report — prepared over the last year by two committees appointed by Levin to study the ramifications of expansion on student life and the University’s academic resources — recommends more than a dozen steps the University should take to ensure that expanding the residential-college system strengthens and does not diminish the quality of a Yale College education.

Among those recommendations, as expected, are bolstering the campus transportation system; eliminating the annexing of juniors and seniors on Old Campus as a result of overcrowding; and building a “third building” adjacent to the new colleges so as to attract more students to the Science Hill area.

The report also urges administrators and academic departments to reconsider their needs on a wide range of levels, from advising to classroom space, in order to ensure the faculty is not overburdened by an expanded enrollment.

“If you look at really large departments like Econ or Poli Sci, the D.U.S. is under stress to manage that number of students already,” said Joseph Gordon, the dean of undergraduate education and the chairman of the committee that examined the impact on academic resources. “If you had 10 percent more, it may be past a kind of point of manageability.”

Some departments, like many of the foreign languages, will need to hire faculty in significant numbers to teach introductory courses, Gordon said. Other departments, like Political Science and Economics, will be in need of ladder faculty to teach junior- and senior-level seminars, which are already in high demand, he said.

But across the board, if the University follows the recommendations laid out in the report, the majority of the members of the two committees concluded they would support expansion, said Gordon and former Calhoun College Master William Sledge, the chairman of the student-life committee.

The new question, it seems, is whether the University will be able to pay for it all. Sledge, for one, said it appeared the committees’ recommendations were more wide-ranging in scope — and, therefore, in cost — than some administrators had anticipated.

“I think what had not been appreciated were the facilitating costs, like scaling up the faculty, classrooms, performing arts — these things that aren’t directly related to the residential colleges,” he said. “I don’t know if [administrators] know yet if Yale can afford it.”

After reviewing the report, the Corporation is expected to vote Friday on whether to proceed with planning for the expansion. The Corporation, the University’s highest governing body, is widely expected to weigh in favorably on the expansion plans — especially now that Levin has publicly backed it.

Levin’s public pronouncement in favor of the colleges is likely to draw significant criticism from students, who have widely opposed the expansion plan at open forums held in residential colleges this fall as well as in interviews over the last two semesters.

Earlier this month, a News poll of 362 undergraduates found that the expansion proposal — as endorsed by Levin — has the support of only one in four Yale students. In the fall semester, only 23 percent of students supported the expansion.

Students’ most oft repeated complaint has had to do with the location of the colleges. Indeed, according to the report, 70 percent of respondents to an internal poll conducted by the two committees said they were opposed to the designated location for the colleges — behind the Grove Street Cemetery on Prospect Street, a spot administrators have long said was not up for negotiation.

While the Provost’s Office will determine a more precise budget, early estimations put the construction cost of the two new colleges at nearly $600 million, according to University budget documents obtained by the News last fall. The two new colleges would likely be the most expensive residence halls ever erected by an American university.

The construction of the two new colleges would allow the University to bump the enrollment of Yale College from 5,300 to about 6,000, an increase of more than 10 percent and the largest such increase in decades.

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