Students indignant over dinner

Yale students have complained for months that the University’s plan to build two new residential colleges was inevitable, a done deal or a foregone conclusion.

And, for months, administrators have pressed back, vowing that their opinions did really count when it came to building the two new residential colleges.

But on Monday, in a statement e-mailed to the community along with the long-awaited report by two committees appointed to examine the consequences of building new colleges, University President Richard Levin professed his support for expanding Yale College. To some students, that validated their complaints all along.

And many of them — or at least many of the 20 students interviewed in Commons on Monday night — were not happy.

“Why do they inform us,” asked a frustrated Faris Montgomery ’10, “if our opinions aren’t being taken into account?”

Montgomery was referring to the widespread student opposition to the expansion. Earlier this month, in a poll of 362 undergraduates, only one in four said he or she supported building two new residential colleges. Even fewer supported the colleges’ proposed location, behind the Grove Street Cemetery along Prospect Street, which administrators have long said was never up for negotiation.

For her part, Yale College Council President Rebecca Taber ’08 offered her criticism of the deliberation process leading up to this week’s impending vote of the Yale Corporation on whether to proceed with planning for the new colleges.

“I do think it’s a problem that they’ve never directly addressed how student opinion will be taken into account,” Taber said, adding, “I think it’s very easy to have the report serve as a rubber stamp.”

Students were slightly less discreet in their critiques. One of the angriest interviewed Monday night decried the administration’s efforts in recent months to solicit student opinion about the colleges as merely a “PR campaign” to make it seem as if they cared. Another student, Neil Parikh ’10, offered similar frustration.

“I feel like we didn’t really know enough about the expansion proposal, but we should have been taken into consideration,” he said.

“The administration,” concluded Alexander Jares ’10, “couldn’t care less about the musing of 20-year-olds.”

Levin acknowledged in his statement to the community that students had expressed concerns over expansion. And members of the committees, which examined issues related to student life and the University’s academic resources, offered their own plea: Don’t shoot the messenger.

But students may have some reason to complain — in his statement, Levin referred to the two committees as having the charge of having to “examine the desirability of adding two residential colleges.”

The committees saw their task in a different light. They did not seek to determine whether the University should build new colleges, but rather how to go about doing it in the best possible way if the Yale Corporation decided to go ahead with the expansion, according to committee members.

The committees, for instance, never took up-or-down votes on whether they preferred expansion, said the two chairmen of the committees, former Calhoun College Master William Sledge and Dean of Undergraduate Education Joseph Gordon.

“What we were asked to consider was … ‘What would we need to do if we were to build two new residential colleges at the proposed location?’” said Penelope Laurans, an associate dean of Yale College and the vice chairwoman of both committees. “That was how it was couched to us. That’s a different thing than saying, ‘Should you build two new residential colleges?’ ”

In other words: If the Yale Corporation votes this weekend to proceed with planning for building two new colleges, the committees should not be blamed because they did not endorse such a plan. They merely did their best, over the course of 100 pages and 30,400 words, to explain how exactly the University could best safeguard the quality of the University and of the Yale College education if it decides to expand.

All along, committee members indicated they felt there was “strong momentum” toward expansion on the parts of Levin and the Yale Corporation. Regarding the former, at least, they appeared to guess correctly.

Which made Monday’s announcement come as not much of a surprise to some, even as it enraged some students.

“If you said, ‘Some committee members believed that was inevitable,’ ” one committee member said Monday, speaking on the condition of anonymity, “I wouldn’t argue with the statement.”

Inevitable or not, committee members expressed pleasure on Monday with their ultimate product — the epic report — because of the extent to which Levin promised to embrace their 15 recommendations, to which student feedback contributed several points.

Several recommendations — including the transformation of the Becton Center on Prospect Street into a more inviting space replete with a fast food venue and rehearsal spaces, and the construction of a visual landmark on the corner of Prospect, Trumbull and Canal streets to serve as an entry point for the new colleges — were entirely devised by students who offered their opinions at a series of residential college forums this fall and in a questionnaire e-mailed to students in November.

And the committee members did not skimp on lavishing praise on the six student members of the committees, who were appointed by the YCC last spring and were widely credited by their peers on the committee as bringing a healthy dose of skepticism to the entire process, not to mention a keen understanding of how the expansion could affect students.

“The truth of the matter is: We really learned from what we heard. Things were not swept under the rug,” said one faculty member on a committee, who asked not to be named.

Still, “Does that mean that President Levin isn’t going to build the colleges?” she wondered aloud.

The committee member answered her own question.

“I don’t think so,” she said.

Comments

  • Anonymous

    They have every right to be angry! Why does it have to be just ONE location where it tears apart the undergraduate campus? The grads have no such central unity and it's absurd to suggest otherwise…

  • John Calhoun

    “Why do they inform us,” asked a frustrated Faris Montgomery ’10, “if our opinions aren’t being taken into account?”

    There's a difference between being listened to and being agreed with. If you read the report, it's clear that many student concerns were taken into account.

  • anony

    Did the Yale Daily News proofread this article before allowing it to run? Look at the headline! Were students really indignant over a dinner?!? It must have been a really offensive dinner for students to be indignant about it. Come one folks, I expect a little bit more from the best daily newspaper at the best University in the world!

  • kingman brewster

    You may want to proofread your post, anony! It's just a shorter way of saying that over dinner, students were indignant.

  • Anonymous

    Newsflash: Yale University isn't run by its undergraduates. Welcome to the feeling of disempowerment your teachers have had for decades.

  • well

    dinner was quite terrible last night…either way, though, this article is unfair. nobody in the dining hall i was at discussed the colleges at all.

    ydn = sensationalism

  • H. Zaleski

    In the greater scope of things, I do not feel that the current student population possesses the "longer vision" and information to have a say in the expansion.

  • sciencealum

    Undergraduates not only lack a "longer vision" -- they also have a rather fierce fear of change. Speaking as a recent graduate, I would have *definitely* hesitated to put any major decision like this in the hands of my fellow classmates. Give them a few years, and they will have not only have accepted the new colleges, but given them the usual set of silly Yale-bubble acronyms.

    Students who complain about the distance from center campus definitely never had to walk to classes at the far end of science hill 3-5 times a week. Gets you in shape! For the lazy, this can easily be solved via better shuttle bus transportation.

  • Anonymous

    Just as administrators don't posses who spend their time camped out in SSS and Woodbridge have no idea exactly the rifts the colleges would cause in campus culture

  • Hieronymus

    I beet if Yale had polled the wait-listed and rejected, the results IN FAVOR of expansion would have been somewhat different.

    Current undergrads are like Californians who move to Oregon: each wants to be the last, and now demands that the door be shut.

    Kinda classist, and maybe racist, really… The complainers should be ashamed as they seek to deny opportunity to those only slightly further down the "acceptability" list…

  • Alum

    To the future Alumni of the Yale Classes of 2008-11:
    Having read the report, it is evident that your views were heard, considered and occasionally adopted. But no one said that you would have a vote on whether or not Yale should expand, any more than the alumni from 1998-2001 or 1948-51 have a vote. Expansion has been on Yale's drawing boards since you were in grade school, if not longer. As current students, you do have a unique perspective, but you need to make your case in order to have some influence. As with any major decision, there are pros and cons to consider. Here are some pros (I'll let someone else come up with their cons), although I'm sure there are many others:
    - expansion would allow Yale to provide an education to more students, furthering its mission to educate the most capable students in America and now around the world;
    - Yale has the financial resources and fund raising capacity to expand, and as steward of a unique tradition, has a responsibility to society to maximize its contribution;
    - expansion will require Yale to grow certain of its academic departments, providing more opportunities for young (and some not-so-young) academics, providing greater breadth and depth of offerings for its students and improving Yale's standing in the academic community;
    - expansion will require Yale to grow its non-academic employee numbers, providing job opportunities for the people of New Haven and the surrounding area and increasing Yale's financial contribution to the New Haven community;
    - by locating the new colleges near Science Hill, Yale's expansion will help undergraduates overcome the sense that the sciences are offered at some distant place not part of their cozy community, perhaps assisting some in choosing the sciences as their major; and
    - by adding more beds in the new colleges than Yale expands the student body, Yale can end the overcrowding and annexing that has existed for nearly four decades, improving the college life of the existing 12 colleges.

  • nigerian alum

    I beet if Yale had polled the wait-listed and rejected, the results IN FAVOR of expansion would have been somewhat different.

    Current undergrads are like Californians who move to Oregon: each wants to be the last, and now demands that the door be shut.

    Kinda classist, and maybe racist, really… The complainers should be ashamed as they seek to deny opportunity to those only slightly further down the "acceptability" list…

    ^^^
    Well said. My reasons for opposing the expansion were admittedly irrational, and it's clear it will do a lot more good than bad in the long run. I just wanted Yale to stay the little elitist bubble it is now. But you know, money talks…

  • Sillimander alumna

    Excellent post, #11. Very strong pro arguments. I support this expansion, as do most of the other alumni who have posted.

    I also agree with others' comments about the relative distance from "campus". For each student, the Yale campus quickly becomes a series of Venn diagrams with each student defining the circle of his/her own campus and its intersections with others' personal campuses. I lived in Silliman, majored in Economics (Hillhurst/Prospect Ave) and Languages (HGS). I went to Payne Whitney and the library. I very rarely visited Old Campus, JE, Pierson, Davenport - that wasn't "my" Yale campus and it seemed so far away. The new colleges would fit comfortably inside my personal Venn circle. Everyone makes a circle of comfort wherever one lives. I made a circle in NYC after graduation - living in Brooklyn, working on Wall St., socializing in the West & East Villages. Midtown was so far away; I rarely crossed 14th St. I still have a circle today of work, home, socializing and shopping, and I look down on quadrants of my town that lie north of our river as too far to go for anything.

    The students who live in the new colleges will be perfectly integrated into the Yale campus and will have plenty of interaction with students in older colleges, as their personal campus circles intersect. It may take them ten minutes to walk to the Art & Architecture side of campus, but that is not a huge punishment.

    I also think it is positive to have freshmen living in their colleges. I never missed the Old Campus "experience". The cluster of TD, SM, and the new colleges will provide lots of same-age interaction for those freshmen who want it.

    Go ahead, President Levin, you have lots of alumni support (though in my case, unfortunately there's no big check in the mail to express that support.)

  • anonymous

    This headline reads like something out of the Onion

  • PRO-EXPANSION

    I think a lot of people who are criticizing the disillusionment of current students are missing the point. Students are not angry that the University is expanding - far from it - if you attended any of the YCDO-hosted talks, there was a lot of support for expansion itself. The major issue was location. Yes, in physical distance the new colleges would not be that far. But there is a mental block for the majority of students on central campus that includes a giant cemetary sitting square in the center of the University's expansion plans. Now, it is easy to argue that that is an unreasonable deterrent but the University has done a lot of talking about the importance of undergraduate input and a lot less of substantial response to the one, almost universal point of hesitation for current undergrads and recent alums: location.

    I will address the pros/cons mentioned by #11

    1. - expansion would allow Yale to provide an education to more students…

    - this is an important point and easily the most important and i think most students agree that expansion is reasonable and would not necessarily degrade the Yale experience.

    2.-Yale has the financial resources and fund raising capacity to [...] has a responsibility to society to maximize its contribution;

    - I'm not sure what you mean by this. Yale has the resources to do a lot of things such as expand its financial aid package - which it just did.

    3.-expansion will require Yale to grow certain of its academic departments, providing more opportunities [...]Yale's standing in the academic community;

    - This fits well into the explanation that most students do want expansion of some form and student dissatisfaction with the current plans do not include such benefits as more classes - also Yale's current academic standing is great, i think we'll all agree.

    4. - by locating the new colleges near Science Hill, Yale's expansion will help undergraduates overcome the sense that the sciences are offered at some distant place [...]

    - Yale is historically Liberal Arts and i dont think that the number of science students or students enrolled in science classes would suddenly increase significantly because of two colleges being located at the base of the Hill (Any former pre-med students will tell you that location was not the major barrier to entry for sciences at Yale :). Yale is already addressing this by mixing class locations in traditionally science and liberal arts buildings and this strategy will probably be a lot more effective.

    5.- by adding more beds in the new colleges than Yale expands the student body, Yale can end the overcrowding and annexing that has existed for nearly four decades, improving the college life of the existing 12 colleges.

    - This is actually false, the new colleges will add mostly new students. The administration has been very clear that this WILL NOT SOLVE the annexing and overcrowding issues on campus. At best it will reduce (not eliminate) the number of students, specifically, who are annexed to off-campus housing OR upperclassment living on old campus.

    Ultimately, expansion is important and as alum I support it wholeheartedly. That being said, current undergrads are not so short-sighted or unintelligent (haha, how'd they get in the first place) that their opinion should not matter and I bet that if the University opened up the conversation on LOCATION it would change the tone of the conversation completely. That is, if the 5200 current undergrads dont feel totally disenfranchised already.

  • John Calhoun

    #15:

    Re your point 5: read the report. The Committee made elimination of annexation a key issue.

  • Alum

    # 15: let me recommend to you this article in the February 20 edition of the News: Expansion plans call for eliminating annexation.

    But thanks for your thoughtful responses to my post (#11). I've read of opposition by students to expansion at all as well as opposition to the location. And in terms of the location, my point is that there can be benefits as well as the obvious concerns of being on the far side of the cemetary. Student opinion will have an influence only to the extent it is persuasive; the mere fact that they voice opinions, often stridently, shouldn't be given a lot of weight. All in, I don't have a problem supporting the proposal Levin outlined.

  • '01 alum

    great news for Yale. it's logical to increase the student body size, to coincide with the growth of the general U.S./world population. In the long run, it will be good for Yale, and it will help better connect Science Hill to the rest of campus.

    Agree with above posters - who really cares what undergrads have to say about this? They are self-interested and short-term in their thinking.