Expansion plans call for eliminating annexation

Several years from now, hundreds of Yale students will likely have two new residential colleges to call home. But scores more from existing colleges will enjoy new surroundings — those of their own colleges, which should no longer have to annex upperclassmen in Old Campus dormitories due to overcrowding.

As it stands now, a shortage of beds in some of the existing 12 residential colleges means that almost 200 upperclassmen are forced to make an unsavory decision before they embark on their junior years. They can either pursue off-campus housing and move out of their residential college altogether, or they can try to remain in University housing but risk being banished out of their college into a forlorn nook or cranny among the thousand freshmen on the Old Campus.

That choice, members of the committee assessing the proposed expansion’s effects on student life have argued for months, should be a thing of the past in a world with 14 colleges.

And in their long-awaited report released Monday, they made that goal official, including it among 15 recommendations — compiled with the committee examining the academic implications of campus growth — for the University to follow if the Yale Corporation votes this Friday to move ahead with planning for the expansion.

“If students are annexed from their residential colleges to parts of the campus remote from it, or if they are driven off campus by overcrowding, one important piece of the larger educational panorama in which the College places great store is displaced,” the committees concluded.

The University could address that pitfall through expansion, committee members said. By increasing the enrollment of Yale College by fewer spaces than the number of beds in the new colleges, Yale officials could decrease the number of freshmen assigned annually to the existing residential colleges, many of which are strapped for space.

With that, the University could ease the overcrowding in those colleges — and, in theory, have enough room to provide in-college housing for all students who want to live on campus.

“I think we can do it,” said former Calhoun College Master William Sledge, the student-life committee chairman.

And his committee agreed. Along with including it among their 15 recommendations, committee members devoted nearly 1,800 words on the subject in their report, ultimately affirming that the University should “eliminate Old Campus annexing and ensure that upperclassmen can live in their own college.”

That much would be good news for residential-college masters, who have long detested forced annexing. In fact, when the residential-college masters met with Yale administrators last year regarding the expansion proposal, they sought as much, said Silliman College Master Judith Krauss, the chair of the Council of Masters.

Not surprisingly, masters appeared to overwhelmingly embrace the committees’ recommendation.

“The colleges are all too crowded, so any amount of relief we could get from the addition of two new colleges would be welcome,” Branford College Master Steven Smith said. “If we could de-crowd the existing colleges … I think that would make a notable quality of life improvement.”

The University has been forced to resort to annexing at high rates since 1996, when it began requiring sophomores to live on campus in addition to freshmen. The problem grew worse as residential colleges were renovated and more upperclassmen tended to favor living on campus.

Yale officials have made efforts to reduce the amount of annexing by modifying the sizes of the incoming freshman classes in each residential college to correspond better with the capacity of the colleges, said John Meeske, the Yale College dean of administrative affairs.

But, even with those year-by-year tweaks, about 170 upperclassmen were still forced to live on Old Campus this year, Meeske said.

“By all means it is not very popular with students,” he acknowledged

But Meeske warned that eliminating annexing entirely would be difficult, considering the extent to which individual residential colleges are susceptible to violent swings in population based on whether living on or off campus seems to be en vogue with a specific senior class.

And there were other skeptics. Jonathan Edwards College Master Gary Haller, for instance, said he doubted the current plan would be enough to eliminate annexing altogether.

“My preference would be to build two colleges, but to use one only to make the other 12 less crowded,” Haller said.

The math, granted, is complicated: By building two new colleges with about 720 beds, but by increasing enrollment by about 620 students, after factoring in the number of students in the new colleges who would live off campus, the 175 or so annexed beds on Old Campus could be eliminated, according to the report’s recommendation.

“Building two new residential colleges provides an opportunity and a means for coherently addressing the significant overcrowding,” the document said.

Confusing numbers aside, University President Richard Levin called the recommendation “a worthy objective” in a statement endorsing expansion Monday.

“It is widely believed that the prospect of annex housing often drives off campus juniors who would prefer to remain in their colleges,” he said in the statement.

Sure enough, in the last five years, three colleges — Berkeley, Jonathan Edwards and Trumbull — have not even been able to house half of their juniors, according to the committees’ report.

Of course, Levin has made clear that the first priority in expanding is not to ease overcrowding, but to avail the Yale education to a broader student body and train a larger swath of the world’s future leaders.

But committee members like Sledge were quick to emphasize the solutions regarding annexing that the expansion could bring.

Building two new colleges for that purpose — to diminish overcrowding — would hardly be a first for Yale. In the 1950s, University President A. Whitney Griswold proposed the erection of Morse College and Ezra Stiles College for exactly that reason.

“It will enable us to relieve the colleges of the serious handicap of overcrowding,” Griswold said at the time of a donation to fund the expansion.

It remains to be seen if the Yale Corporation will embrace this year’s expansion proposal in the same way.

But, after Levin’s endorsement Monday, it appears very likely. Members of Corporation, the University’s highest governing body, will convene on campus Friday to decide whether to proceed with planning for the two new colleges. A final decision is expected in June.

— Samantha Broussard-Wilson contributed reporting.

Comments

  • jody2

    Two thoughts:
    1. Why are the Berkeley, JE, and Trumbull juniors annexxed at such a high rate compared to other colleges?
    2. Under this proposal, aren't juniors annexxed to another place--one of the two dorms to be built?