In expanding colleges, Yale abandons tradition

Over the past year, Yale students have discussed the pros and cons of the prospect of 14 residential colleges — often with a sense of ambivalence and skepticism. Accompanying those sentiments is a broader feeling that Yale students are unwelcome in the debate regarding the future of Yale, which are certainly fair feelings, but the most offensive display during this process has been the administration’s utter abdication of and disregard for Yale’s ancient traditions.

The former president of Yale, Kingman Brewster, encapsulated well the tenets of Yale’s ancient traditions: “To a remarkable extent, this place has detected and rejected the very few who wear the colors of high purpose falsely. This has not been done by administrative edict or official regulation. It has been done by a pervasive ethic of student and faculty loyalty and responsibility and mutual regard which lies deep in our origins and traditions.”

One of the hallmarks of Yale’s traditions and the primary reason for its existence is the development and training of the leadership required to maintain a nation dedicated to the virtues of civic republicanism. Among the requisite features of such an institution is an honest commitment to practice openness and Socratic questioning. These virtues imply that a dedicated elite of men and women will volunteer their service and lives for the advancement of a country, institution or cause, and will also run the gauntlet of cross-examination by that respective community. The manner in which the Yale administration has approached the consideration of two new residential colleges offends these traditions in the highest degree, and I have no doubt the Yale Corporation will rubber-stamp the proposal, becoming a co-conspirator.

There has not been a sufficient level of Socratic questioning on the subject, and the administration should be cautious — not cavalier — as it proceeds. It was not until earlier this week that any detailed proposal for adding two new colleges was offered to the broader Yale community. Why so late on the eve of the Yale Corporation vote? President Levin, why have you personally not engaged in an open forum at which you justify the merits and goals of building two new residential colleges? It is much too early to claim that dialogue on this subject should be closed, especially considering that serious questions linger as to whether academic departments can handle the expansion.

Last fall, I attended two of the forums to discuss the impact of two new colleges on student life. It seemed that during these forums, Master Sledge and others were listening to student concerns, but their primary goal was to find means to validate expansion rather than critically assess the core motivations of the proposal.

In the first instance, I said nothing, but listened; after that, I attempted to cross-examine the plans with questions, for instance, about how two new colleges on Science Hill would enhance the science majors. Better yet, will they elevate the entire educational experience at Yale, generally? The merits of such a proposal are certainly debatable, but my questioning was summarily dismissed without a unique, convincing answer. No answer has yet to be offered. Considering that Yale is in the business of education, lauding itself on the ability to find correct solutions, a non-answer to this basic question about the project reveals the extent to which Yale’s ancient traditions have been entirely forgotten. It is time to wonder whether an administration that does so even be should leading our Yale.

Joseph Hernandez is a senior in Davenport College.


  • Hieronymus

    "Ancient traditions?" The 30s are ancient history to you? Dear boy, what, then, must the Greek classics represent for you?

    "I attempted to cross-examine the plans with questions… but my questioning was summarily dismissed without a unique, convincing answer."

    Good show, what!

  • Recent Alum

    Hieronymus, as you surely know, Yale was founded in 1701, not in the 30s. Well, at least this time you didn't accuse someone of "classism" merely for disagreeing with you.

  • heartydn
  • Hieronymus

    Oi veh: first off, even if the COLLEGE SYSTEM dated to 1701, that would not qualify as an "ancient tradition." The college system as we know it dates back only to 1933…

    As for ANY reference to pretty much ANY -ism on my part, that is an ironic reference to the outrageous elevation of the "victim" on Yale (and any) campus, i.e., any and all issues eventually suffer the criticism of racism/sexism/shagism/blagism/ismismism (e.g., US goes for Obama: must be…SEXISM!).

    Let me put it this way, though: to want to PRESERVE the campus AS IS is, by definition, CONSERVATIVE; at Yale, anything CONSERVATIVE must--somehow, somewhere--be tinged with some -ism, usually racism/classism. To wish to CONSERVE something is, under liberal ideology, to exclude (or discriminate against) some other party…

    Get it?

  • Hieronymus

    Come to think of it: how do you account for Morse/Stiles (completed in 1962)? One assumes that THOSE colleges are included in your paean to "ancient traditions."

    Begun in 1958 -- twenty-five years after the initial 10 colleges -- one could argue that Yale is BEHIND its "ancient tradition" of expansion and improvement; perhpaps Yale should have built two new colleges back in the middle ages (what oldsters such as I refer to as "the '80s"). I believe there has *always* been talk of expansion--at least through the '70s, '80s, and '90s. Yale just finally got off'n its butt.

    [As an aside: I *do* so wish Yale would restore Mr. Saarinen's original heated floors… On the other hand, I really think he got it wrong with all of those singles…]

    [Aside the second: I continue to wonder how Yalies reconcile their cognitive dissonance between their cliched liberalism and secret conservatism--at least insofar as their beloved campus is conserned.]