At Woodbridge Hall, a rare face-to-face

No matter the millions it may cost, on expansion, the administrators and Yale Corporation members agree: If you’re going to do it, do it right.

The most heralded decision made at this weekend’s Corporation summit was the body’s formal directive Saturday to University administrators, charging them to continue planning for two new residential colleges. But a more significant event may have come on Friday, when Corporation members reviewed the report released by two committees — one examining student life and the other, the University’s academic resources — and discussed how to actually go about expanding the University.

Members of the Yale Corporation arrive Friday at Woodbridge Hall with Yale College Dean Peter Salovey. The Corporation is known for operating in secrecy.
Han Xu
Members of the Yale Corporation arrive Friday at Woodbridge Hall with Yale College Dean Peter Salovey. The Corporation is known for operating in secrecy.

With about 30 members of the committees on hand, including several students, in addition to the Corporation’s members, the usually-secret proceedings of the Corporation were turned into something of a 50-person roundtable discussion, all with one question in mind: If we enlarge Yale College, what do we need to do to make sure that the transformation to a world of 14 colleges strengthens, not detracts from, what Yale is all about?

Their conclusion: Expansion means a lot more than hauling in the bricks and mortar for two new colleges.

Facing the two committees, the Corporation emphatically embraced the overall message of their report, which was that if Yale decides to expand, it will need to make a significant investment in many levels of the University beyond just constructing the two new colleges.

“We’re really on the same page there,” said Roland Betts ’68, the Corporation’s senior fellow. “The issue is, if you’re going to expand the University and if you’re going to add a couple of new colleges, just make sure that you don’t compromise what is at the heart of the Yale experience.”

The discussion, according to some present at the meeting, was as wide-ranging as the list of 15 recommendations in the committees’ reports.

Corporation members’ questions tackled the same kinds of issues raised in the report, committee members said. There were the usual questions about the colleges’ planned location, behind the Grove Street Cemetery along Prospect Street, and what could be done to make the area more appealing to students.

Bolstering campus transportation — a key component of the report — was another hot topic, as was the now famous “third building” that will be built next to the new colleges, whose function is not yet certain. And difficult questions on academics were broached, too, including what must be done to improve Yale’s advising system.

In interviews last week, some students had complained that the report might merely be rubberstamped by the Corporation as a guise for including community input in the expansion plan. But Betts vowed that the Corporation will address many issues beyond merely the physical construction of the colleges if it decides to expand, as demanded by the report.

“There is keen interest on the part of the Corporation in expanding Yale by two colleges, but there is equally keen interest in making sure that we do it correctly,” he said.

With the release of their report on Jan. 18, some committee members expressed concerns that if their recommendations were discarded over time in the name of expediency or cost-savings, their report would be for naught. But Corporation members promised Friday they understood that concern.

“That’s what we asked of them: That if they’re going to do it, they hear all the cautions in the report as well as all the enthusiasms,” said Joseph Gordon, deputy dean of Yale College and chairman of the committee that examined Yale’s academic resources.

To address all those cautions, however, will cost a sizable sum — and that is what the University will now consider. The Corporation on Saturday directed Yale administrators to determine exactly how much that sum will amount to.

The obvious calculation, and perhaps the simplest, will be for the actual construction of the colleges. That includes both the buildings themselves as well as enabling costs, ranging from preparing the site to improving infrastructure in the area, officials said.

More complicated, perhaps, will be the many expenditures related to “scaling up” the operation of Yale College to accommodate a larger enrollment, like those the Corporation discussed Friday.

“These are very new ideas,” Provost Andrew Hamilton said. “They’re fabulous ideas, but they need to be thought through and costed out.”

But this weekend, the discussion remained more conceptual in nature, more about the vision for expansion, according to people present at the meeting.

In the session, held at the Golden Center at St. Thomas More Chapel, Corporation members sat in a semi-circle at one end of the room while committee members sat facing them from the other side of the room. It was an unusual scene: Corporation proceedings are usually private, intimate affairs, but on Friday, all 34 committee members were invited to attend — not just several representatives from the committees.

The 90-minute meeting ran a half-hour long as nearly everyone in the room weighed in on the colleges in one area or another, they said.

And for much of the session, Corporation members directed their questions to the students on the committees.

“I have to say, going into that meeting, I though I was going to sit there just mute,” said Emily Weissler ’09, a member of the student life committee. “I was floored, actually, by how interested in our opinion they were. … It was a truly great experience.”

And it was clear, too, committee members said, that the Corporation members had read the committees’ report, which clocked in at 100 pages and more than 30,000 words. Some flipped back and forth through bound copies of the committees’ report, jotting notes in the margin, “as though in a seminar or something,” as Gordon put it.

The Corporation will still have more to study, however. At their next meeting in April, they will review two new reports, one examining the financial cost of expansion and another laying out a plan for soliciting donations to pay for it.

But at least on Friday, when Corporation members immersed themselves in talk of broad vision and not hundreds of millions in construction costs, the Golden Center was just that — gilded with the anticipation of a world with 14 colleges.

Comments

  • alum

    The issue isn't about "making the area more appealing", it is the distance introduced between places when you construct new colleges there. It will now be a mile walk from Pierson to the new colleges. That will completely destroy what the Yale experience is all about. Yale will cease being the most selective university in the country. Unfortunately, the planners aren't students and don't realize what it means to participate in undergraduate (and faculty) life at Yale.