It has been a long year for Rebecca Taber ’08 and the outgoing leaders of the Yale College Council.
Since assuming the YCC presidency last September, Taber has spent the year meeting with administrators, speaking to student groups and spending hours each day responding to student e-mails.
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The objective? Engineering an internal reform agenda within the YCC. The results? Success — on dorm-room-door locks and a public-high-school mentoring program, for instance — with a touch of failure — on dining and Credit/D/Fail policies.
“I knew that I wanted to do things very differently than [last year’s leadership] had,” Taber said. “My decision to run for president really came at a point when I was so fed up with YCC that I thought, ‘I either need to run this organization or never set foot in a YCC meeting again.’ ”
So Taber set out to transform the council into a decentralized, project-oriented organization, not one centered on debates and resolutions.
The idea was conceived on an April day last spring, as she and then-Treasurer-elect Harrison Marks ’10 teamed up to collect detritus left on Old Campus from that year’s Spring Fling.
“We started talking and thought, ‘How great would it be if YCC were organized like this, in teams?’ ” Marks recalled. “So we called over [Secretary-elect] Dave [Narotsky] ’09 and [Vice-President-elect] Emily [Schofield] ’09 and talked about it — they liked the idea.”
Nine months after her tenure in the post began, Taber leaves behind a legacy that — while not without its shortcomings — speaks of the possibility of tangible change both within the council itself and on campus.
Under the four-member Executive Board, the YCC began dividing up its work between the 24 residential-college representatives who sit on the council. Some took on long-term projects like financial-aid reform; others tackled in-house event-based items like the New Haven Nights restaurant-discount program.
The strategy of divide-and-conquer did result in some victories this year. In many cases the teams of representatives returned to the YCC’s weekly meetings with triumphant stories to tell about locks that would soon be installed on bedroom doors, or how dozens of New Haven public-high-school students now had their very own Yale student to help them in the college-admissions process through the YCC-backed Eli Days program.
But almost as often, the work ended in frustration. Perennial student-government campaign promises — extended dining-hall hours, takeout boxes and revisions to the University’s Credit/D/Fail policy — once again went unfulfilled.
In the case of Yale University Dining Services, vacant senior leadership positions made the time inopportune for the changes YCC desired, YUDS Spokeswoman Karen Dougherty said. And proposed Credit/D/Fail reform won a less-than-enthusiastic response from the Committee on Honors and Academic Standing at a December meeting that rankled the YCC representatives involved.
And despite Taber’s efforts at making the council more visible, large segments of the student body remained in the dark about the purpose and work of the YCC — enough so that in this year’s YCC Executive Board elections, 48 percent of Yale College students did not cast a ballot for student-government positions, marking a four-year low in turnout for the elections. Candidates going door to door said they were surprised by the number of students who had no idea what the YCC was or what work the body did. That is a tough pill to swallow for a president who strove to communicate the YCC’s mission and relevance to the student body.
Still, if accomplishment is to be measured in accomplishments and not student enthusiasm for the council, Taber’s YCC ends the year able to point to a healthy number of successes, running the gamut from financial aid to the New York-New Haven “Party Train.” But Taber prides herself most on the work done inside the YCC.
“The only time I really felt like I was leaving a legacy was at a meeting two weeks ago,” Taber said. “People were going around talking about their various project groups and people were saying, ‘Oh we met with this administrator, we’re going to work on these three things, and the way we’re going to work on them is by doing these five things.’ Being out of the loop like that made me feel great because for a lot of the year, I felt that if I didn’t have my finger on the pulse, a lot of it wouldn’t happen.”
Even though the work was decentralized, Taber and her Executive Board colleagues — Schofield, Narotsky and Marks — had a hand in all of it. Taber credited the other YCC officers for much of the council’s success.
President-elect Rich Tao ’10 has already expressed his intent to emulate the leadership style of this year’s board. Tao said he hopes this year’s new structure will allow the YCC to move on to major projects earlier in the year than it did before.
“[Taber] focused a lot this year on making sure that we found something that jived in terms of meeting times, infrastructure and logistics, because she was handed a council that wasn’t very efficient,” Tao said. “Next year, I’ll be able to focus on utilizing a structure that works and tackle bigger issues by not focusing on making the council more efficient.”