News analysis: Yale College Council to continue research

The Yale College Council is poised to continue using research reports as a means to influence University decisions, a year after debuting the strategy with mixed success.

YCC President Jon Wu ’11 said the YCC will continue to bring policy research before Yale’s administrators in order to influence campus issues, such as academic minors and gender-neutral housing. In doing so, Wu follows closely in the footsteps of former YCC President Rich Tao ’10, who led the writing of several reports during his tenure. But the success of the approach is unproven: The fate of the YCC’s proposal for academic minors could be decided this month and faculty interviewed differed in their opinions on whether the YCC’s report on the issue would have an impact.

“[Former YCC President Rich Tao ’10] and last year’s YCC were able to basically lay the groundwork,” Wu said of the work on academic minors and other issues for which the council advocated. “This year it’s really the year to follow up on that.”

Over the past two years, the YCC has tried to reinvent itself as not only a strong voice for the student body, but also a strong arm. After abandoning resolutions for a project-oriented approach in 2007, the YCC took on the role of a think tank during the 2008 academic year, conducting in-depth research into student policy issues. The YCC issued several lengthy reports last year, addressing issues such as financial aid reform and sustainable design decisions within Yale’s two proposed residential colleges.

“I think we’ve had a succession of very good leaders in the last few years in the YCC,” University President Richard Levin said, citing the YCC’s reports on the Yale College dean’s search and the report on the two new residential colleges as particularly useful. “I would personally encourage the YCC to take a more active role with serious issues on the one hand. On the other hand, they’re an elected body and it’s up to you voters to decide what they should do.”

Tao said last year’s approach built relationships between the YCC and top Yale decision-makers.

“We made concrete progress on issues but a large part of what we did last year was increasing legitimacy, building relationships and setting the framework for future advocacy,” he said. “Now you could really go to work.”

And that work, Wu said, begins with minors, which he named as the YCC’s top policy issue for the coming year.

Last spring, the YCC submitted a 26-page report to the Committee on Majors proposing an academic minors system wherein departments would opt into a minors program. Such a program would increase the breadth of classes students opted to take, the YCC said then. When it convened in April, the Committee on Majors encountered contentious opinions among faculty members and deferred a decision until this fall. In preparation for that meeting, council members began lobbying individual faculty members last spring; that work has continued into the fall.

The report’s impact among faculty members is mixed. Wu and Tao said faculty members in favor of adding minors brought the report to meetings and used it as a reference.

Ultimately, Committee on Majors co-Chair Pericles Lewis said the minors decision will rest solely with the University faculty.

“We drew on the report to get a sense of student opinion,” Lewis wrote in an e-mail, though he added, “Ultimately, curricular decisions are the province of the faculty.”

Physics Department Director of Undergraduate Studies Charles Bailyn ’81 said he read the YCC’s report but disagrees with the YCC’s stated philosophy, which claims minors will encourage students to take higher-level classes in departments outside their major.

Bailyn said he and others weighed the YCC’s recommendations as one factor in forming their own decision. But Bailyn said his own experiences led him to another conclusion, and that while the YCC weighing in on academic matters was “entirely appropriate,” their arguments were not necessarily entirely convincing.

“On the issues of academic policy, in the end it comes down to votes in the faculty meeting,” Bailyn said. “If there are topics brought up where the student opinion differs from the faculty opinion, I don’t think the students will prevail.”

Portuguese Director of Undergraduate Study David Jackson noted, however, that student opinion is in some ways essential.

“I think student opinion is crucial,” he said. “Nobody is going to go ahead to discuss details if the students aren’t in favor of it.”

Comments

  • ROFLCOPTER

    Let’s be brutally honest – the whole idea of “research reports” by the YCC is a way to get YCC students into consulting jobs. It’s a horrendous resume-padding device and it’s high time someone called them out on the practice.

  • SY 11

    according to an online search i just did, ycc also did a 50 page report on traffic safety… about the fact that students are being seriously mutilated and killed every year on the campus , and the university has so far been doing almost nothing about it. that’s pretty awesome. i wish yale would do something about the ridiculously unsafe streets thru campus.

  • @ ROLFCOPTER

    Unreasonably cynical, reeking of jealousy, and a bit silly for a few reasons. Let’s deconstruct your statement. In many instances, Yale itself is an institution, despite its various goods, that its student utilize as a “resume-padding device.” In this regard, is it high time someone called them out for the practice? The answer is no. Why? Because, in and of itself, there is nothing wrong with the idea of increasing one’s resume or, in less cynical terms, one’s core competencies or skill set (for isn’t that what college here for?). What makes my example a bit poor, though, is because, in the case of the YCC kids, they have been actually (at least as per the administrator’s comments) building relationships with the administration when none had existed and, at least ostensibly, doing good work in the community. Given this fairly crucial difference, even if the kids had been doing their work with the sole purpose of increasing their core competencies and skill set, it wouldn’t matter personally to me because the end result for the community is unequivocally positive.

    Get your head out of the sand and maybe try to do something positive for your surroundings outside of anonymously and, more importantly, misguidedly criticizing those who have been trying to make this place a little bit better for faults that are, in and of themselves, categorically benign.

  • SY 11

    i agree that its silly to critize this as resume padding.

    btw the traffic safety should start with elm street. cars zip thru there at 50 miles per hour. it is a death trap. the other death trap is the crossings to the med school. not even any pedestrian signals there!

  • ROFLCOPTER

    So your response to me is that I am “reeking of jealousy” and “unreasonably cynical” because… everyone does it?

    The fact is that the Yale College Council spends way too much time on doing ‘research; because they think they’ll get a gig at McKinsey or Bain that way. They should be more interested in a direct dialog with the administration. For instance, the report on minors was well-written, but meaningless given the constraints that the university was going to put in place REGARDLESS of what YCC did.

    Rich Tao was smart enough to get away with the resume-padding, since he’s actually a pretty smart guy to begin with. Jon Wu is not, and it’ll become even more obvious that YCC is the new Maya.

  • Charles

    I may be wrong but I think the bike safety report was actually written by New Haven Safe Streets Coalition headed by Mark Abraham. They are doing some awesome work out there.

    Also, they should start on the intersection of Elm and Wall in my opinion.

  • @ ROLFCOPTER

    i don’t think the first poster is saying that the ycc’s approach is adequate or immune from criticism because “everybody does it,” but rather that — because “everybody does it” — it ought to give us pause before polemically assaulting a select body of students who are no different from the greater mass, especially when the work they are doing is aimed at — at least in part — helping others.

    that said, i have a few thoughts on your argument on a smaller level. specifically, i would say that between the options you are putting other there — conducting substantive research vs. engaging in “direct dialogue” — it seems that, especially with an administration and faculty as smart as yale’s, the former approach (e.g. doing your homework) would allow for generally better results. furthermore, the two worlds also aren’t mutually exclusive, since it’s possible — and has been proven in practice — that a council could do its homework, in addition to engaging in “direct dialogue,” with the case that engaging in the worlds in this order actually produces better results, as indicated by president levin’s quote.

    in terms of your criticisms regarding the report, the other issue in play is one revolving around institutional baggage. even if the minors report was “meaningless given the constraints,” i would argue that those constraints were at least mitigated on a broader and more diachronic level by the fact that the council did as much research as it did, perhaps paving the way for future advocacy to have a greater shot at success.

  • @ Charles

    The report was written as a collaborative effort between the New Haven Safe Streets Coalition and the Yale College Council. If you read the report or worked on the committee, you would have realized that the YCC, for example, compiled the final document and made the final round of edits.

  • ROFLCOPTER

    A five minute casual conversation I had with a Yale administrator raised at least five points about college minors that were not even addressed by the YCC’s research report. Had anyone on YCC taken the time to ask the Yale administration what they thought of college minors, they could have produced a far better understanding of the hurdles involved in creating minors at Yale. Instead, there was no substantive discussion, just a team of self-congratulatory wannabe-consultants polishing their resumes.

  • Former YCC’er

    ROFLCOPTER,

    can you elaborate on those five points and elucidate which administration you met with? i would wager that i could probably find some strain at least of each argument within the general report.

    as far as the ycc, i know that they met with, among others, dean miller, dean gordon, dean gentry, president levin, the corporation, pericles lewis, risa sodi, ed kamens, nina glickson, charles bailyn, and the dus’s from history and political science before, during, and after the compiling of the report.

    needless to say, there was a fair amount of “substantive discussion.”