Roman: A survey gone wrong

As an avid reader of The New York Times both in print and online, I was dismayed by the approach taken by the Yale College Council to gauge student interest in reading the print version of the paper on campus. I believe the issue deserves more careful consideration than it was given by the members of the YCC, who polled themselves (a body of 28 students) in order to determine what percentage of students read the Times regularly and presented recommendations based on these findings to the administration. Leaving aside the arguments for and against stopping Yale’s subscription to the Times and the merits of the YCC’s proposals, I have two primary issues with the approach taken by the YCC.

First, the YCC should not have presented an official recommendation to the University based on a nonrandom, 28-person survey. While I understand that the council was under a tight deadline, sending out an online poll over the weekend would have been an easy and fast way to assess student habits. The YCC should not take lightly its involvement in a decision that will affect the student body at large, and as such should make every effort to consult the opinions of its constituency. In this case, the organization’s excuses for not having sent out a poll — time constraints, and the presumption that the YCC members were a representative sample — seem flimsy at best.

I am not the only one who feels this way: A Facebook group started Wednesday, “Keep The New York Times in Yale’s Dining Halls,” already had about 900 members at press time, while a petition of the same name had been signed by more than 225 people. Clearly, many hundreds of students feel strongly about this issue, and the YCC acted irresponsibly when it did not provide them with an opportunity to weigh in on the discussion.

Second, the apparent assumption that the Times subscription is wasted if only a certain proportion of students read the paper is also flawed. Yale does not purchase a copy of the Times for every student enrolled, so looking for 100 percent readership, or even 50 percent readership, misses the point. The more relevant question to ask is whether the papers available are being read. I believe the answer to this question is yes; in Trumbull, at least, the papers are generally all gone by dinner time.

It is nonetheless entirely possible that the University is paying for more subscriptions than it needs to, in which case the YCC’s suggestion that the number of subscriptions be reduced is a valid one. YCC President Jon Wu ’11 told me that the council had also taken an informal poll of representatives’ impressions of the number of papers left over in dining halls, but I do not believe this anecdotal evidence — again, gathered from only 28 people — can substitute for empirical observation in dining halls over the course of several days.

This is indeed a time of belt-tightening across the University, and the YCC is right to suggest ways to reduce spending. The organization’s casual approach to the data-gathering process troubles me, however, particularly as an indicator of how the council might address similar issues in the future. I hope the YCC will rethink the way it handled this investigation and ask the administration for more time to gather concrete empirical evidence from the student body before submitting further recommendations.

Caitlin Roman is a senior in Trumbull College and a former news editor for the News.

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