New colleges may strain resources

Photo by Antonia Woodford.

Though two new residential colleges are tentatively scheduled to open in 2015, it is not yet clear how the University will adjust its academic resources to accommodate the influx of students.

The new colleges, which will house more than 800 additional undergraduates in total, will require Yale to find more classroom space, offer more courses, and hire more faculty members and teaching fellows, administrators said. But as the University’s endowment recovers from the recession and Yale struggles to raise funds for the colleges — originally set to open in 2013 — plans to meet the demands of a larger student body have stalled.

“[The new colleges] seemed very real and tangible at a given moment, [but] once the brakes were put on, it became less clear,” Yale College Dean Mary Miller said.

Administrators and faculty first officially considered the likely effects of the new colleges in 2007, when University President Richard Levin appointed two committees to study the new colleges’ potential impact on Yale’s academic and student life. The result of their investigation, an 100-page report published in 2008, called attention to academic space “absolutely necessary” before the expansion and pointed to challenges in providing teaching fellows and advisers. It also identified five academic areas as already “under stress” — chemistry, English, economics, political science and the arts — and concluded that interdisciplinary programs would face particular difficulties as well.

While student enrollments have remained fairly steady for the past decade, Yale’s faculty has grown by 15 percent since 1999 — roughly the same percentage by which the student population will increase once the new colleges are full. Frances Rosenbluth, deputy provost for social sciences and faculty development, said strong endowment returns allowed for faculty growth and for the University to add faculty in new fields.

Still, some departments will likely need to expand further to meet the new students’ needs, administrators said. For example, the University will need to add more resources to handle introductory English seminars, Provost Peter Salovey said.

“Our goal is to not compromise the Yale College experience,” Salovey said. “That means to continue to emphasize small classes and more or less the faculty-student ratio Yalies have come to expect.”

Lloyd Suttle, deputy provost for academic resources, said in a Tuesday email that the University will “revisit” plans for faculty expansion after the schedule for the new colleges opening is more certain.

Yale’s ability to begin construction depends on the performance of the endowment and fundraising, administrators have said. As of Dec. 2, $180 million of the required $500 million has been raised for the colleges, according to Inge Reichenbach, vice president for development.

Dean of Undergraduate Education Joseph Gordon, who chaired the academic resources committee for the report, said finding enough space — for classes, labs and extracurricular activities — presents the greatest challenge in preparing for the additional students.

Miller said Yale needs to add “flexible” classroom space in particular, both to accommodate extra students and to facilitate new pedagogical methods. Rather than building more lecture halls with fixed seating, the University should create rooms that serve multiple uses, she said.

But it remains unclear how much Yale has the capacity to build: Initial plans for the new colleges called for a library and classroom building and undergraduate theater to be constructed simultaneously, but administrators “no longer believe it will be possible” to build them all at once, Suttle said.

Four out of five department chairs interviewed said they have not made specific plans to deal with a larger student population. Michael Warner, chair of the English Department, said his department is already responding to higher student demand for expository and creative writing courses, but he added that the department does not have plans “to expand specifically for the new colleges.”

Jane Levin, director of undergraduate studies for Directed Studies, a “special program” listed in the 2008 report as likely to face stress, said there are not currently plans to expand Directed Studies.

Administrators will also need to consider how to handle sections and find teaching assistants for a larger undergraduate population. While some graduate students will be able to secure teaching spots more easily, certain departments are already hard pressed to find enough teaching fellows for their courses, Graduate School Dean Thomas Pollard said in an email. The Chemistry, Economics and Physics Departments currently face the most trouble in this respect and have to draw from other graduate departments to fill teaching fellow positions, Pollard added.

The 2008 report suggested that Yale explore new models for how to provide teaching assistance, such as hiring postdoctoral fellows, but Pollard said decisions have yet to be reached about changes to the teaching fellow program.

The new colleges were designed by the firm of School of Architecture Dean Robert Stern ARC ’65.


  • DuayneD

    Whoa. “Yale’s faculty has grown by 15 percent since 1999.”
    Seems either the math or the chart is wrong here. Eyeballing the graph, it *seems* like faculty rose from about 560 (1999) to roughly 680 (2010).
    I’m no math major, but that’s more than 15%.
    Looking at that chart and the steep climb in faculty while the student population has remained steady, I’m also thinking, well, now I see why tuition has climbed so rapidly to insane levels.

  • ldffly

    Genius, pure genius. Of that $500 million, how much will be devoted to maintenance, renovation, refurbishment? Oh I forgot, that’s no problem–we’ll just hit the alumni up for the money as we need it.

    I understand that in the big picture, my opinion doesn’t amount to a hill of beans, but I have been saying all along that you could count on the administration not to engage in handling the grubby little necessities that come with extra enrollment. For 40 years, Yale College facilities have been overextended. Talk to anyone who was there in the mid 70s. They’ll tell you about lack of seating in the dining halls, lack of seating in the libraries at mid term and finals. When I was a graduate student in the late 70s, very early 80s, classroom space was tight except for early morning/late afternoon. Have those facility problems gone away? Not quite, not with the College currently enrolling 5100 students! Expect those facility conditions to get worse unless the administration opens the new colleges and keeps enrollment steady. If that happens, I expect to sprout wings and fly to the North Pole.

    Yet, as the article suggests, what is worse is that the academic quality at Yale College could decline. One can argue about longer term Yale College decline due to cultural/curriculum issues (my opinion), but just imagine if the intro lecture courses lack discussion section leaders? Does the economics department, for instance, then expand the graduate enrollment only to staff college discussion sections? Does that not portend quality of instruction issues? or decline in academic rigor at the graduate level? Do they start staffing with itinerant faculty as do so many other state universities? The ever present rank of adjunct acting part time lecturer filled by one Joe Jones after another.

    It has appeared to me that current college students have been opposed to this expansion while many alumni have favored it, possibly believing that their children will find admission easier. In my opinion, the students have been in the right. This expansion will simply dilute the value of a Yale College education.

    • ldffly

      Sorry about some of the infelicities of phrase in the above.