REVESZ: Feudalism in the colleges

A specter is haunting Yale: the specter of feudalism.

When Yale’s class of 2016 descends on campus next week, they will be told about the richness of Yale’s extracurricular scene. High school newspaper editors, debate captains and community service leaders will listen as an admissions officer tells them how friendly Yale College is to student-run organizations.

They will, in other words, be deceived. For Yale is an increasingly inhospitable environment for extracurricular organizations requiring space on campus. And the culprit of this problem is the Yale institution perhaps most unquestioningly accepted: the residential college system, which imposes a byzantine, feudalist structure on organizations wishing to reserve rooms.

The residential colleges control virtually all non-classroom space available to Yale’s undergraduates. Any group that wishes to watch television must go through one of the half-dozen residential colleges with a TV room. Organizations seeking to hold events in less formal atmospheres than WLH classrooms must seek out college common rooms. The residential colleges also provide the only public, on-campus space for groups wishing to host weekend social functions.

Ideally, college masters would understand and make it easy for organizations to reserve space. Instead, they enact policies that restrict groups’ abilities to hold meetings.

All college spaces are bookable only by members of that residential college. Some colleges impose additional constraints: The Branford Common Room, for example, is available only for one on-campus group. Other masters claim that their spaces cannot be reserved and must be used informally rather than for official meetings, an arbitrary distinction tailored to shut out extracurricular groups. (Those rooms, incidentally, are chronically underused.)

All college administrators pay lip service to the importance of student groups — they just don’t want them in their space. Like urban homeowners opposing much-needed infrastructure, the residential colleges tell student groups to do what they want, just “not in my back yard.”

This problem has become particularly acute this year: Many of my friends’ organizations have been deprived space they once were free to use, and my own college’s interim master has dramatically curtailed the use of common space. I belong to an organization with the unambitious goal of watching an hour of television every Monday — we have recently been told that we cannot reserve a residential college’s TV Room because many of us do not belong to that college.

That sort of thinking is terrible for Yale College. Certainly, residential college life is an important aspect of Yale: Many new students will find their social group in the college to which they are randomly assigned, and they will spend their time planning and participating in college social events.

Others, however, will not.

And for students who choose Yale because of the beautiful chaos of the extracurricular fair, who find their friends in activism or community service or debate, it is essential that Yale be able to accommodate their groups’ needs. Those organizations require access to spaces and rooms that — in the absence of the student centers found in most universities — can be reserved solely through residential colleges.

So masters and their assistants should be more hospitable to extracurricular groups in their residential colleges. Students who ground their lives in their residential colleges should recognize that not all of Yale will be like them. Student organizations should, in turn, be more respectful tenants of space than they have in the past. And candidates in the upcoming Yale College Council elections should propose measures that will satisfy the council’s various constituents.

But most of all, Yale College’s administration should act. The absurdity of the current regime cannot be lost on the Yale College Dean’s Office. If Yale truly takes seriously the flourishing of its extracurricular organizations, then its administrators should promulgate new rules to ensure groups’ ability to use space. Perhaps they could even create new spaces, outside of the residential colleges’ sphere, where groups can meet.

Yale is nothing without its extracurricular groups, some of which are centuries old and predate the residential college system. And yet, the colleges’ feudalism is quickly pushing organizations off campus or into extinction. If nothing is done, Yale will suffer as its extracurricular organizations find it more and more difficult to hold the activities that, for many, are the best part of the Yale experience.

Joshua Revesz is a junior in Calhoun College. Contact him at joshua.revesz@yale.edu.

Comments

  • ALS

    About time more people wrote about this. I understand the Masters’ inclination to protect their domains, but at a certain point protectiveness becomes hoarding and some of Yale’s most valuable resources (its public spaces) are wasted.

    • eudaimon

      Folks who are reading all of this and commenting: take a moment also to write a note to your dean, master, or Dean Miller pointing them to this piece and these comments. I’d suggest alums do the same!

  • CBKM

    Couldn’t agree more. Yale is strangling herself and she doesn’t even realize it. Very happy this is finally being discussed.

  • Elisha_Whitney

    Hear, hear! This was one of the most frustrating aspects of my time at Yale. The residential colleges can be great communities, but so can some of the more robust extracurricular groups. Fostering extracurriculars will not irreparably damage the residential colleges and will only serve to make Yale stronger and more welcoming for more students with more diverse interests.

  • LBNS

    Finally someone says this. This would be less of a problem if there were some reservable non-classroom spaces on campus not under the control of the colleges. But that’s not the world we live in, and something has to be done.

  • Leah

    I’m a recent alum (’11) and Revesz is dead on. One of the highlights of Bulldog Days for me was the Extracurricular Bazaar, and one of my greatest pleasures at Yale was the huge diversity of nerdery and projects students got to indulge in. These organizations are how I developed my critical thinking, leadership, and problem solving abilities — they’re the lab practical to the data I picked up in lecture and seminar.

    I’m very grateful for the generous financial support the university gives student groups, but, like Revesz, I found that our physical presence became more and more unwelcome in college rooms over my time at Yale. Because colleges are so reluctant to let groups whose membership spans Yale reserve rooms officially, meeting locations were provisional, squatting was common, and some of my friends’ organizations ended up renting space off of campus, just to have the certainty of a meeting place. I hope the administration takes note of this op-ed and the comments that follow.

  • jorge_julio

    yessir

  • DLB

    Right on.

    If the Administration is worried about damage to rooms from events, I think it would be a great idea for them to earmark some of the funds that would be directly allocated to organizations and instead allocate them for common room deposits.

  • Jess

    Preach, bro!

    Another important aspect of this: FAMILY NIGHT. IS THERE ANY MORE ABOMINABLE NIGHT OF THE WEEK. The fact that I can’t eat with my friends on Sunday nights is actually a reason that I’m moving off campus.

    • CBKM

      AMEN.

    • Jake

      YES. Family Night is the bane of my existence.

  • seriousssam

    Couldn’t agree more. The administration is very helpful in terms of funding and resources in general, but colleges put so many restrictions on using their space that it takes a million connections and hours of begging before you can get anything reserved.

    I think one of the main problems is that masters feel like the only people they can trust is people in their own college, in part because they know them personally and have some kind of moral authority over them. I wouldn’t mind clear fines/punishments for groups/students who don’t return a room in the state they found it in.

    Another problem is that colleges might feel that when organizations reserve rooms, students in the college are more restricted in the space they’re allowed to use (which is why I kind of understand why a lot of colleges don’t let organizations reserve their common rooms). I’m not sure how this can be solved. Maybe have an online booking system that’s common to all colleges and where the colleges decide collectively how many hours a week they want to make their rooms available for booking for organizations – what booking a common room entails is also important to define: can other people stay there while the meeting is happening?

    In any case, it’s crucial to discuss this with the administration so I’m really glad it was brought up.

  • morse_14

    Excellent column, Josh. I couldn’t have said it better myself.

  • Adam

    Another recent alum (’10) who’s glad to finally see this in print and being discussed. This had grown from a minor annoyance my freshman year to a pretty serious problem by senior year. Unfortunately it seems that trend hasn’t changed since I left Yale. By my last couple of years at Yale having (dry) organizational meetings tended to feel like living life on the lam, always trying to stay one step ahead of the administration which was all too ready to kick us out of a college room (which, of course, frequently had to be squatted since these were non-college events). It was kind of fun, but it’s hardly a good existence on a campus where extracurricular life is meant to be one of the real focal points of the experience.

  • james2c19v

    TC ’10 alum: Well said. Yale students are competent enough to freely associate, and most of them do not want to do so exclusively down residential college lines. The preference for residential college feudalism was enough to at times make my YPU experience feel more like a scrappy underground movement than a long and storied Yale tradition.

  • BABH

    TC ’00 here. A timely editorial on a serious problem. Undergraduate organizations are the lifeblood of the Yale experience, and not all of them can afford their own real estate (with or without windows). Masters and Deans who are themselves graduates of the College should understand this.

  • PES

    I completely agree with Revesz’s diagnosis. As an alumnus, it has been great to see the waves of construction beautify the campus, but very disappointing to see renovated colleges treated like museum exhibits rather than spaces to support and advance the vibrant extracurricular life that distinguishes Yale from its peer institutions. If a common room is equipped with furniture that’s “too nice” to risk being touched by undergrads, then auction the furniture to alumni and replace it with furnishings that can actually be used.

    I’m concerned, however, with Revesz’s solution that Yale College or the Dean’s Office dictate room policies to the colleges. It seems that each year Yale imposes additional hoops that each organization must jump through to be deemed an “official” extracurricular group. I’d far rather see student interest, rather than the whims of administrators, deciding which groups achieve status on campus.

  • PC_09

    I use PC ’09 ironically, because I really consider myself Yale ’09. Add me to the voices who were perpetually frustrated by lack of key card access to other colleges’ libraries, family night, and the important issue discussed here. As someone whose closest friends and interests did not align with my randomly assigned college’s, I often found myself sneaking into dining halls, libraries, and common rooms. For no good reason, really.

    • ldffly

      This is really ashame. It used to be so easy to visit other colleges. Or just wander around (in whatever spare time you had) to check the courtyards every spring.

  • maxjacobson

    This article is spot-on.

    The Commons closure is a related problem. Without a large, neutral dining hall, it has become ever more difficult for student groups to meet over meals. “You can’t have a community unless you eat together.” Other dining halls are too small, too crowded, or too restrictive. Closing Commons has been one of the administration’s most destructive acts in recent history.

    • RM80s

      Who’d have thought that the crappy, leaking, worn-out facilities we had back when, had some benefit…
      I think Commons may be an interesting example of unintended consequences, both in recent history you cite and in “ancient” history of us codgers. In those olden (but definitely scant on the golden) pre ’91 days, freshmen ate dinner in Commons. In the early to mid ’80s at least, the arrangement was that all freshman (except for those poor souls in TD and Silliman) ate in Commons M-Th and in their residential colleges F-Su. This allowed you to eat with your class for a year before you all went off into your residential colleges. It was, as Gaddis Smith (former Master of Pierson) noted: *”a bonding experience for the freshmen class.”* You were, temporally, at least, first a member of your Yale class, and then a member of your college — this might even have reduced the sense of feudalism a bit (I noticed, purely anecdotally of course, that the (very few) Silliman and TD people I got to know seemed — now how should I avoid using the term “provincial” — to have unusually intense and focused college ties.)
      http://www.nytimes.com/1991/07/31/news/ending-a-yale-tradition-dinner-in-the-commons-is-over.html
      Moreover, I think the arrangement reduced crowding in the colleges’ dining halls (perhaps facilitating informal meetings in those dining halls) and also provided – as you note with respect to Commons until the more recent closing — a large place where people from different colleges could meet. It also allowed you additional perspective on the residential college dining experience by having another experience with which to contrast it.
      Oh, well.

      • ldffly

        I just can’t believe the things I’m reading. No Commons. College dining halls even more crowded than they were years ago. I wonder what would happen to me if I showed up in New Haven now and tried to wander around and look at the campus? I guess I’d be arrested. As you say, Oh well, just an alum. With a closed wallet for now.

        • Opinionated

          Yeah, I’m reading through these comments in horror.

          If that is what Mother Yale is like now, I am sooooooo glad I am long gone from that place. If this is contemporary Yale, I would never dream of going there or sending my kid there. Wow.

          I feel so sorry for all you undergraduates who got suckered into it.

          Sad.

  • eudaimon

    Recent alum here: strongly agree as well. Administration, take heed!

  • joematcha

    Yes, this went from not a particular problem at all when I first started at Yale College in the Fall of ’05 to a completely untenable situation by the time I left in Spring of 11 (taking time off makes you super old, but gives you a long view of changes). For instance, when I was a freshman and a Master’s aide in SY, any group could reserve the Ath room by having anyone in their group from SY reserve it for them, but when I came back to campus in the Spring of 09 only the presidents or chairmen of an organization who were also Saybrugians could reserve the Ath room.

    Now I hear Commons is no longer open for dinner, I don’t even know where groups could possibly be meeting anymore since all the colleges and their various rooms seem to be locked down and unavailable for use.

    Also, God forbid you want to meet people from other residential colleges for dinner on Sunday because it’s Family Night. I actually can’t think of a more poorly planned and executed weekly aspect of Yale than Family Night and its arbitrary restrictions.

  • PC_09

    I thought it was pretty amusing that my real sister and I technically could not eat together on Family Night. We would end up breaking into a college that neither of us belonged to, out of spite.

    • Goldie08

      The same thing used to happen to my brother and I. We gave up, and thus began the tradition of Sunday Chinese.

  • phantomllama

    Excellent piece. Yale’s colleges have all the weaknesses of their Oxbridge forefathers – little external socialisation, major access difficulties – without any of their strengths – dedicated collegiate faculty and tutorials.

    • Mike_Gerber_91

      Agree, Phantom–and don’t forget that Oxbridge colleges have their own endowments, too.

      • Yalie

        Which fact brings its own issues of inequality, as the Oxbridge colleges range from fabulously wealthy to church mouse poor.

    • eudaimon

      I couldn’t disagree more with “little external socialisation”, though I’m with you on the core issue. The students get out of their colleges plenty – the super vibrant extracurricular scene is other half of the reason for this room reservation problem. It’s the college institutions themselves that need to get with the program.

  • ChrisPag

    This trend has definitely gotten worse in my time at Yale too. As Josh alludes to at the end, many organizations with financial means choose to move their weekend parties or their home base off-campus. Not only is this potentially unsafe (not just due to crime, but also increased distance from Yale Health, etc), but it’s a total and complete waste given all the beautiful spaces sitting unused on campus.

    Please let this be the start of a real conversation? Pretty please? I’ll even donate to Yale instead of just my extracurriculars!

    • Mike_Gerber_91

      Well said, Chris. For the last 20 years, I’ve given time and money to The Yale Record instead of Yale, because for most of that time, my extracurricular needed it and Yale didn’t. I love Yale, but the way it treats student groups–some of them over a century old–is very strange; other colleges would actively build them up for use as recruiting advantages, for one thing. Yale used to be actively adversarial–when I was an undergrad, the Dean’s Office was VERY prickily about any alumni contact, and only a few favored student groups got space on campus. (Not surprisingly, those groups flourished while the others staggered along.) Now it’s a lot better, partly because Yale has 8-9x more money, and New Haven is a lot less dangerous, but it’s still ‘way too difficult for Yalies to access facilities that every other comparable college offers its students via central student centers. When I was a Senior, a bunch of us presented the YUDO with a plan to turn Rosenberg’s into a student center; there, or the Hotel Duncan, would solve this problem once and for all–and as the head of The Record’s 501(c)3, I know there is alumni interest in funding such things.

  • kyloma

    I only want two resources: a dance studio and a scheduled mealtime/place.
    Berkeley can’t provide those and other colleges won’t share :/

    =

    I literally can’t reserve a dance studio. (There are other options, sure – but Broadway Loft and PWG are always /totally/ booked.)

    I’m sorry I have my friends lie to “reserve the room for themselves” to secretly get me access to other colleges’ dance studios. I wish Berkeley had one. Or I wish I was allowed to reserve dance studios myself in other colleges.

    =

    Also (and this is an even bigger issue) I can’t even plan to have a weekly meal for my organization. We just need a set time and location, but that’s so difficult that we’ve given up. We can’t have group meals.

    Berkeley has no dining annex (the lovely Swiss Room is unfortunately off-limits to everyone forever. Let’s send it back to Switzerland and put in a normal room!).

    Other colleges have silly rules and won’t let me reserve their resources since I’m not in their college. I’ve tried delegating to other people in the group to reserve rooms but that just doesn’t work. The person organizing the group really needs the ability to reserve eating places.

    • ldffly

      I wondered about this. So the Swiss Room is now locked. I wouldn’t send it to Switzerland, just donate it to the Smithsonian. It was not easy to use in the 70s, but the philosophy department was able to use it occasionally. Really, I guess the solution to all this is to get rid of those pesky students and faculty. Keep the university for the administrators who really know how to appreciate the place.
      Sorry about commenting even though I’m a long time away from being a student. I certainly never intended to comment, but I’m just dumbfounded at what I’m reading.

      • BABH

        We were able to book the Swiss Room from time to time in the 90s, but I think that by the time I graduated it was no longer available to students.

        • eudaimon

          ’08 here – the only time I ever saw the Swiss room used by students was when it was accidentally left open and folks wandered in.

        • kyloma

          Update for accuracy:
          =
          The Swiss Room /can/ be used by some people (who?). Just not undergraduates.
          =
          Berkeley /does/ have a ‘dance studio” – the multipurpose room has mirrors! I think it’s a secret? I didn’t know about it for the past four years. But apparently a tap group was messing up the floor last semester so the privilege of using that resource has been completely revoked from everybody.

          • connormxy

            Oh I know TAPS definitely rehearsed in there last year. I was wondering why I never saw them anymore.

      • connormxy

        My group has definitely used the Swiss Room, and Berkeley had an event for Sophomores in there. I’ve eaten in it at least two times.

  • CBKM

    I think this is the most consensus I’ve ever seen on a YDN comment thread of this length. It’s actually unanimous. Damn.

    • SY10

      Well we wouldn’t want that; so let me introduce some criticism. While I agree with Josh’s basic point that the colleges need to make more spaces available to undergraduate organizations, I find the analogy to feudalism used to introduce the piece to be poorly constructed and basically irrelevant. The room-reservation system in fact has almost nothing to do with feudalism as historically practiced, except that it is decentralized. One could equally well call the system “federalist,” except that we like that word, but dislike “feudalism.” So why include the analogy at all? To seem more sophisticated or profound? If so, it fails, because it makes the article seem sillier. Also, the opening line is inapt; the obvious allusion to the Communist Manifesto fails because the Manifesto was in favor of that specter haunting Europe, where this piece is very much against what it terms as “feudalism.”

      But yeah, this is a real problem and somebody should fix it. But at the same time, let’s write about it less ridiculously.

      • CBKM

        Now that you mention it it does strike me as the height of absurdity to invoke both Byzantium and feudalism in one sentence.

      • joematcha

        Historical terms can’t be forced to mean whatever we want? That’s outrageous.

  • lollercoaster

    Really well written, and I could not agree more. Thanks for writing this.

  • BABH

    A few minutes’ googling reveals that only three (3) of the current residential college Masters were themselves undergraduates at Yale.

    Maybe this sort of thing is to be expected when the stewards of undergraduate life have little first-hand experience of what makes Yale special.

    • ldffly

      Ok. You very likely hit on it. Maybe a spontaneous torch light procession to escort them off the campus would solve this issue.

      • Mike_Gerber_91

        Funny, Idffly, but BABH’s right; in earlier eras where most of Yale’s administration came from Yale College, student organizations were much, much more integrated into institutional Yale–in part because they counted Yale faculty and administrators as ex- or current members. These groups were exceedingly competent, widely known, and helped get their members jobs. This is something we should want for our students, especially in this economy.

        At times this made Yale too insular, for sure; but if insularity’s a concern, this thread suggests that the loss of Commons and exclusive focus on the residential college system is making that worse, not better.

        • ldffly

          I couldn’t agree more! I didn’t disagree with BABH. I was backing him up with a little (or too much) sarcasm.

      • BABH

        Sadly, fire regulations and a student body overly deferential to the New Haven Police Department have put an end to the torchlit processions of yore. Not a single fatality from town-gown riots in living memory. Sic transit.

        • ldffly

          LOL
          I’m glad somebody recognizes my sarcasm. It doesn’t always happen.

  • Jake

    Tremendous piece. This has been a huge problem for organizations I have been involved with at Yale, and increasingly so. I’m SM ’10, and some rooms in my college can only be reserved for groups constituted by more than 50% Sillimanders. What is the point of these rooms if undergraduates are not allowed to use them?

    • Jake

      Er, SM ’14 :P

    • yalie13

      It’s almost impossible for a student group to reserve the silliman common room, not to mention use the ridiculous amounts of unused, empty space in its fourth floor.

      • yale_senior

        Right because Master Krauss is essentially a dictator.

  • CC14

    Wonderful piece. Organizations that I have been involved in, and other organizations that I have heard of, are consistently kicked out of Common Rooms because they are “common spaces” so that these spaces may sit empty. Furthermore, because of the frantic rush for rooms, many organizations book several rooms at once hoping to get at least 1 reservation. While allowing some sort of student interest to determine who can reserve which room seems nice, centralization seems to be an acceptable answer in this case. Something should be done to prevent forcing organizations off campus while rooms sit vacant.

  • lakia

    Well, if these aren’t selling points to prospective freshmen…take heed Mr. Brenzel.

  • avyk37

    My freshman year, it was possible to use spaces like Street Hall and the Ballroom to hold theater rehearsals without reservations, but that became impossible as Street Hall underwent renovations and the Ballroom became perpetually booked. Then even when we legitimately booked the Ballroom we would often have to break-in because the access that we were supposed to have received would not materialize and our ID cards would blink red.

    By Senior year we would resort to trying to get space in AfAm or the Rehearsal Lofts (which were also perpetually booked), but it often was the case that we would spend the first 15-30 minutes of rehearsal roaming from the Ballroom to AfAm to the Lofts to Calhoun Dance Studio looking for an empty room only to end up in WLH and rehearse under a leaning tower of desks and chairs.

    I was just visiting Vanderbilt and they have an entire building as a dedicated student center. Imagine, for a moment, if Bass Cafe had a whole extra level of offices for student groups, and large open rooms that could be used for theater rehearsals or lectures.

    I think that the problem at Yale is two-fold: that the resources that Yale has are regulated in a very decentralized manner (which could be solved by one having one easy-to-use website for all buildings and rooms across Yale that didn’t require groups to be registered, or in fact for the rooms to be registered by a group at all) and by too much regulation (Just let some rooms be available on a first-come-first-serve basis, let all students have access to all the resources of the colleges (I thought the administration wanted to push equality among the colleges) including room reservations, dining halls, libraries and special spaces). If Master’s are afraid to let students from outside their colleges rent their rooms then make them personally accountable by having students link their netIds to the rooms they rent and making any damages come out of the students bursar.

    If students are renting property off campus with Yale’s money, then wouldn’t it just be more efficient for Yale to buy some property. Right off campus there is a large theater across from the Shubert Theater that has been vacant for years. What if Yale purchased it and redid it and even if you couldn’t stage full shows, you could still have acapella concerts and lectures in a large space.There is tons of empty office space around New Haven that is really near to campus. Yale could buy that and they wouldn’t really even need to worry about putting in any furniture as all some groups require is large empty spaces.

    These are just hypothetical, and I have no idea the actual cost in the long term of buying property so it may not be feasible, but I just wanted to put some ideas out there.

    • Mike_Gerber_91

      >>What if Yale purchased it and redid it and even if you couldn’t stage full shows, you could still have acapella concerts and lectures in a large space

      THIS. And you could probably get alums to foot the bill. I’ve been talking to Record people for years about a place for all the comedy on campus. There is SO much talent at Yale, in comedy and everything else; with a very few moves Yale could spur a real renaissance. Making every student group fight for space isolates them all, retards their learning, and wastes their time, which is so scarce for undergrads. It’s simply unnecessary at a place like Yale.

  • jajagabor

    I will almost never admit that Harvard bests us in anything (save for a few athletic events every year), but their House policy is right on the mark. They put all Freshman in the same area, have them eat at the same dining hall, and have them become “members of their class,” before they become members of their Houses. They then allow friends to block off and be sorted into the houses, thus ensuring that one enters their house with at least some close friends, instead of people you are forced to live with. Yale should follow Harvard’s example and structure the colleges in a similar way.

    • Goldie08

      Agreed – living in Silliman freshman year just flat out sucked.

      • RM80s

        It strikes me that the two proposed new residential colleges, separated by geography, and with their relative large sizes perhaps emphasizing their self-sufficiency and insularity, and presumably as for Silliman and TD not having their freshman live on Old Campus, may well not make the feudalism situation any better.

    • Jess

      Nonono, that just leads to so much housing drama at the end of freshman year. I have junior friends at Harvard who still won’t speak to some people because of drama related to blocking.

      It’s good that the residential colleges are random–they should just be less feudal.

      • haletinytea

        No more housing drama than exists now would be necessary.

        What jajagabor is talking about actually sounds similar to what existed up until 1991 (or at least in the early to late 80s) — you were assigned a residential college at random, just as you are now (with some limited exceptions), but freshmen all (with the exception of those in TD and Silliman) ate together in Commons for most days of the week. Thus, freshmen (again with the exception of those in TD and Silliman) were all living together on Old Campus and eating together as a class most days of the week. Sophomore year you then went and lived in ate in your residential college.

        It seemed a good and reasonable system that worked well. In fact, I and a number of alums used to sit around in the years after graduating and from time to time marvel at the ingenuity of the system, how it fostered class years coming together as Yale students and not just residential college members, as an example of one of the better parts of the Yale experience, and feel lucky and yes, perhaps a bit smug – of course I mean a bit sorry for those who were in Silliman and TD (though we seemed to know very few of them well) … until one day, one of us discovered that the University Administration had, in its cost-cutting befuddled wisdom, gotten rid of Commons for freshmen, gotten rid of a tradition that had extended back to the 1930s.

        You can see RM80s earlier post on this for other detail.

  • lnk15

    Great column. I’m a freshman, and the passion and sense of community students I talked to found in their extracurricular lives here was why I chose Yale. It’s disheartening that the administration doesn’t do everything they can to encourage undergraduate organizations, given how much they contribute to our social lives, to the school community, and to recruitment efforts.

  • David_Steinberg_90

    Totally agree, well said. This is a bigger problem than the masters realize. Yale may continue to excel at academics, but college is supposed to be a place where students are exposed to different people and ideas, and where they can be free to explore interests both profound and mundane. Yale is squelching this facet of its allure. In short, it’s just not fun anymore.

  • TC_12

    I disagree with this piece. The reason we have all of these rules in place is to protect our spaces. There are frequently obnoxiously loud meetings in the Trumbull common room and I suspect that only a handful of the people there are actually Trumbull students, not that I have a problem with other people using Trumbull spaces. But, people leave trash in these places all the time and move the furniture around without moving it back, especially in the rooms that don’t need to be signed out, since no one has to be held accountable. I think that if it’s properly reserved it’s not an issue at all. For all of the groups, I’ve been in, there’s never been a complaint about holding a meeting in WLH or LC. I think complaints about not having enough places for extracurricular groups to meet are not fair at all. We have perfectly good classrooms with large tables, etc and TV rooms are not that difficult to sign out if you actually plan ahead. The main reason people have these complaints is because the group decides day-of to meet in a certain place and finds out you were supposed to register ahead of time. That’s just poor planning and has nothing to do with the residential colleges.

    • Jess

      Not all groups are able to hold meetings in WLH or LC. For instance, YPU parties need a room where people can gather in a circle around an open space for the speaker to stand, and the big tables are a hindrance to that. Moreover, it’s ridiculous that so many beautiful rooms exactly suited to this purpose are not bookable by student groups.

      If there were a centralized and easy system for booking rooms, then people wouldn’t need to squat in common rooms, and the correct group could be held accountable for making a mess.

    • Jake

      In fact, this year many Masters have started banning the booking of TV rooms, too. You are right that meetings aren’t too hard to house – but EVENTS, from lectures to debates to, yes, TV watching, are often totally shut out.

  • Elisha_Whitney

    Sorry, but TV rooms actually were difficult to reserve. That was especially true for groups that did not include just residents of that particular college. And if you were trying to have a recurring weekly event? Forget about it. Also, what leads you to believe that people who are not residents of a college are more likely to trash the space? Groups should absolutely be held accountable if they make a mess, but non-residential college student groups seem no more likely to abuse a room than students from that college. If anything, an organized group will want to be on its best behavior so it can use the room again.

  • RM80s

    Perhaps instead of paying hundreds of millions for two new residential colleges — colleges who freshman cannot live on Old Campus and thus, colleges whose presence may well add to a feudalism problem — the Administration could instead take some of that money and use it for:

    1) having freshmen (and whatever extracurricular groups chose to do so) eat together in Commons; AND

    2) building a facility/facilities of the sort Mike_Gerber_91 and others here are talking about.

    These measures might go a good way to addressing many of the issues raised here. We know the beneficial effects of freshmen eating together in Commons — it’s been tried before and has worked well. It is a good Yale tradition. And Mr. Gerber’s facilities proposal seems not only quite reasonable, but also workable, sensible and fair to those shut out from some facilities by the arbitrary lottery of college assignment. It sounds long-long-overdue. Moreover, these measures might also address some of the other concerns I know a number of alums have about increasing the size of the Yale undergrad population, increases that the new colleges would bring. They might well save Yale money over having the new colleges.

    And as an alum, I would gladly give money for these sorts of measures — and I simply will not for new residential colleges.

    What is needed is a student advocate with the vision to have seen the issue and voice to talk persuasively about this issue, a voice, say, that has demonstrated skill at forming the sort of agreement and consensus … evident in this thread …. Mr. Revesz, what say you?

    • ldffly

      I could not agree more RM80s. I am one alum who has been very unhappy about expanding Yale College. I don’t need to repeat my arguments. Let’s just say I am considered obtuse by some!

      Your proposal and Mr. Gerber’s make a good deal of sense. Would it be easier to raise money for your proposal and Mr. Gerber’s than for the two new colleges? Could be. In my mind, the question is who might wield appropriate influence with the administration/corporation? I certainly don’t. I suspect 90% of us don’t. If someone of stature and wealth speaking face to face in private with the corporation were to say “This just should not be done but the other can be done,” maybe the administration might stall the colleges as a face saving measure and commit to the project you mention in your comment. Somebody though would have to tell them in no uncertain and persuasive terms that the money for the new colleges is just not there. Who? Send Mr. Revesz around the country to speak to alumni.

    • RM80s

      I’m glad to hear of another alum not cheering the new colleges. The response among my classmates to the sell we got at the 25th Reunion was not one of much enthusiasm. And I think the points you make about influence are important.

      As a sort of realpolitik check, I think the difficulty fighting the new colleges is at least two-fold. They do represent a real and lasting mark to be left upon the campus, perhaps just the sort of project for which an administration might believe it could really be remembered. Second, the eventual increase in the sheer number of alumni due to the addition of these colleges likely means the endowment will grow — another measure an administration could look upon as a lasting mark it will have made on the University. These together seem a pretty powerful impetus for both the Administration and the Corporation. And there are, of course, the usual issues with leaders of fiefdoms, the Masters, parting with power.

      Now, I don’t think having freshmen eat at Commons and a Gerberian type facility (“GTF”) are incompatible with the new colleges being built (though the greater the potential for those colleges’ freshmen making larger the portion of freshman class not sharing in the Commons’ experience… and for lowering percent utilization by Yale students of a GTF because of the greater distance these new colleges to a GTF… well, some might argue, the less compelling perhaps the argument for these measures.) But perhaps all of these could happen together.

      I do think that pre-’91 alumni understand and appreciate the value of the common Commons experience — most who I’ve talked to are shocked when they first hear that freshman don’t eat together at Commons any longer (though, being Yale grads, they quickly voice precisely the arguments we’ve discussed here.) I think the wisdom of a GTF speaks for itself and, not only could the GTF be a wonderful tangible, visible selling piece for the University, it could also be a facility that itself puts a real and lasting mark on campus (though there is might be an argument raised about having spent money on the college renovations, why should Yale spend on a facility that in some sense duplicates resources.)

      What I do think that the measures have on their side is a powerful unifying philosophy, one that makes real sense, and a philosophy, a truth/Veritas, about the identification of Yale students to Yale — in some sense about the very heart of the Yale-ness of the Yale experience. And it is a Veritas that Mr. Revesz is responsible for bringing to light/Lux for us, right here.

      • Mike_Gerber_91

        “Gerberian type facility” made me laugh.

        Siting, funding…all these are solvable problems. If UCLA can build a student center, Yale can too. It’s more a question of will. I cannot speak to the current Administration’s views, but back in the late 80s/early 90s, the lack of a student center was considered to be one of those wonderful quirks that made Yale, Yale. (Not such a wonderful thing when I was sprinting from Kinko’s to Dport at 2am, hoping not to get mugged.) But surely one could be constructed within the Yale College idiom–just as Commons is the Yale version of a central cafeteria. A student center could be a tremendous deepening of the Yale College experience, a locus for alumni memories (and giving), and supercharge the activities that Yale students are already pursuing with such devotion. And if Yale College is going to grow, we have to invest more in facilities that tie us together, not less.

        After 20 years of working with Yale students, I know that if you give them facilities and advising support equivalent to that available at other institutions, they are world-beaters. But if you make them waste time/money/energy on logistics, the finished product–while often brilliant when you pay attention to it–looks less polished than what is produced at other colleges. And when it comes time to interview for jobs, that lack of polish can be a hurdle to overcome, especially in totally subjective fields like the arts. People do judge books by their covers, and an institution as rich as Yale does itself no favors by hindering its students in the pursuit of their passions, especially when the fix is so obvious, so attainable, and would be so nourishing to Yale College. When the endowment was $2bn, it made a certain sense to choose between centralized facilities and residential colleges; at $19bn, Yale can afford a few centralized facilities in addition to them. Otherwise, you really are getting the bad parts of the Oxbridge model without the good ones.

        • jajagabor

          As someone who has visited multiple universities and often heard with much shock that Yale does not even have a student center, I agree wholeheartedly with the proposal echoed by the above alumni. I think Yalies would absolutely be on board with a student center and I think it would add some much needed space and vibrancy to our campus.

  • McGuire

    Maybe the difficult truth we have to face is that the Yale we loved is gone. Those happy, golden days are now truly bygone. I’d love to save Yale, but the administration seems dead-set on turning it into something else entirely: pick a super-specialized major, go abroad your junior year, and otherwise stay in your residential college and study. Instead of expelling our rapist quarterback we’re kicking bowtied nerds off the couches. Unbelievable.
    When the revolution comes, the non-Yale undergraduate administrators should be the first ones up against the wall.

  • RM80s

    Well, let us not despair. The thoughtful and passionate discussion here from present student and alumni alike gives me great hope (besides, the roof-leaky run-down olden days were sometimes not always golden.)

    • ldffly

      Like no heat for days at a time! LOL

      I have no doubt that somebody in the administration suffers from the “more students, bigger endowment” syndrome. However, as I’ve said in other places, any new capital asset requires maintenance and adds to overall cost of operation. I suspect those obligations really have not been budgeted. If the fund raisers were obliged to collect the cost of building along with the cost of endowing for maintenance, the donors might balk. Indeed, the money for construction has yet to be collected so they might be tightening up already. In a more prosperous time, surely the GTF and the new colleges could be funded. But given the realities, something along the lines of the GTF just might be a superior road to travel in the eyes of those with big money, particularly if enough believe in the liabilities created by expanded enrollment. Somebody prominent who holds the ear of the corporation needs to go to work on our behalf. Somebody prominent who knows pre ’91 Yale.

    • CBKM

      As a current super senior who spent my year off in New Haven, I’m afraid I’m inclined to agree with McGuire. The University genuinely doesn’t really care about extracurricular groups, especially “difficult to manage” ones with particular space needs. The trend I’ve seen over the past five years is this: increasing push to centralize social life within the colleges, and homogenization across colleges– it’s the worst of both worlds! It really does seem as though they want Yale reduced to little more than summer camp for smart kids– look, we have study breaks with Thai food, and the seniors can go to a casino! It’s trite, it’s banal, it’s not what the best university in this country ought be doing, let alone encouraging, let alone _enforcing_, but, from the undergraduate perspective, what can we do? Mr Revesz, who I respect very much for having written this piece, is not the first, nor will he be the last, to publicly air his concerns, nor have the administrators not been informed of concerns from leaders of various undergraduate organizations. I really cannot believe anything other than that they _do not want to deal with it_, and, as the abrupt and unpopular closing of Commons last year demonstrated for them, _they know the problem will eventually go away_. They have the blessing of dealing with 4 year generations, and most campus groups have very short institutional memories.

      When I was a freshman I really and truly believed that Yale was the best college in the country, if not the world. What saddens me most is not that I no longer believe that, but _I don’t even know who might be better_. When Yale’s bar drops, the country’s bar drops. That is unforgivable and irreparable. Once a tradition and an attitude toward student life withers it cannot be revived. Would that I had enough money to effect a change.

      • Mike_Gerber_91

        Take heart, CBKM–if you read the history of Yale, you’ll find that changes come and go, but most of the enduring character of the place has been formed by undergrads and alumni, working day-by-day, independently and together. Yale College is special; if the current faculty and administration seem less aware of exactly how and why, we must show them, and invite them in!

        So make some traditions, or find some old ones you like and revivify them. Build friendships not only within your Class, but down into other Classes, and up into the alumni. I count 50 years’ worth of Yalies as my friends, and it’s something I wouldn’t trade for anything. That’s available to anybody who wants it, and it’s the soul of Yale College; buildings and traditions only make it easier to attain.

  • ELT00

    I created an account here solely to say that this op-ed calls attention to a HUGE problem. Extracurricular groups are the heart and soul of a Yale education. Right on, Revesz.

  • kdaysandtou

    I agree with everything posted. The administration really needs to open up existing space for use, renovate spaces in disrepair (the athletic fields for non-varsity athletes are a disgrace in particular), and buy new all-purpose space (as somebody mentioned, this can really just be office/warehouse space) where groups can do their thing and be loud and not worry about people studying in nearby college libraries.

    The focus of Levin and the Corporation on making more and more money with the added residential colleges and the liberal arts college in Singapore is disappointing. There needs to be more of a focus on the college experience itself. Yale should be a place for critical thinking and extracurricular involvement. This place definitely doesn’t measure up to what it can be and what it hoped it would be when I chose to come here.

  • Bobby

    Joshua (and commenters):

    It’s rare and refreshing to see such unanimous opinion on these comment boards. Clearly, this is something many feel strongly about.

    I’m [running][1] for to become the chair of the Undergraduate Organizations Funding Committee, which will next year become the Undergraduate Organizations Committee. In short, this change means that the UOC, in addition to providing funding, will be granted the ability to advocate for changes in the policies that apply to on-campus groups. (Check out the YDN article on it [here][2].)

    Thanks for bringing up this topic at a time when our new organization is perfectly posed to *do* something to solve the problem. If elected, I hope to work with Dean Meeske and the Masters of each college to make rooms accessible to all students and student groups.

    I’ve been in the same position: groups I’m a part of have been kicked out of rooms or refused access because of college affiliation. And I, too, entirely agree that our groups and organizations are what make Yale the exciting place we love.

    Let’s hope next year’s UOC is able to right this situation!

    Best,

    Bobby Dresser ’14

    [1]: http://www.yaledailynews.com/news/2012/apr/09/ycc-bobby-dresser-14-uofc-chair/
    [2]: http://www.yaledailynews.com/news/2012/apr/05/uofc-redefines-duties/

  • RM80s

    The nostalgia is not confined to students and alumni. From a YDN piece on “shared governance:

    “Professor of Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations Dimitri Gutas ’69 GRD ’74, who recalls the “good ol’ days” of the late 1960s when he was an undergraduate at Yale, said shared services has contributed to an overall negative shift in how the University is governed.”
    http://www.yaledailynews.com/news/2012/apr/12/close-challenge-shared-governance/

    The shared nostalgia is, of course, not a coincidence. The rise of Feudalism of the sort identified by Mr. Revesz is an issue facing more than just student organizations. Looking upon facilities as components of residential college exclusive fiefdoms rather than as potential inclusive enhancers of all Yale students’ experiences and looking to new colleges as sources of revenue generation or closing Commons (both recent and ’91 iterations) or even a potential GTF as line items in a balance sheet are arguably faces of the same coin – what’s arguably at stake both here and in the question of governance is the quality of the Yale experience, the very Yale-ness of Yale.

  • panthera

    The issue is that there is no centralized administration here. I honestly believe that when a news-worthy incident occurs all of the MANY deans simply look at each other and wait for someone to make a move and, in most cases, for that individual to take the blame and the fallout.

    Yale is an idea that is not to be questioned.

  • Skeptic

    From the commentary here, it would appear that there are simply no good reasons for the current policy (if the hodge-podge situation can be taken to reflect something as dignified as a policy).

    As a faculty member, I am on the outside looking in with respect to this issue, but it interests me for three reasons: 1) I really do care about the undergraduate experience for Yale students, 2) I have, from time to time, used residential college TV rooms for special class showings of films, etc., and have run up against the Byzantine procedures mentioned by many of the commentators, and 3) I can imagine at least one issue that is not addressed in this discussion, and that is the de facto exclusion of non-group students from “their” college spaces when a room is “reserved” for any group. (This issue has concerned me so when I have reserved TV room … via a legitimate student request, of course… I have tried to make it clear to all that our reservation is non-exclusive and that anyone is welcome to join us for the film as well as the illegal popcorn and sodas).

    I would think that this is one area where both students and College Masters could easily work out an improvement on the present situation if both goals of availability and non-exclusion could be accommodated.

  • monty

    I totally agree with this article.
    Branford especially makes it super difficult. Only ONE group is allowed to use their beautiful-for-performance common rooms. It’s absurd.

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