STERN: We are the 79 percent

A Stern Perspective

There’s just something about Yale — that spirit of cooperation, that warmth, that genuine interest in other people. It was exactly that Yale feeling that I worried would be destroyed yesterday.

scott_stern_headshot_peter_tianYesterday, at a 4:00 p.m. meeting, the faculty voted on a proposal to radically alter Yale’s grading system. This proposal — to change the grading system to a 100-point scale and limit the number of “A”s and “A–”s that professors can give out — was postponed until November. Inside, the meeting was heated.

Outside, we protested.

Outside, we made signs. Outside, we handed leaflets to the faculty. A group of students and I thought we would chant, but we ended up usually just talking with professors. It was gratifying whenever a professor would actually ask for our opinion. It was rare.

Some professors, though, seemed genuinely excited by our presence. Some looked a little scared, rushing ahead, eyes cast down, mumbling in response to our entreaties. President Levin took one of our leaflets and thanked us warmly. Dean Marichal Gentry greeted us with a huge smile and words of encouragement. Dean Mary Miller seemed to be in a little bit of a hurry and declined our leaflet, citing environmental concerns, but she too was pleasant.

It was a remarkable experience to actually talk to faculty members, even if most of them lingered only briefly. What is sad is that this was the first time many members of the faculty had ever heard the student perspective on the proposal in any detail. Apart from the Yale College Council Open Forum on Grading held a week ago, this protest was remarkably the only time students were able to voice concerns to professors.

One week ago, I emailed people I knew in various political and social justice organizations on campus, asking if anyone was planning to organize to demonstrate that students were against the proposal. When the answer came back a resounding “no one,” I felt that someone should be doing something. The day before, the YCC had released its survey results, showing that 79 percent of students were opposed to the proposal. Using the slogan, “We are the 79 percent,” I emailed the Yale student body and called for a protest.

Over the next week, a number of student and professional journalists and activists called me, all asking about our “organization” and what we had planned. I felt a little sheepish explaining that we didn’t exactly know what we were going to do, and our organization mostly consisted of me and a few other dedicated activists, frantically running to Stop & Shop for markers and poster-board.

Yet students came through. Yesterday, the day of the vote, some 60 or 70 students showed to up to voice their concerns. For the first time, many of us were able to talk to faculty members, even if that just meant talking past them as they hurried by or desperately trying to stuff a leaflet into their hands.

While we stood around, chanted and plotted outside, the faculty battled inside. Professors told me afterward that the meeting was intense. The Ad Hoc Committee strode in extremely confident that they were going to win. Committee members repeatedly said they were about to create a new regime in grading — that was the actual phrase they used, a “new regime.”

But many professors struck back. They stood up and passionately defended the rights of students and their own grading practices. A number of professors apparently said that they came in thinking they would support the proposal, but ended up not because they felt students and other faculty members had not been adequately consulted before the vote. As the tide began to turn, Ad Hoc Committee members became defensive. In the end, the faculty tabled the vote until November.

The point of this column is not to rehash the debate. (There will be plenty of time for that in the future, trust me.) The point is to demand that our voices be heard. Yale, we need to petition to gain student-elected, not appointed, student representatives on the Ad Hoc Committee. We need to demand a greater voice in making decisions that will have a profound effect on our lives and the school we all love. We cannot allow the summer to destroy our momentum. We just witnessed a very close call — a small minority of professors hoped to hastily push through a proposal opposed by nearly all those it would have affected. This time, we cannot, and we will not, be silent.

Come November, we’ve still got the protest signs. We’re ready.

Scott Stern is a sophomore in Branford College. Contact him at scott.stern@yale.edu .

This column is part of the News’ Friday Forum. Click here to continue.

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