Many students are rightly frustrated by the Yale College Council’s decision on Saturday to choose YCC President Danny Avraham ’15 as the undergraduate representative to the advisory committee for selecting the next deans of Yale College and the Graduate School. It was a move slightly reminiscent of George Bush’s selection of Dick Cheney as his running mate, previously the head of Bush’s vice presidential selection committee: Avraham, tasked by President Salovey to nominate an undergraduate to sit on the committee, delegated his responsibility to the YCC, which ultimately nominated and selected Avraham himself.
There is no question that the selection process was mismanaged, and I know this first-hand. Last Tuesday, less than three hours after the News announced that Avraham would have the authority to nominate a student representative, I emailed him expressing my interest in the position. I did not receive a response until four days later, at 2:00 p.m. on Saturday, when Avraham apologized for the delay in emailing me back and informed me that the YCC would be meeting in two hours to determine its method of selecting the undergraduate representative. I was unable to make the meeting on such short notice.
From this story and other accounts, it is clear that the YCC did not make a good faith effort to consider a wide variety of potential candidates other than Avraham, and the Council should be held accountable for this narrow-mindedness and favoritism.
Nevertheless, I believe that critics of the YCC’s decision go too far when they claim that the YCC should have opened up the nomination process to a campus-wide election. A task like this — nominating a student representative to an administrative committee — is exactly the reason that YCC exists: to be a group of students who are informed and invested in the policies of Yale’s administration, in the midst of a largely apathetic undergraduate community.
There is ample evidence that undergraduates are largely apathetic about University policies. Fewer than 100 undergraduates took the opportunity to ask questions of and raise complaints to President-elect Salovey at the February 2013 Open Forum. Last March, the University Council Committee on Alcohol held a panel on the University’s alcohol policies in which the nine students in attendance barely outnumbered the eight panelists — for a discussion regarding the administrative policy that arguably affects student life more than any other. While the most controversial administrative policy over the past year, a proposal to change Yale’s grading policy, drew over 1,300 signatures in opposition on an online petition, only around 60 students showed up to protest the policy in front of Davies Auditorium.
These are indicative of a general rule: When asked, Yale students will give their opinions about administrative policy, but don’t usually care enough to educate themselves about the issues at hand or to take action. This apathy isn’t necessarily a bad thing: It means that the University is in a healthy place, such that most students need not concern themselves with the decisions of the administration.
The Yale undergraduate community’s apathy toward administrative policies is the reason that YCC exists. Council members are the ones who sit on standing committees, discuss the nuances of undergraduate organizational registration and Yale Dining’s budget, pore over the academic calendar and department offerings, research other universities’ approaches to minors and housing policy, meet with members of the administration frequently, issue reports in collaboration with the Office of Institutional Research and regularly take the pulse of undergraduate opinion to ensure that they are aware of the values and needs of the students they represent.
Any reasonable person should prefer that the YCC make important decisions such as the nomination of a representative to the advisory committee, rather than a generally uninformed student body that would not likely take the time to acquaint themselves with the issues at hand. Which students would go to the trouble to evaluate potential representatives’ opinions on faculty tenure or the recently proposed decanal restructuring — two issues that would certainly come up in the consideration of potential deans?
At the end of the day, the student body needs an organization such as YCC to represent our concerns to the administration. The YCC draws on its familiarity with administrative policies and interactions with administrators to make decisions on behalf of the student body — and this includes recognizing which students have the knowledge, experience and vision to represent the student body on important committees.
The YCC’s decision to choose Avraham was probably ill considered and irresponsible, but it was certainly better than the alternative of a campus-wide election.
Scott Greenberg is a junior in Ezra Stiles College. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org .