Students raise concerns over new colleges

The Expansion Committee is working towards founding a strong culture for the new residential colleges.
The Expansion Committee is working towards founding a strong culture for the new residential colleges. Photo by Tasnim Elboute .

In two forums on Monday and Tuesday, faculty and administrators collected student input about the integration of the two new residential colleges, slated to be completed in the fall of 2017, and the subsequent expected 15 percent increase in student enrollment.

The panels, hosted by the Yale College Council, featured members of the Expansion Committee, which was formed this fall to discuss how the University should plan for the influx of new students. Over the past few months, the committee has been revisiting and updating plans created before the construction of the new residential colleges was delayed in 2008 due to the financial recession. Approximately 20 students on Monday and nine on Tuesday presented concerns and questions about the establishment of a college culture in the new colleges and the impact of an enlarged student body on academics, spaces, student organizations and funding.

“As we’ve gone through old reports in some detail … we’re finding they are a little dated,” Provost Benjamin Polak said. “However we’ve been working on what [we] need to do and prioritizing.”

Administrators said many aspects of integrating the new colleges have yet to be decided. For example, if the colleges are not completed by the fall of 2017, the committee is considering whether to house freshmen in Swing Space and then move them along with incoming freshmen into the new colleges in the fall of 2018. Another option would be to wait until the colleges are completed and move the freshmen immediately into the new colleges, Polak said, adding that this option seems more likely at this point.

When students emphasized the importance of having upperclassmen in every residential college to create a unified culture, committee members said they are grappling with the issue of whether to allow upperclassmen from other colleges to apply to transfer into the new colleges. Jonathan Holloway, Master of Calhoun College, said the committee is concerned that, because of the close proximity of the new colleges to Yale’s science departments, labs and ice hockey rink, the new colleges may almost exclusively attract science-oriented students and hockey players.

“It’s really important to me and others that [the new colleges] don’t become ‘science’ or ‘hockey’ colleges,” Polak said. “It would be a disaster if we ended up with these two colleges and TD and Silliman as ‘science colleges,’ and the others as humanities colleges. It would be against everything we are striving for at Yale.”

A central concern during Monday’s discussion was that students in the new colleges will not have a long-established college identity to inherit. Students mentioned that existing residential colleges, ranging in age from 40 to roughly 80 years old, also have many affiliated faculty and fellows.

Miller said the question of how to build new college cultures from the ground up is a major topic of discussion for the committee.

“Everything is on the design list, from china to masonry, to the flag — everything that in fact makes you feel like your space is unique and how we’ll develop that,” Miller said.

Citing the role Masters and Deans play in shaping their colleges, students also suggested the committee take care in selecting college leaders who are committed to fostering the growth and well-being of a new community. Dean of International and Professional Experience and Senior Associate Dean of Yale College Jane Edwards said a subcommittee of the Expansion Committee has already discussed the importance of appointing strong Deans and Masters.

The physical location of the new colleges near Yale Health on Prospect Street also prompted students to voice concerns that the new colleges could be isolated and inconvenient, both because of the lack of commercial activity in the area and because of the colleges’ distance from other colleges. Miller said that enlivening Prospect Street was an issue raised in the 2008 report, but zoning regulations do not allow Yale to open commercial spaces in its buildings. Still, she emphasized that students in the new colleges will have access to food and stores on Whitney Avenue.

Students also expressed anxiety that all students and faculty studying on Science Hill would crowd the dining halls of the new residential colleges at lunch each day. Chair of Molecular, Cellular and Developmental Biology Ronald Breaker said the new biology building, which is slated to open in 2019, will help expand dining options in the area by replacing the cramped Kline Biology Tower cafe with a larger facility.

Breaker said the new colleges will also bring more culture to Science Hill and will help it feel “less like an outpost.” Chair of Anthropology Richard Bribiescas said added security and shuttle services are being planned, while Polak said that lighting and sidewalks have already been improved in the area.

Students also brought up concerns about the impact of 800 additional students over four years on the student-faculty ratio, the capacity of large introductory classes and the high-demand for seminars.

Polak said that because the University planned to launch the new colleges in 2013, the administration ramped up the size of the faculty of Arts and Sciences over the last few years in anticipation of increased enrollment. As a result, the current faculty-student ratio is high compared to that of the past, he said.

Students who attended the forum asked how the University would accommodate a 15 percent increase in enrollment in courses such as “Introductory Microeconomics” and “Introduction to Psychology,” which are already held in two of Yale’s largest lecture spaces.

In response Polak said the committee has three possible solutions for the five introductory classes for which expanded enrollment would pose a significant physical constraint. First, two sections of the lectures could be held, though Polak said psychology professors are currently reluctant to have multiple sections. Alternatively, the large lectures could be moved to 9 a.m. in order to reduce enrollments and stagger the availability of large rooms. The courses could also be capped, he said.

Polak said the committee is more in favor of “flatten-out scheduling” than building new classroom spaces. According to Polak, classes cluster on certain time slots and days, most commonly during the middle of the day on Tuesday and Thursday.

Additionally, Polak said the new School of Management campus has left several medium-sized classrooms and many seminar rooms empty in its old building on Prospect Street. The renovation of Sterling Memorial Library, set to be completed next fall, and the renovation of Kline Biology Tower will provide more space for study and classes, he added.

Though several students voiced concerns that students face difficulties securing places in seminars even without the expansion, Miller said most seminars are small and could easily absorb 15 percent more students.

Still, Polak said the committee has identified potential enrollment constraints in freshman seminars, senior seminars and senior essay advising. He said the number of sections for freshman seminars like English 114 would simply be increased. In certain departments such as Political Science, the committee will need to expand senior seminars, he said.

Students also asked about the expected impact of 800 additional students on existing student organizations, particularly when it comes to securing funding and fellowships. In terms of summer opportunities, Edwards said that the University will increase the number of internship opportunities and lab experiences, but the larger issue will be ensuring that there are enough resources available for students to pursue these opportunities. The committee will address these concerns in their planning, she said.

The Expansion Committee was established in fall 2013.

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