STERN: A dangerous precedent

A Stern Perspective

I know it feels as if President Salovey just began his presidency, but one day he will retire. And on that day, many of us will tremble with impotent fury. For last weekend a dangerous precedent was set — by both the Yale administration and the Yale College Council. We should be worried for the future of our school.

scott_stern_headshot_peter_tianOn Feb. 18, President Salovey emailed YCC President Danny Avraham ’15 to ask him to nominate a student to sit on the advisory committee for dean selection. Five days later, on Feb. 23, the YCC voted to appoint that student representative by itself, with virtually no input from the student body at large. I won’t bother reprising the troubling details of this vote, as that has already been eloquently done across campus and within these very pages. Instead, I look to the future.

One day Salovey will retire, and students will demand a voice on the committee that proposes his replacement. Thankfully, we can look back to this instance and say, “See, there’s a precedent!” Even if the administration wanted to, it would be hard to undo something as important as putting a student on the selection committee. With that precedent in place, we should all feel a tiny bit more respected.

But it is the precedent of how this single student advisor was chosen that should make us worry — and reveals to us how little respect the student voice is accorded.

President Salovey emailed Avraham on a Tuesday, asking for a decision by the next Monday. Avraham thus had less than a week to decide on a procedure to select the student representative. Wisely, Avraham vested that power in the YCC, but the problem remained that the YCC had mere days to solicit applications, select a candidate or conduct an election. Regardless of which policy you think was correct, there was simply not enough time.

And there was absolutely no reason for such a tight deadline. When Salovey emailed Avraham, the committee was not scheduled to meet for several weeks. If this tight timing was intentional, it was a deliberate attempt to prevent students from choosing their representative in an informed manner. If this timing was unintentional, it was simple negligence that nonetheless placed the YCC in a terrible bind.

The Yale administration, in all its beneficence, gave students a voice but made it nearly impossible to fully realize that voice. When Salovey retires, or when Miller’s replacement retires, we cannot let the administration dictate the terms of that voice in such a stifling way. We cannot allow this tight timeline to become precedent.

The YCC should have immediately recognized that they were being pressured into a hasty decision, and they should have objected. They could have asked for more time, as the Graduate Student Assembly did. They could have immediately emailed students, asking for their input on the procedure they should follow.

Instead, they held a meeting a mere two days before their decision was due — at which point the feasibility of an election had become more difficult. They then decided to forego even soliciting applications from the student body at large. Rather, they decided to simply nominate and appoint the representative internally.

In the future, when we are accorded a seat at the table, we cannot allow our representatives to cite this weekend as a reason for them to ignore the student voice and supplant our judgment. We elected them to make certain decisions, but not to help choose the next dean. YCC members have convinced themselves that they are the sole embodiment of the student voice, that they are capable of accomplishing change while working within a structure that systematically suppresses the student voice. At a university that treats its students with such little respect, and with so many competing student interests, the YCC has made itself believe a pleasant fiction.

The administration set this whole twisted process into motion, but the YCC did nothing to stop it. In the future, we must remember this and refuse to passively going along with decisions guided by naïveté or condescension or an unwillingness to rock the boat.

What is done is done. We should work with Avraham to help choose the best dean possible. But we cannot forget the insults of the past, and we cannot remain complacent.

Throughout this ordeal, both the Yale administration and our own student government told us, over and over again, “Calm down, don’t worry. We know better.” To them we declare, “We will not calm down, we will not relent. You do not know better.”

We will not let either of these dangerous precedents stand. Administrator or student representative — it doesn’t matter. If you don’t respect our voice, then we don’t respect yours.

Scott Stern is a junior in Branford College. His columns run on Wednesdays. Contact him at scott.stern@yale.edu .

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