A little over 50 years ago, Yale underwent a massive change. Two residential colleges were added to the 10 already in place, two colleges whose unremittingly modern architecture was a testament to their newness, and whose names — Morse and Ezra Stiles — felt woolly and unfamiliar in the mouths of their freshly minted undergraduates. To mark the occasion, a time capsule was created and filled with twenty student essays, local and regional newspapers and several copies of Yale publications. The capsule was enclosed in a stone that became a bedrock of the new colleges. It was laid during a ceremony on Alumni Day in 1961, with much pomp and pride; only the colleges’ total demolition would be sufficient to coax the time capsule back into the open air. One YDN columnist, aware that he was writing for posterity, observed, “We’re hoping to do or say something that will be remembered 300 years hence.”
We find ourselves at a comparable moment in Yale’s history. The 12 colleges housing the undergraduate student body are to be expanded t o14, with two more slated to open in August 2017. They have yet to be named. They have yet to be crested. They have yet to be given masters, deans or dining staff. But they have been assigned a space — a scrubby no man’s land between a cemetery and a hospital, whose apparent insignificance seems to pose a haughty challenge to the notion that anything, ever, could be built there. But the donors have been petitioned, the architects consulted; the show is officially on the road. Expansion really is going to happen.
Of course, the addition of two new colleges will change Yale. Yet it is a curious mark of institutional life that even the slightest alterations to the “system” are often met with anxiety by those cozily closeted on the inside — students can be unexpectedly conservative.
As plans for the Beinecke neared completion in 1961, for example, the library was condemned as a “decorated box” by a history of art professor. Six undergraduates, one graduate student and one history of art instructor wrote in an open letter to the YDN that the library would stand as “a white elephant to be ridiculed by succeeding generations,” a repository for dead leaves, hand-tossed refuse and a simmering sense of resentment.
Fast-forward a couple of decades, and the Beinecke is the favorite landmark of many Yalies, an obligatory but agreeable stop on the Grand Tour. You present the library to your parent/friend/grandmother, freestyle for a couple of minutes on the fragility of its marble panels, the Tolkeinesque beauty of its innards, and then move on to visit Sterling, a gooey feeling of pride in your gut. The “decorated box” is not resented decades after its construction: It is loved.
Still, in many ways, the addition of two new colleges will be a more significant change to the University than an architecturally radical library. After all, once you’ve built your library and rammed it with books, you can — to an extent — rest on your laurels, much of the marathon completed. New colleges, on the other hand, are another matter entirely. You have to fill them with people, not books — undergraduates who arrive and leave in yearly cycles, who have sweated their way into the University and who are hungry for their slice of the Yale pie.
For Maria Cortez, who just submitted her application to Yale, potentially being placed in the new colleges would not diminish her undergraduate experience.
“I think that students will still feel part of the community no matter what,” Cortez said. “The residential college system itself brings [students] together, so there wouldn’t be feelings of isolation because, from what I know at least, the residential colleges are small communities within the University itself.”
Of the five prospective students interviewed, none were aware of the planned expansion. All five added that they would have no concerns for their social lives if placed into one of the new colleges.
For Julia Kharzeev, another aspiring Yalie, students placed in the new colleges — particularly underclassmen — would bear the responsibility of socializing outside their collegiate community.
“I think it really depends on whether [the students] integrate themselves well on campus in other ways,” Kharzeev said. “It would be awesome to be in these new residential colleges.”
When they finally arrive in 2017, the undergrads at the new colleges will want intimate classes and seminars just as much as we do. They too will expect unhampered access to Yale’s music, drama and gym facilities. And they will want to participate, like the members of the older colleges, in the intramural sports league, amongst lots of other student pastimes.
The two new colleges will grow Yale’s undergraduate community by 15 percent. The student body will thus come to a total of 6,200, an increase of 800 undergrads in all. Of course, the newbies will bring dough to the table – their fees will fill Yale coffers with a net revenue of approximately $30 million per year. According to the University administration, much of that money is expected to help staff and infrastructure to deal with the extra people.
The Yale Corporation made the original decision to expand back in 2008, disregarding the weighty evidence suggesting that students were opposed to the idea. (In a 2008 survey sent out by the News, of the 362 students polled, only 25 percent favored expansion.) Adding more space for qualified undergraduates was a leading factor in the Corporation’s choice — in 1999, Yale College accepted over 20 percent of applicants; now, it admits something closer to six percent. Every year seems to present record numbers of applicants, and it was felt that Yale would best serve its educational mission by getting bigger.
But the recession hit, shelving the development plans until Yale’s economic future looked rosier. The past few years have looked up, with the Yale Division of Finance reporting a surplus of $51 million this year. Now, there are enough pennies in the piggybank to give expansion another shot.
For many, enlargement is a cause for skepticism and gloom, not celebration. Some students worry that it might be easier to get into Yale — but perhaps the facts should be allowed to stand on their own. Yale College received a record 29,790 applicants for the class of 2017, of which only about 2,000 were accepted. The notion that increasing this number by 800 each year will lower academic standards doesn’t quite compute, said Eleanor Marshall ’17.
“I find that argument pretty offensive,” Marshall said. “I think it’s pretty elitist and I’m pretty disappointed to have heard people complaining about it.”
Peter Wang ’18 agreed, cautioning that an obsession with the number “800” undermines the fact that many candidates Yale rejects are undoubtedly qualified.
“Letting more students into Yale doesn’t mean that if you set the number larger, you set the standard lower,” Wang said.
In addition to fears of a less gifted student body, many have voiced the concern that the new colleges will be ‘ghettoized’ due to their location by Science Hill — or peopled entirely by sports-mad economists. The plot of land chosen is seen as out of the way, cut off, a gray buffer zone by Ingalls Rink with little commercial activity.
In a 2007 News article, Michael Pomeranz argued that “the new colleges, up on Science Hill, would create a sub-campus away from most of the undergraduate housing.”
In response to such criticism, Dean of Yale College Jonathan Holloway said that campus has changed drastically since the Corporation first proposed expansion. With the addition of the police station, the construction of the Center for Engineering Innovation and Design and the completion of Rosenkranz Hall, foot traffic in the area has increased.
Some students, too, expect that on-campus social life will move with the opening of the new colleges. They reject Pomeranz’s notion of the “sub-campus” as a little over-dramatic.
“[Students in the new colleges] will be closer to the students in TD and Silliman,” Kellen Svetov ’16 said. “We may see a shift of the social center.”
In addition, according to the Yale website “The New Residential Colleges,” the University will create “stepping stones” that connect students to the new neighborhood. These will include an expanded shuttle service and enhanced security. And yet, the freshmen who are parachuted into these colleges will join institutions that have no accrued prestige and no timeworn traditions that they can inherit. Moreover, there is a historical precedent for suspecting that the new colleges will not be respected as much as the older ones, at least initially.
Ronald Allison ’63 recalled the stigma he faced when he transferred from Silliman into the newly created Morse College in the early ’60s. “You were disrespected for being there,” he said. “Morse had less prestige.”
In any case, it seems likely that the first wave of Morse and Stiles undergraduates were particularly sensitive to the sting of perceived inter-collegiate snobbery. Eero Saarinen, the Morse and Stiles architect, explained in a 1959 statement that his team’s primary aim had been to create “an architecture which would recognise the individual as individual instead of anonymous integer in a group.” Many who transferred were introverted types who craved the single rooms that the colleges offered, having been uncomfortable in their original colleges.
Henry Sam Chauncey, an associate dean of Yale College at the time, argues that the two new colleges were strange places to inhabit when they first opened, because most of the volunteers were “unhappy people” — so, “for the first two or three years at least, Morse and Stiles were not the happiest of places.”
The plans for the newest residential colleges suggest that they, by contrast, will not cater largely to “loners”. Designed by Robert A.M. Stern Architects, the mock-ups show an interlocking series of communal spaces, clearly intended to generate a bustling social hub. The firm has opted not to copy the unforgiving gray modernism of Morse and Stiles, but has reverted to the neo-Gothic style so ubiquitous in many of Yale’s older colleges.
Of the students interviewed, the vast majority agreed that the new colleges look promising. Maia Eliscovich Sigal ’16, YCC vice president, went so far as to call them “very pretty,” noting that she had heard from members of the Morse administration that some undergraduates felt physically oppressed by Saarinen’s design.
As professor of English and American Studies and Morse College Master Amy Hungerford conceded, “Some students come [to Yale] with a dream of gothic architecture in mind, a stereotype of what an Ivy League college should look like.” Judging by Stern’s mock-ups, the 13th and 14th colleges will certainly fit into romantic visions of Old Yale.
But even if the colleges fulfill an aesthetic ideal, the expansion poses problems of overcrowding. Ironically, while Morse and Stiles were opened partly to alleviate the pressure on student housing, the new colleges will in fact do the opposite.
Though Eliscovich Sigal has faith that the Yale administration will maintain standards as the university bloats, she feels that overcrowding is already a significant problem. “Many econ classes don’t even have TAs,” she said. “It’s unacceptable. You’d think that if they’re bringing in hundreds more students, they’d sort that type of problem out.”
Still, despite her reservations, Eliscovich Sigal believes that University administrators are hyperaware of the impending problem — “I feel that they genuinely want to sort it out”.
Holloway has acknowledged these challenges. “We’re considering many different aspects of more students coming into campus,” he said. “Over the next 18 months, we’ll be developing plans to address those kinds of concerns.”
Without any concrete answers, expansion naysayers are arguably right to worry about overcrowding. And yet, efforts are being made by the University administration to address the issue. In October of last year, University President Peter Salovey convened a committee to investigate out how best to balance the books, to ensure that the costs of supporting the additional students would not exceed the extra $30 million revenue.
Sections of the Expansion Committee’s report, published this summer, make for potentially worrying reading. The IM league may be split into two separate divisions, for example, to accommodate two extra college teams. In the segment on classroom space, the review found that “the large majority of courses” could enroll 15 percent more students without changing locations. But many undergrads — including Svetov, an econ major who has witnessed the rush to register for Intro to Microeconomics and Macroeconomics — can already attest to the difficulty of finding a seat in many courses.
Shane Kim ’17 expressed similar concerns about overcrowded classes.
“If we have the same number of courses being taught, but now with 800 more students thrown into the mix, it will be a crazy time,” he said.
The report acknowledged that in some large courses, the increase would push course enrollment over the maximum capacity of Yale’s biggest classrooms — but it suggested that individual departments tackle the problem, for instance, by making classes earlier to alleviate pressure points. This has not gone over well with students, some of whom bristle at the thought of getting up early for a class they might have enjoyed at a later time in the morning.
To Qingyang Chen ’17, earlier classes would “circumvent the problem rather than solve the problem.” While he acknowledged that hiring more faculty would be a challenge, he felt that students should not be discouraged from taking classes they want to take.
The influx of 800 more undergraduates may also force the administration to curtail Shopping Period, to better anticipate resource allocation needs. Having shopped oversubscribed seminars, Kim hopes that administrators ensure that shopping period does not become more difficult following the student body’s expansion.
In addition to concerns about the increased number of students, some equally worry about the number of faculty available to teach them.
They are arguably right to do so, given that the Expansion Committee’s report advised that “some flexibility be accorded with respect to class size limits”, whilst allowing for “a small, targeted increase in funding for non-ladder instruction”. In other words, the University doesn’t plan to increase the number of tenure positions, since they have already made new hires in preparation for the expansion.
“The faculty is larger than it’s ever been,” Holloway said. “Unfortunately the growth has been separated from the arrival of the students.”
While the ratio of students to tenured faculty members will inevitably increase in 2017, Holloway said Salovey and Provost Benjamin Polak were “absolutely committed to making sure the quality of teaching doesn’t suffer as the University expands.”
Despite these assurances, some students simply feel excluded from the expansion process. After all, the administration never officially asked undergraduates whether they thought introducing two new residential colleges would be a good idea.
As News columnist Scott Stern ’15 puts it, “The idea that there has been any student involvement at all in the process is kind of a joke.”
And yet, as Holloway announced on Oct. 29, a new undergraduate task force is expected to convene at the end of this semester to begin advising faculty and staff on plans for the new residential colleges. Officially called the Standing Committee on Yale College Expansion, the committee will include four undergraduates who can apply for a spot through Yale College Council.
And in February this year, two forums were held with an eye to allowing students to voice their concerns. The first, on the impact of expansion on student life, was moderately well-attended, with approximately thirty students present, alongside Polak and other members of the Faculty Expansion Committee. But only four undergrads showed up to the second forum on the effects of growth on Yale’s academic life.
So, while some undergraduates feel actively shut out of the conversation, others seem apathetic to the changes — after all, 2017 feels pretty far off; they may not be around when the colleges open.
This apparent indifference might be due to the inefficacy of the “open forum” itself — as Hungerford points out, “There’s something about calling an open forum that is either only effective when people are highly educated about the issue or [when they] have strong feelings. They’re not always an effective way of consulting people”. There certainly seems to be a marked schism between the noise some students make amongst themselves about expansion, and what they are actually prepared to do about it.
Perhaps what students tend to lose sight of are the exciting opportunities presented by the expansion plan. The new colleges’ names and crests have captured the imagination of almost all. Nine out of the current twelve are named after slave owners, and every college, except the two named for towns, pays tribute to a white, Christian male.
One favorite contender is Grace Hopper GRD ’34, one of the University’s most accomplished female graduates in engineering, mathematics and technology. Another popular choice is Edward Bouchet GRD 1876, a first-generation student of color and accomplished scientist. Yung Wing 1854 has also garnered some support, as the first Chinese student to graduate from an American university.
The opportunity to name these colleges has been hugely exciting, to both students and professors. Hungerford hopes at least one of the names will be that of a person of color or a woman — “I just think it’s time. We’re living in 2014.”
As to the danger that a college named after a female or a minority graduate will be further stigmatized, Hungerford aptly remarked, “If people worry that the Yale community will ghettoize two colleges named after women and people of color, then we’re in a lot deeper trouble than people think we are.”
In addition to the opportunities offered by the naming process, the chance to create a college culture ex nihilo has enthused many. As Eliscovich Sigal put it, “There’s an opportunity to be part of something new. That’s exciting.”
Besides, no one can deny that college identities undergo radical mutations every few years. For News columnist Joshua Clapper ’16, “The most appealing part of the residential college is that it is ever-changing,” he said. “There are traditions in different colleges that stress residential college independence over a broader University identity. But the flavor of this independence varies from year to year.”
It seems that one of the most vital goals of expansion has been somewhat obscured — which is that by growing so substantially, the Yale experience will be open to more people year on year. If it feels gratifyingly cynical to roll one’s eyes at the planned growth, with its unknown impacts and costs, it takes a little more intellectual integrity to focus on the bigger picture. More people will come to Yale, which will remain the same in some ways, and different in others; more minds from all over the world will be allowed to benefit from the unique Yale experience. That is surely something to celebrate.