I was pretty excited on Friday. I finally got to see the Yale Corporation.
True, it was from several feet away, and none of them acknowledged me. They were leaving Woodbridge Hall and piling into a van for some sort of field trip through New Haven. I could imagine them squishing into the vehicle:
“Gerhard, move over.”
“Barry, I can’t find my seatbelt.”
“I have to sit in the front seat, Janet. My legs are longer.”
Of course, maybe they didn’t say any of this. But I’ll never know because the Corporation refuses to talk to me. I’ve tried, and none of them will meet with me.
Sure, I spoke for a few minutes to one of them, a developer from New York, just long enough for him to tell me he couldn’t spare any time when he was in New Haven for the meeting. I saw another, a Washington pundit, at a Master’s Tea and spoke to him for long enough for him to promise to meet with me — a promise from which he later reneged. And I had a conversation with a third, a Democratic politician, from the audience of a little-publicized, off-the-record event at a cultural house.
But three out of 16 isn’t a very good record.
It seems a bit incongruous the Yale Corporation, the body with the highest authority on campus, should be so unavailable to me — or more accurately, to campus advocacy groups. Before each of the last two Corporation meetings, Students Against Sweatshops tried to get a meeting with any Corporation member who would listen. SAS wrote letters, mailed packets full of information, called, e-mailed, begged and pleaded. All to no avail. None were available; most never even had the manners to respond.
Much of what the Corporation does is rightfully private. Its minutes, for instance, contain the salaries of professors, which are sensibly kept secret. But why should the Corporation meet without hearing input from undergraduates?
Relying on the Yale College Council to be the sole undergraduate communicant with the Corporation is simply inadequate. The YCC is well-equipped to answer questions concerning student life and certain issues, but with other issues, advocacy groups are better handled to educate the Corporation. While SAS is rightfully proud of its education efforts and of the strong support YCC has shown it, Corporation members would certainly find it more productive to meet with people who have worked on the issue specifically for the past several years.
But it isn’t just about SAS. The Corporation has promised to focus on undergraduate issues, but without meeting with us, it’s hard to imagine they have a good idea of what undergraduate issues are. Yale is my school. I — like all undergraduates — deserve to have my voice heard in University policy. It shouldn’t be difficult for me to meet the people who run my university.
More Corporation members should follow the lead of David Gergen and hold Master’s Teas when they come to town, and they should all be happy to meet with groups of students who contact them beforehand. Those who live relatively nearby — such as Roland Betts and Frances Beinecke, who live in New York, Barrington Parker and Charles Ellis, who live in Fairfield County, and Linda Mason, who lives outside Boston — shouldn’t be shy about coming to campus to visit with students more frequently.
The Corporation is the highest body in Yale governance. They oversee all major policy and budget matters, ranging from proposals to enhance financial aid to increasing the number of faculty to undergraduate housing. Students’ demands to be heard on these and other issues are legitimate. At the few events with Corporation members I’ve been to, they seem genuinely interested in learning about undergraduates’ perspectives on the Yale experience and Yale policy.
Currently, the Corporation’s culture of secrecy rivals only the CIA’s. When it meets, a police officer always stands guard over Woodbridge Hall, as if the Corporation were afraid of the very campus it rules over.
At the next meeting, I hope I won’t be forced to rush up to the Corporation, temporarily not under the protection of their friendly cop, as they go to the van for their field trip. One day, perhaps, the Corporation will be happy to meet me.
Jacob Remes is a junior in Saybrook College. His columns appear on alternate Thursdays.