Dear President Levin: Corporate Yale needs to rethink its place in the race to improve higher education.
Please don’t get me wrong. Classroom Yale has very few problems. If all aspects of education were left to professors and their students, Yale would, without doubt, continue to be a top institution of higher learning in the world. But the reality of the matter is that Corporate Yale is also responsible for maintaining the quality of both undergraduate and graduate education.
While great things are happening to our University, there are few signs Corporate Yale is taking explicit steps to keep ahead of its competition in the business of education. And improvement is exactly what we need, regardless of how extraordinary Yale education already is.
Two areas require immediate initiatives: financial aid and teaching assistant policy.
Princeton University now leads the financial aid reform race, after the decision to replace all undergraduate loans with scholarships enabling its students to graduate debt-free. MIT and Harvard are lagging behind Princeton, after having granted their undergraduates a $2,000 across-the-board scholarship increase. And Yale — the Corporate one, of course — has convinced itself it is so far behind in this race that it’s not even going to try to catch up.
You should approach financial aid reform by considering it a part of a wider initiative to improve education at Yale. Yale’s student body needs to become more diverse — culturally, socio-economically and geographically. Diversity-oriented policy should be a vehicle to reach those geniuses-in-waiting from Romania to southern Florida, students who may be more qualified than many of us here.
When it comes to financial aid, it’s not all about the numbers. It’s about Yale understanding who its students should be and what they should be doing while at Yale. Loans should be replaced by grants, and no student should have to work two jobs to remain at Yale. But Corporate Yale needs comprehensive reform; only a giant leap forward in the Ivy League race can place the University ahead of its competition.
Think about a drastic cut in tuition costs or a free Yale education. Think about an entirely new admissions policy — one that instead of emphasizing GPA and standardized test scores relies more heavily on recommendations or Yale’s own entrance examination. Think about Yale as a real international university; I am talking not five, not 20 but a 50 percent international student body — comprised not of those who can pay, but those who are truly the best. Think about abolishing the oppressive grading system in order to promote a more rewarding intellectual experience.
Now, let’s talk about a more difficult issue: graduate student unionization. The bottom line is that as long as Yale continues its current teaching assistant policy, graduate students will not only unionize, but will also use their union to obstruct education to better their economic status. The results, at least in the short term, will be deleterious for everyone.
So what are you to do? Again, you must think big. Must Yale have teaching assistants at all? And if Yale depends on having graduate students teach, are there other policies that Yale can develop?
Having residential college graduate fellows is one solution. Another is having mentoring programs. Another is having a large junior faculty-hiring program that would both help graduate students in job placement and produce more qualified instructors for the undergraduates. Another is having professors invest more time in teaching; would it be so terrible if some of this university’s most distinguished professors spent less time traveling to conferences and more time discussing their work with Yale students?
Whatever the solution, it is certain that it must go beyond confrontation, which Corporate Yale has practiced until now, and brinkmanship negotiation, which Corporate Yale is likely to practice once the union is formed.
All in all, great things are happening at Yale. The billion-dollar investment in the sciences and medicine, the renovation of the residential colleges, new faculty hiring initiatives across the departments and the swelling endowment are just a few initiatives that may lead us to prosperity. But as the role of education continues to change rapidly, Corporate Yale must not forget its leadership role as an institution of learning.
Milan Milenkovic is a senior in Trumbull College. His column appears on alternate Thursdays.