My last column concerned a worldwide responsibility to battle a catastrophic disease ravaging the African continent. Today I turn my attention to a health issue smaller in scope.
Yale dormitory bathrooms remain soap-free. Before casting this article aside as yet another rant on a long-exhausted topic, consider what can be learned from the University’s failure to solve the soap problem despite years of efforts by germ-weary students.
The main problem is one of bureaucratic inefficiency, not public health. Yale’s gross failure to address a prominent — but ultimately not vital — health issue merely highlights administrative failures that otherwise might have remained hidden.
Let’s begin with a reminder of just how old this issue really is. On the pages of the Yale Daily News, Yale Corporation Fellow John Pepper ’60 said he’d like to help but “it is not going to happen this academic year” due to time constraints.
This quotation ran Feb. 19, 1997 in an article written by Ephram Lustgarten ’00. Since then, Lustgarten quit writing for the News, became its publisher, graduated from Yale, and spent a year away from his alma mater. Pepper — Chairman of the Board of soap giant Procter & Gamble Co. and still a Corporation member today — seems to have been beaten by “time constraints” for four years.
We will now pretend that having a Corporation member heading a colossal consumer products corporation — one that owns Ivory, Safeguard, and Zest — gives Yale no advantage in the race to provide soap and towels to its students. Even assuming this unlikely premise, the University’s inability to solve this problem remains stunning. Lustgarten’s article covered a Yale College Council effort to convince the Corporation to provide soap and towels, an effort that now continues in the new century.
Former YCC President Jamie Ponsoldt ’01, himself ready to graduate next month, won his office nearly two years ago after campaigning on a platform that included the installation of soap and either towels or hand dryers in Yale bathrooms. The Freshman Class Council, led by Ted Wittenstein ’04 and Andrew Klaber ’04, prepared a proposal this year that the Corporation reviewed at its February meeting.
According to the News’ Feb. 2 article on the bold freshman proposal, Dean of Administrative Affairs John Meeske questioned the soap proposal because it is costly: “I think the main reason there aren’t soap dispensers is because there never have been soap dispensers.”
Now we must step back and ask a larger question: What is the Yale Corporation doing weighing the merits of soap and towel installation? Is there no decision maker slightly lower on the Yale organizational chart — perhaps President Richard Levin — who could make such a straightforward decision unilaterally?
It’s no wonder that a university incapable of installing soap dispensers, or at least admitting it has no intention of doing so, is so slow to fire child pornographers, refurbish ailing buildings, and open Urban Outfitters.
The News reported March 20 that the University provost and her budget committee are currently mulling the soap and towels issue.
How can this be? The YCC’s agenda this year basically boils down to soap and financial aid. With little trouble, Levin could throw the student government a bone on bathroom hygiene while continuing to provide no response to Princeton’s and Harvard’s recent financial aid announcements.
Let’s not even examine whether, as students claim, the soap would pay for itself in decreased health costs. The student government’s continued pleading for a reasonable, inexpensive project deserves real attention from administrators even if it will save no money. It’s simply embarrassing that the body representing Yale students should again and again be exposed as completely ineffectual by University officials paying no attention to its concerns.
Zach Kaufman ’00, Ponsoldt’s predecessor, is considered to have been a successful president largely because Yale gave students two-ply toilet paper during his administration. Levin could give the same cleanliness-induced glory to current President Libby Smiley ’02, letting her leave big shoes for next year’s officers to fill.
If John Pepper can’t come through with the soap in under four years, perhaps someone else needs to handle tproblem. Maybe it should be referred to another committee.
Ben Trachtenberg is a senior in Ezra Stiles College. His columns appear on alternate Tuesdays.