Yale President Richard Levin announced at an open forum last night that he will support the Yale College Calendar Committee’s recommendation to cancel classes on Martin Luther King Jr. Day. He also said the University “certainly intends to do something” next fall to respond to Princeton and Harvard universities’ sweeping financial aid improvements.
The podium Levin leaned upon at the front of the packed Sudler Hall did not shield him from the two long lines of students waiting to fire questions at him. Levin answered 18 questions as part of this year’s second open forum, an event organized in part by the Yale College Council. Throughout the program, a coalition of students that has been mobilizing for several weeks jumped to its feet to draw attention to issues that concerned them.
Yale College faculty members will vote at a Thursday meeting on the proposal to cancel classes on MLK Day. Faculty and the officers of the University must approve the recommendation for it to be accepted, but Levin said he hopes Yale will not hold classes on the holiday starting next year.
“I am going to support the recommendation of the calendar committee that we not hold classes on Martin Luther King Day,” Levin said.
Students and faculty members have been petitioning throughout the year for Yale to cancel classes on MLK Day.
Arthur Liou ’01 said he was concerned that after being shifted from one committee to another, the proposal to cancel MLK Day classes would die in the hands of a group of faculty lacking racial diversity.
But after Levin’s promising comment, students clapped for almost half a minute.
Financial aid was another hot topic at last night’s forum.
Taylor Larson ’04 suggested to Levin that Yale respond to Princeton’s impressive financial aid initiative that eliminates student loans. Students then rose in unison in support and a surprised Levin said, “Thank you for being yo-yos.”
Levin answered Larson by saying there are many more options for financial aid improvements than those adopted by Princeton and Harvard, and Yale needs time to sort through the different ideas.
“My own opinion is if you are going to enhance financial aid, you ought to give students options other than just getting rid of loans,” Levin said.
Levin said the financial aid situation is more important than many other issues and budget proposals that Yale is confronting. He said administrators will discuss possible aid changes and make a decision next year.
Students also raised questions about Yale’s environmental policy, students’ roles in Tercentennial celebrations, racial diversity among residential college deans and masters and mental health issues.
Abby Levine ’02 said administrators must take students’ opinions about flaws in Yale’s mental health resources more seriously. Levin called Levine’s proposal to put counselors in every residential college an “interesting suggestion,” but said a limited budget made the idea problematic.
Levine persisted, and Levin asked, “Would you like to manage the entire budget?”
Levin also speculated that the clothes of Jacob Remes ’02, who spoke for Students Against Sweatshops, were probably made at a sweatshop.
Some students thought Levin’s snappy responses were a way of skirting around the issues.
“Maybe it was because [Levin] doesn’t have the authority, doesn’t know who has the authority or doesn’t have the answers at his fingertips, but it was disheartening that so many of his answers weren’t clear,” said Abbey Hudson ’03, president of the Yale College Democrats.
Former Yale College Democrats president Lex Paulson ’01 said he would have liked Levin to give more concrete answers about which issues he considers most important.
“There are only so many times you can say ‘we’re thinking about it’ before students come to the conclusion that you don’t really care,” Paulson said.
But many students clearly cared about hearing Levin’s answers. While only about 60 students attended November’s open forum, more than two times that number showed up last night.
YCC Vice President Leah Zimmerman ’02 said she was “very excited about the turnout.”
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