In many ways, 2000-2001 was the year before: The year before Locals 34 and 35, the unions representing clerical, maintenance and dining hall workers, enter what are expected to be tense negotiations with the University over new contracts; the year before Yale, battered by blockbuster financial aid announcements from Princeton, Harvard and MIT, will unveil plans to overhaul its financial aid policies to reduce post-graduation loan debt; and the year before undergraduates, who were largely overlooked during the first two weekends of the Tercentennial, will be fully included in the festivities. It was a year of anti-climax, of minor events unfolding, domino-like, as students and administrators look ahead to the future.
But the minor events matter. In them and through them, Yale saw some of the best and the worst of itself in the academic year that was 2000-2001. It began with the worst: a decision to scuttle the contractor responsible for holding up the renovation of Branford College and the erection of a lamentable tent-cum-dining hall in that college’s courtyard. But the bad news about the quality of student life did not stop there. We learned that Aramark Corp., the Philadelphia-based private food management giant, has dramatically and unapologetically slashed the dining hall food budget at Yale College. It still plans to cut the average price of meals from an already paltry $2.50 to $2.20. Unwilling to throw even the college’s elected representatives — the Yale College Council — a bone, administrators denied students long-sought bathroom soap dispensers because of cost concerns. Yale, a long-time subscriber to the wait-and-see doctrine of financial aid reform, next found itself months behind its competitors in the seismic shift towards eliminating post-graduate student loan debt. Three months later, student are still waiting for some definitive signal from the University about its intentions. The year closed, perhaps unsurprisingly, with the emergence of an unusual coalition of student groups, United Students at Yale, clamoring for a larger student voice.
Then there was the best. The first tercentennial weekend, Opening Yale 300, drew more than 35,000 visitors to campus to celebrate the University’s 300th birthday in October. A early-morning cake-cutting ceremony found New Haven Mayor John DeStefano feeding cake to President Richard Levin in a reminder of just how far town-gown relations have improved under Levin’s watchful eye. Yale also made clear its intention to become a university with global connections with a new center to study globalization, an impressive distance learning alliance with Oxford, Stanford and Princeton universities, and need-blind admissions for international students. Residential college renovations ground on, and the results are magnificent. Finally, the second tercentennial weekend released two of Yale’s greatest traditions: pomp and protest. Alumni from Robert Rubin to Garry Trudeau spoke inside as Yale-New Haven Hospital workers and graduate students marched in favor of unionization.
It was a year of transitions and largely unanswered questions. It was, somewhat disappointingly, the year before. We anxiously await resolution next year.