In the past years of Yale’s strained relationship with its unions, students have been continually reminded of Yale’s tremendous wealth. The inequality is indeed staggering. As Yale’s endowment almost tripled in the past decade, jumping from $3.2 billion to $10.3 billion, New Haven’s unemployment rate has risen from 7.6 to 10.7 percent.
Such striking disproportions have made their way into various reports, including “Schools, Taxes and Jobs,” released by the Connecticut Center for a New Economy (CCNE) in February 2000. In the report, the advocate for Yale’s unions proposed that the University pay between $2 million and $6.4 million to help New Haven’s public schools where the ratio of students to teachers continues to increase. Yet moves such as CCNE’s report have neglected to mention one important party inherently involved in the current struggle. Members of locals 34 and 35 may serve the University, but in doing so, they also serve students. And as we ask the University to make an investment in its employees’ futures, it is important to ask students to take a similar step.
Last year, I, along with Moira Heiges ’04, Rachel Berger ’03 and Noam Schimmel ’02 presented a proposal to President Levin that called upon the University to encourage students to live and work in New Haven upon graduation. Cities across the country have historically relied on the human capital that floods their nearby college campuses to ultimately contribute to city life. Much higher yields of alumni at universities such as Columbia and the University of Pennsylvania have gone on to play a part in the economic well-being of their universities’ cities. Meanwhile, Yale remains one of the few urban universities whose students take advantage of a surrounding city to which they do not give something back in return.
In our report, we proposed that the University develop two fellowship programs for graduating seniors. The first, the Yale Service Fellowship, is a program in which alumni would work in New Haven nonprofit and government agencies while participating in leadership development seminars. In the the second program, the Yale Teaching Fellowship, students from Yale’s Teacher Preparation program would agree to teach for two years in New Haven’s public schools upon graduation. In exchange, students would receive a grant from the University toward part or all of their senior year tuition.
Just as the unions are demanding a fair and equitable partnership between the city and the University as they picket outside our classrooms, so does our proposal. Both of the programs we proposed to President Levin outline potential, yet specific, partnerships between the city and the University. As New Haven’s nonprofits and government agencies capitalize on the motivation of talented young people, students would gain valuable experience as productive participants within New Haven’s political scene and education system. And the Yale Teaching Fellowship, based on a similar plan developed two years ago at Columbia Teacher’s College, would channel students into New Haven’s needy public schools.
Unfortunately, some of the unions’ demands have not been as specific or constructive. Appeals such as those made to Yale to make a monetary donation to the New Haven public schools or to pay annual taxes to the city will not have a long-term impact on the partnership we seek to establish. The unions’ demands need to be accompanied by calls for the creation of specific programs that stand to improve the state of the surrounding region and its residents, one-quarter of whom work for Yale.
I support the unions’ struggle. After dedicating 30 years to work at one university, employees are entitled to a fair pension. Graduate students should not be forced to sign up their children for the Healthcare for UninSured Kids and Youth plan because they cannot afford to put them on their own insurance plan. Yale can certainly take some significant steps towards being a better citizen of New Haven.
The role of a good citizen, however, goes beyond giving monetary handouts. In order for Yale to be a good citizen, Yale needs to make an investment in New Haven. Just as it has already done with the Homebuyer program, the University should take steps to advance the continuing well-being of their communities. Students need to be encouraged to work in the city’s public schools not only for the four years they live here coincidentally, but for the long term in which they can potentially call New Haven home. Businesses and jobs come to cities where there already exists a growing qualified work force. One of the most valuable things Yale can do for New Haven is discourage its students from taking part in New Haven’s already existing problem of urban flight.
By concentrating on Yale’s considerable wealth, the unions have failed to remove the University from its distant and privileged position in New Haven. Yale needs to be portrayed not only as an establishment whose capital can resolve the current struggle, but as a citizen whose investment will make a lasting change in town-gown relations. The distribution of monetary donations carries the danger of only underscoring the divide that already exists between Yale and New Haven. The problem with calling solely for a one-time contribution or a one-time pay raise is that it does not call upon the University to have a sustained involvement in its city. The difficulty with the unions’ strategy is therefore not that they ask the University to do too much, but rather, that they are not demanding enough.
Benita Singh is a senior in Branford College.