The Yale Daily News’ recent tongue-in-cheek look at the “Berkeley Complex” (“Berkeley College: Open your doors,” 9/25), a major case of dining hall envy, touches upon an issue that extends far beyond any one college or dining hall. Allocation of scarce residential college resources, both funding and space, is perhaps the most difficult issue in residential college government today.
Berkeley’s transfer restrictions originated in 1999-2000, when they found themselves the only renovated dining hall on campus. But they were certainly not alone, as nearly half of the colleges implemented such policies at some point during my four years at Yale. In Silliman, we faced a perennial space crunch at 12:20 p.m., as all the classes on Science Hill end at once and a deluge of students and faculty overflowing from Commons descend upon our dining hall. This issue reared its head almost every semester in our college council, resulting in peak-hour transfer restrictions for two semesters. The policy, which did not turn away guests of Sillimanders, was ultimately abandoned because it generated significant grief for dining hall workers who had to enforce it. While I agree with many of the arguments cited by the News in their call for Berkeley to open its doors, each of 12 college dining halls cannot and should not be expected to serve much more than a twelfth of Yale’s students. If that capacity is seriously taxed, members of the college should receive priority.
But issues of limited college resources extend far beyond dining hours. Pierson’s Inferno joined TD’s Exotic Erotic this year amongst major events retired after becoming too big for their college hosts to handle. Only Silliman’s Safety Dance and the Stiles/Morse Casino Night remain as major residential college-sponsored events, and neither fits within a single college’s dining hall. This trend poses a great threat to Yale’s social life, but it is not caused not by college elitism — rather, it arises from harsh economic reality.
As few Yalies may know, much of a residential college’s funding comes not from student tuitions, but rather through that college’s own Parents’ Fund and donations from alumni. Such donors can reasonably expect that their funds be used for the benefit of students within their college, as they could otherwise contribute to general Yale student life funds. This results in the dilemma. It is in all students’ interest for large events to exist, providing both a chance to unwind and an opportunity to reconnect with acquaintances in other colleges. However, it is in no one college’s interest to host such a party. Scratches on the wood floors in most college common rooms alone cost thousands of dollars to repair, and even a significant use fee can fall short of recouping such costs. I do not know how Berkeley is financing their organic endeavor, but if it too is funded from sources other than the Yale University Dining Services money all student pay, the college has a doubly strong responsibility to ensure that its own students have access first.
There probably isn’t an easy solution to this real life example of the tragedy of the commons. Indeed, the price we pay for our strong residential college communities is the division of such campus resources twelve ways. There will probably always be inequities between colleges in space, location, or available funds. So, any solution would have to come from an organization with a broader mandate than the individual college councils, such as the newly reorganized YCC. Perhaps some sort of funding could be established through Yale College itself to defray expenses of university-wide events. But whatever the answer, it must be found soon, before Yale’s University-wide social life goes the way of Harvard’s — nonexistent.
Allen William Dodson ’02 is a former president of the Silliman College Council.