When I attended Tuesday night’s open forum on financial aid, I expected President Levin to do a few things. Having neglected to arrange any sort of meeting with students for months, this forum was supposed to provide the dialogue students have been asking for. I expected President Levin to go through the Yale College Council and Undergraduate Organizing Committee’s platforms on financial aid reform. I expected him to show at least a basic grasp of the mechanics of the financial aid process. I expected him to allow all the students who have been petitioning for an audience with him to speak. I expected him to be sympathetic to the hardships of students on financial aid.
What I got was not what I expected. When President Levin cut off student open questions early to move to a discussion of financial aid, he started by “outlining” the platforms of the UOC and the YCC. Yet he did not even understand all of the proposals. The biggest insult of the night was what the News calls “two proposals for financial aid reform.” His “proposals” are not two valid options. He suggested that we decide whether it would be more important to reduce the parental contribution or to reduce the student contribution. It is not difficult to see how these two amounts are essentially the same. All that money comes from the family. In some cases, the students have to pay part of the parental contribution to help their family or vice versa. This is not a “serious move” to reform aid. This is a nonsensical rearrangement of numbers.
President Levin repeatedly revealed that he did not really understand the intricacies of the financial aid process; if he knew he was going to have an open forum with students about financial aid, should he not have at least brushed up a little on his facts? Instead of answers, we got a lot of “I don’t know”s. He “didn’t know” that freshman counselors have access to a student’s financial aid status; he “didn’t know” why some students present were required to work 20 hours a week to pay their student contribution, and sometimes, their parental contribution as well.
President Levin fielded questions on aid for less than 30 minutes. In that time, he misstated the platform he has had months to read and look over; he offered a “choice” which is not a choice at all but unacceptable politicking to make it appear that he is actually pushing for reform; he ended almost 40 minutes early, and he showed that he is not sympathetic to the plight of students on financial aid. Levin repeatedly dismissed the stories of numerous individuals on aid saying that their stories were “personal” and not generally indicative. Person after person stood up with a similar story to tell, about themselves or some of their close friends, and President Levin dismissed them all. The number of students having to go to unreasonable extremes to meet their financial aid burden is only a “couple hundred,” he said. While the number is most likely higher than a couple hundred, the thought that President Levin considers it acceptable to discount a couple hundred of his students is a chilling revelation.
Levin’s concern for students on aid appears to only extend as far as the competition with Harvard and Princeton. We do not want financial aid reform to “beat” other schools; we want reform to increase economic diversity at Yale and opportunity for students on aid. Levin is evidently only capable of seeing this as an issue of competitive edge. If “serious moves” are coming, why not tell them to us now? A choice between parental contribution and student contribution deduction is not a move at all, much less a serious one.
President Levin should show students the respect they deserve and make a real change to fix financial aid at Yale.
Nick Seaver is a sophomore in Branford College.