Whether you are in Morse or Berkeley, Yale’s tuition is still $40,000-plus — but residents of only one of those colleges get to eat in a state-of-the-art dining hall on a daily basis. Stiles and Davenport students filled out the same application to get into Yale, but D-Porters are the ones who get to live in a stunning new college, while Stilesians see exposed heat ducts and pipes in their basement.
Between dining hall restrictions, college endowments, and renovation plans, the past year has convinced Yalies in some colleges that they have been handed an unequal bargain. Yale has addressed some of these concerns; in the case of dining halls, for example, nearly all of last year’s transfer limits have been lifted. But the University has not convinced us that the overall disparities among the colleges are being addressed — or at the very least, acknowledged.
The college system is based on a simple principle: All 12 are different, but they are also, at heart, equal. Yale’s system rightly allows each college and its master autonomy in choosing what amenities they offer. Colleges should be encouraged to put their money to different uses, whether that means improving a gym or holding more college-wide events. The fact that each college has a distinct identity, forged by everything from its architecture to its cheer, is a boon to the University — but this distinctiveness cannot be used to justify inequities across Yale’s campus.
It is time for Yale to take stock of the residential college system, and reconsider how well it is living up to the lofty rhetoric surrounding it. Is the admissions-brochure ideal of 12 equal colleges a reality, and if not, what can be done to make it so?
The most troublesome case lies in the residential college facilities: No one could look at the conditions in Morse, Stiles or Calhoun and argue that those colleges offer an environment even approaching newly revamped Davenport or Pierson. At the very least, the University must give a clearer sense of what will happen to the three colleges not slated for a full renovation. And if not every college will see complete improvements, Yale must explain how it will ensure the maintenance of a baseline quality of life across campus.
More broadly, the University must do a better job demonstrating its commitment to the ideal of equality among colleges. In part, that should come through a full review — undertaken by students, faculty and staff — of the comparative resources and facilities of the colleges. That review should explore the conditions of the unrenovated colleges as well as the variations between dining halls or college endowments. Most importantly, it should examine how these disparities are impacting student life and offer a sense of how they can be eliminated.
The idea of the residential college drew many of us to Yale in the first place. Our confidence in Yale’s system was rooted in the understanding that no matter which of the 12 colleges we would call home, our next-door neighbors wouldn’t have it substantially better — or worse. As Yale increasingly departs from that ideal, it has left us asking whether our confidence was misplaced.