There has long been talk of building two new residential colleges, but President Levin confirmed any lingering doubts Thursday afternoon in an e-mail to the entire Yale community. Only after reading it did I realize how serious the situation has become: Levin’s proposed committees are the only thing standing between us and Ezra Stiles 2.0.
The purpose of the review process is to ascertain that “the quality of the Yale College experience would be maintained or enhanced, not diminished” by extending the gift of a Yale education to a greater proportion of the ever-growing applicant pool.
This is the wrong way to decide future development because it carries the implicit assumption that there is nothing wrong at Yale right now. Rather than evaluating whether a given proposal would help or harm the student body, we should be trying to solve the problems that already exist in campus life.
According to Levin’s e-mail, the new colleges would do no more than reduce overcrowding in college housing. This is an admirable goal, but this campus has much greater problems than a few Branford juniors who grumble about having to live in Vanderbilt.
Yale has provided me with a fantastic college experience. The college is not without its flaws, but I recognize that even an Ivy League school has limits to its resources. However, with the Development Office poised to spend millions of dollars on new colleges, now is the time for us to vent all our frustrations.
First of all, Yale College needs more students like it needs another a cappella group. We get rejected from classes. We try to eat in Pierson at 6:15 and find that neither food nor a table remains. Many of us stood in line for almost an hour to hear Justice Scalia only to be turned away because of lack of space. Overcrowding is a perennial issue that plagues more than just student housing.
Of course, this problem could be addressed with the construction of new buildings, which raises another issue: the opportunity cost of the new colleges. The Budget Office has already told us that the cost of constructing two new colleges will exceed the revenue generated by the extra students, and this money would be better spent elsewhere.
I agree that the University needs more buildings, but I don’t think they should be devoted to narrow beds and tainted shower stalls.
WLH and LC barely have enough rooms to fit all the classes and sections, and on weekends they’re often overrun by self-important high-school students playing at Model U.N. or Forensics, leaving the many extracurricular groups on campus with nowhere to meet. The Off-Broadway Theater is quaint, but a university known for its prowess in the performing arts should have a legitimate performing arts center. (A stage would be nice.) As an arts student, I have never actually seen Science Hill, but I have heard tell of the horrors that await any student so bold as to enter a chemistry lab.
Then there’s the issue of students who just want somewhere to go to do nothing. Yale’s complete lack of a central student center is somewhat mitigated by the various college common rooms, but even those are often occupied by a speaker or a student group (although Pierson officially banned a cappella groups from using the common room last semester, urging them to seek out the multitude of other available rooms with a piano). CCL’s renovations will make it more like a student center, but it’s hard to imagine having much fun in a library (except for the stacks, of course).
Then again, there are plenty of things Yale could do with a few million dollars that wouldn’t require construction at all. Little things like subsidized transportation to one of the oldest traditions in college athletics really do make a difference, especially for those of us whose parents look at their bank statement and curse the day we received that fat envelope in the mail.
Speaking of desperate pecuniary circumstances, students have been petitioning for financial aid reform for years. Yale is doing nothing for its disadvantaged students when a single year brings plans for expensive construction projects and a tuition hike.
A new pair of residential colleges might not hurt the Yale experience, but it’s up to the administration to show that it would benefit us more than anything else they could do with the money. Yale needs to worry about meeting the needs of the current student body before it considers expanding it.
Julian Prokopetz is a sophomore in Ezra Stiles College.