In the first public discussion regarding the prospect of two new residential colleges, students expressed substantial skepticism about any expansion, although the relatively sparse attendance may have sent a louder message about student interest in the proposal.

At a forum sponsored by the Yale Political Union and the Yale College Council on Thursday night, students debated what effects the proposed two-college expansion would have on the University, with most noting concern about increases in the size of Yale’s student body, the location of the colleges and an expansion’s effects on the classroom. But despite its heavy promotion and billing as the first chance for students to speak out about the college plan, fewer than 100 students attended the forum, and most appeared to be YPU regulars. The small group of students that stayed to take part in the forum’s culminating vote overwhelming opposed the addition of the new colleges.

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Former Calhoun Master William Sledge, chair of a newly created committee that will examine the proposed expansion’s possible effects on student life, addressed the students in attendance and fielded questions about the proposal. Although there is momentum in the direction of building new colleges, students should provide input about the proposal and not just assume the Yale administration is dead set on going through with the expansion, Sledge said.

“One of the possibilities is that we would recommend not to do it … if there’s a hint or a consensus this would be bad thing and Yale would lose something in the process,” he said. “I don’t think its necessarily a forgone conclusion that it’s going to happen … no one wants to do it just for the sake of doing it.”

Students who spoke at the debate raised a number of questions about how the college proposal could affect the University, ranging from aesthetics to academics. But amidst a litany of logistical concerns, students tried to grapple with whether admitting a larger student body would provide for a more diverse, more enriching community, or if it would take away from Yale’s sense of intimacy.

Matthew Shaffer ’10, one of the several speakers in favor of the colleges, said the University would do well to be able to admit more students, especially considering how many academically qualified students Yale already is forced to reject.

“A Yale degree is not a yacht by which we can coast and sail on the lazy river of life the rest of our lives,” Shaffer said. “And that is why I say open our doors to new competition, new faces and people whose SAT scores are not quite as high as ours.”

But the magnitude of the proposed change seemed to frighten many students who said the Yale experience could be irreparably harmed by meddling with a University tradition — the 12 residential colleges — that has been untouched for decades. From overcrowding in seminars to the thought of living on Science Hill, students raised a list of concerns about how Yale’s campus and educational experience would be affected by such an expansion.

The issue of architecture — and whether it would be prudent, or even feasible, to try to replicate the University’s beloved neo-Gothic or Georgian aesthetic — seemed to be at the top of many students’ list of concerns.

“Will the University be able to transcend future Morses and Stiles?” Jacob Abolafia ’10 said. “I know as someone in Davenport, I get to hear a lot of Morse people complain a lot of the time … there’s a morale problem in Morse and Stiles.”

If Yale cannot afford to subsidize buses to the Yale-Harvard game, perhaps the University should not embark upon what would certainly be a nine-figure project, one student said. Another suggested Yale President Richard Levin might just want to be able to admit half of China. Others had innovative suggestions for what the University could do to find a better location for the new colleges, like leveling Au Bon Pain to build a skyscraper college or opening up the Grove Street Cemetery to serve as something of a new, albeit ghoulish, Cross Campus. Another suggested moving Toad’s Place to Science Hill to draw students toward the new colleges at night.

At the end of the meeting, students who remained in attendance — about half the students originally at the meeting — voted by a significant majority not to endorse the proposed expansion. Nine students voted in favor of the new colleges, and 38 voted against. Four students abstained.

In his remarks, Sledge also added some details about the college proposal. If the colleges are built, the costs will be covered by special fundraising, and the college’s freshmen would likely live within the new colleges and not on Old Campus, he said — a point that attracted particular concern from some students, given that four of 14 residential colleges would not house their freshmen on Old Campus.

YCC Secretary Zach Marks ’09 said student input should be crucial to the University’s decision-making about the colleges, and the forum helped toward those ends.

“This is really going to change the nature of the University,” he said. “Students should have as much opportunity to weigh in as possible.”

Yale’s next open forum is scheduled for Feb. 20 at 7:30 p.m. in Sudler Hall. Levin is expected to attend, YCC President Emery Choi ’07 said.