When the Yale College Council submits its recommendations for students to serve on University standing committees at the end of this year, it will be fulfilling a duty that it was founded to perform 30 years ago but that has become a minor, ceremonial part of its institutional profile.
The YCC began in the 1970s as a group of elected representatives tasked with choosing Yalies to serve on University committees studying issues such as courses, majors, dining services and student health services, YCC Secretary Zach Marks ’09 said. But in the years since its founding, the council has grown into a more extensive student government that deals directly with issues relating to student life through contact with University officials and other students.
The Yale College Dean’s Office delegated the responsibility for selecting student committee members to the YCC because it felt student leaders would be best equipped to choose representatives who understood the average Yalie’s concerns, Marks said. Early YCC members’ frustration with not being able to direclty effect change led them to slowly expand the role of the council into what it is today.
“It has morphed into something like a more legitimate student government,” Marks said. “We take on policy issues of our own … There are lots of young budding politicians here at Yale who want to go into different fields of public service, so what better training than having public service now?”
Although the YCC has avoided forming legislative, executive and judicial branches like the student governments at other universities, Marks said, it has taken on a full agenda of issues.
Dean of Student Affairs Betty Trachtenberg said the role of the YCC has evolved over the course of her deanship and varies from year to year. The advent of Spring Fling in the late 1980s and the creation of a student activities fee two years ago have dramatically altered the responsibilities of the YCC and given it a higher profile on campus, she said.
“I don’t think it’s static,” Trachtenberg said. “Things change. One of the biggest developments was the creation of the Undergraduate Organizations Funding Committee during my time. Students petitioned this office to handle their own funds.”
Before the existence of the UOFC, the Committee on Undergraduate Organizations — which was made up entirely of administrators — met every two weeks to determine how to allocate University money across all student groups, Trachtenberg said.
The YCC’s clout on campus has varied over the years, Yale historian and professor emeritus Gaddis Smith said.
“I recall when I was a college master in the 1970s it was no big deal, and no one paid much attention to it,” he said. “There are times when it seems to be fairly important and people are listening to it and other times when it is ignored.”
But Deputy Provost For Undergraduate and Graduate Programs Lloyd Suttle, who served as dean of student affairs before Trachtenberg took over in 1987, said the amount of influence wielded by the YCC, which was relatively new when he became dean, was generally stable during his deanship. The issues the council focused on varied from year to year, he said.
“The leadership has taken different approaches about whether they want to be very activist on one issue or more broadly representative or more focused on social issues,” Suttle said. “The student body has gotten progressively brighter and more creative, but in this regard I don’t perceive any great difference in the level of student activism or the level of student government.”
Unlike student governments at other colleges, the YCC did not generally serve as liaison between the administration and other campus groups, which tend to represent their own interests with administrators directly, Suttle said.
Although the YCC has taken on a host of other responsibiliaof students to serve on standing committees remains an important responsibility, and one that often frustrates its members, YCC Vice President Steve Engler ’07 said. Because the assembly and operation of the committees requires coordination among the YCC, the Dean’s Office and the professors who serve as chairs, the committees sometimes never get started or meet infrequently, he said.
“The actual committees are run by full tenured professors, so it is hard for the Dean’s Office to tell them when to meet and how to run their meetings,” Engler said. “We’re in a tough spot because … this is the heart of [what the YCC does] and we have so little control over it.”
Engler said he was appointed to serve on the committee on environmental management this year, but the committee was disbanded without ever meeting owing to a lack of funding.
Yale College Dean Peter Salovey could not be reached for comment Tuesday.
Applications to serve on committees for the 2007-2008 academic year were due over the weekend. The YCC will present a list of recommendations to the Dean’s Office before leaving for the summer, Engler said.