When Barack Obama told the nation in his Iowa victory speech that “the time for change has come,” it’s unlikely he was thinking about bringing a new era to his law school’s Elm City rival — ol’ Eli. (Well then again, you never know with politicians.)

And, of course, any substantial change made here this year would not be in the vein of a new Bulldog order of bipartisan cooperation. (Or would it?)

Still, Yalies — and their New Haven neighbors — can’t deny feeling some sense of connection to what has come to be the ubiquitous theme in presidential campaign slogans: “Change, change, change.” If 2007 was a year of debate and reflection on campus, 2008 promises 12 months of palpable changes to cultural and institutional norms.

Most immediately — and perhaps most revolutionary; we’ll see soon enough — will be the sweeping financial-aid overhaul. Soon after, the Yale Corporation will convene to discuss, and vote on, the proposal to add two new residential colleges on Science Hill. And in preparation for both changes, the University announced last week that it would be spending more of its endowment. Early admissions’ days, meanwhile, might be numbered.

As administrators consider expanding the population of Yale College to 6,000, students and faculty will begin to occupy Yale West, that so-far mysterious mass of research and storage space at the former Bayer facility in West Haven. But Yale’s evolution will extend far beyond Connecticut: In just over 200 days, billions of eyes will turn toward Beijing’s Summer Olympics, where the University’s institutional presence will likely be greater than any other U.S. college — its international image on the line. Before long, Yale will even be opening a satellite campus in the United Arab Emirates’ Abu Dhabi.

None of this, however, will take place in a bubble. The world around campus is changing rapidly, starting with the 2008 election. A new president — possibly the first non-Eli to occupy the Oval Office since Ronald Reagan, if not the first black American or woman — may jumpstart what was in recent years flat and lifeless political dialogue on campus. If nothing else, the end result could mean a new direction for the country — and, in turn, a call for young graduates to enter the public, rather than private, sector en masse.

The truth is that “change” itself means nothing. Among dictionary definitions for the word are “to put a fresh covering on” and “to cause to be different.” But what kind of covering? And different in what way? The example of a certain local coffee joint is evidence enough that one must be careful that change is truly, well, for the better. (Just kidding, we love you, PC.)

It is our calling as Yale students in 2008 to answer those tough questions, thereby determining the course of our alma mater — and world — for generations to come.

While campaigning in New Hampshire, Obama’s sleepless mind was drifting when he accidentally told a crowd that “the time for come has change.” Let’s make sure we’re a little bit more careful — and, above all, alert to the direction we take in 2008.