To the Editor:
Craig Johnson delivers an all-too-typical Anglophilic paean to the virtues of the Cambridge college system. Having spent a year doing graduate work there after getting my BA from Yale, I can attest to that system’s deep flaws and the superiority of our own. Cambridge is like the United States under the Articles of Confederation: each unit jealously guards its prerogatives and identity at the expense of the good of the whole — Cantabs wear college scarves, not Cambridge sweatshirts.
While Yale students can use Borrow Direct to get unlimited books from any Ivy League library (except Harvard’s), at Cambridge I had to sneak into St John’s to consult material (rich college libraries often have books the main library lacks). Other iniquities exist: My friend’s dorm had a private pool and croquet lawn; I had a moldy squash court. Some May Balls have oysters and champagne, others moonshine and bad techno. You can’t even walk through other colleges after a certain hour — the porters lock the gates to interlopers.
The Yale system retains identity without sacrificing egalitarianism. Each college has its own traditions — Berkeley’s organic food, the Saybrook Strip, JE’s cryptic motto — and indeed endowment and alumni associations. Many students identify with their college, but others choose different ways to find their niche (e.g. sports teams, cultural houses, Dwight Hall). I have certainly never seen college identity harden into separatism
We should not chance it by designating the new colleges for “special” groups or giving them special facilities or curricula. Officially moving towards Cambridge’s exclusionary, segregated, confederated system would be a big mistake.
The writer is a 2006 graduate of Yale College. He is currently a graduate student at the Yale Law School.