Yale students have complained for months that the University’s plan to build two new residential colleges was inevitable, a done deal or a foregone conclusion.
And, for months, administrators have pressed back, vowing that their opinions did really count when it came to building the two new residential colleges.
But on Monday, in a statement e-mailed to the community along with the long-awaited report by two committees appointed to examine the consequences of building new colleges, University President Richard Levin professed his support for expanding Yale College. To some students, that validated their complaints all along.
And many of them — or at least many of the 20 students interviewed in Commons on Monday night — were not happy.
“Why do they inform us,” asked a frustrated Faris Montgomery ’10, “if our opinions aren’t being taken into account?”
Montgomery was referring to the widespread student opposition to the expansion. Earlier this month, in a poll of 362 undergraduates, only one in four said he or she supported building two new residential colleges. Even fewer supported the colleges’ proposed location, behind the Grove Street Cemetery along Prospect Street, which administrators have long said was never up for negotiation.
For her part, Yale College Council President Rebecca Taber ’08 offered her criticism of the deliberation process leading up to this week’s impending vote of the Yale Corporation on whether to proceed with planning for the new colleges.
“I do think it’s a problem that they’ve never directly addressed how student opinion will be taken into account,” Taber said, adding, “I think it’s very easy to have the report serve as a rubber stamp.”
Students were slightly less discreet in their critiques. One of the angriest interviewed Monday night decried the administration’s efforts in recent months to solicit student opinion about the colleges as merely a “PR campaign” to make it seem as if they cared. Another student, Neil Parikh ’10, offered similar frustration.
“I feel like we didn’t really know enough about the expansion proposal, but we should have been taken into consideration,” he said.
“The administration,” concluded Alexander Jares ’10, “couldn’t care less about the musing of 20-year-olds.”
Levin acknowledged in his statement to the community that students had expressed concerns over expansion. And members of the committees, which examined issues related to student life and the University’s academic resources, offered their own plea: Don’t shoot the messenger.
But students may have some reason to complain — in his statement, Levin referred to the two committees as having the charge of having to “examine the desirability of adding two residential colleges.”
The committees saw their task in a different light. They did not seek to determine whether the University should build new colleges, but rather how to go about doing it in the best possible way if the Yale Corporation decided to go ahead with the expansion, according to committee members.
The committees, for instance, never took up-or-down votes on whether they preferred expansion, said the two chairmen of the committees, former Calhoun College Master William Sledge and Dean of Undergraduate Education Joseph Gordon.
“What we were asked to consider was … ‘What would we need to do if we were to build two new residential colleges at the proposed location?’” said Penelope Laurans, an associate dean of Yale College and the vice chairwoman of both committees. “That was how it was couched to us. That’s a different thing than saying, ‘Should you build two new residential colleges?’ ”
In other words: If the Yale Corporation votes this weekend to proceed with planning for building two new colleges, the committees should not be blamed because they did not endorse such a plan. They merely did their best, over the course of 100 pages and 30,400 words, to explain how exactly the University could best safeguard the quality of the University and of the Yale College education if it decides to expand.
All along, committee members indicated they felt there was “strong momentum” toward expansion on the parts of Levin and the Yale Corporation. Regarding the former, at least, they appeared to guess correctly.
Which made Monday’s announcement come as not much of a surprise to some, even as it enraged some students.
“If you said, ‘Some committee members believed that was inevitable,’ ” one committee member said Monday, speaking on the condition of anonymity, “I wouldn’t argue with the statement.”
Inevitable or not, committee members expressed pleasure on Monday with their ultimate product — the epic report — because of the extent to which Levin promised to embrace their 15 recommendations, to which student feedback contributed several points.
Several recommendations — including the transformation of the Becton Center on Prospect Street into a more inviting space replete with a fast food venue and rehearsal spaces, and the construction of a visual landmark on the corner of Prospect, Trumbull and Canal streets to serve as an entry point for the new colleges — were entirely devised by students who offered their opinions at a series of residential college forums this fall and in a questionnaire e-mailed to students in November.
And the committee members did not skimp on lavishing praise on the six student members of the committees, who were appointed by the YCC last spring and were widely credited by their peers on the committee as bringing a healthy dose of skepticism to the entire process, not to mention a keen understanding of how the expansion could affect students.
“The truth of the matter is: We really learned from what we heard. Things were not swept under the rug,” said one faculty member on a committee, who asked not to be named.
Still, “Does that mean that President Levin isn’t going to build the colleges?” she wondered aloud.
The committee member answered her own question.
“I don’t think so,” she said.