Overcrowding in the colleges, perennially a thorny problem, has once again come to our attention. Sidney Lovett’s statement that in Pierson “we have five more bodies than beds” reflects facts and figures which are more appalling than ever. Trumbull reports a surplus of six entering sophomores; there are no triples in Saybrook; entering sophomores will have little chance for anything except four-man suites, and with the sole exception of Calhoun, there are no singles at all for incoming members of the class of 1961; in some places, there are not enough singles to accommodate seniors.
From time to time, persons interested in this problem have suggested off-campus living as a possible alternative. They have suggested this not so much as a solution to the problem of overcrowding per se, but as a suitable alternative to those who want and need the privacy which one no longer obtains in the college system as currently constituted.
Official answers to this proposal have invariably been predicated on two assumptions: The first is that accommodations in New Haven are nearly impossible to find. We are not satisfied on this score. The second, and perhaps slightly broader objection, has been that such a move would undermine and weaken the structure and cohesiveness of a college system which needs all the bolstering it can lay its hands on.
We deplore these arguments. Do not misunderstand us. We support the college system. For one thing, we have to. It’s the only thing we’ve got right now. For another, we know the English system and we like to think that some day it will be more nearly and happily approximated here at Yale.
But we would submit that the argument from faith in the college system—the one suggested briefly above—is begging the question of overcrowding. One of the chief tenets of this argument is that college life somehow constitutes a dialectical process whereby students learn and develop through constant intellectual and social association with other members of the undergraduate body. We would venture to say that this intellectual transaction is not a 24-hour-a-day affair; that those who would choose to live off campus, if in need of companionship, would find it on their own good time. We believe as well that the attrition caused by off-campus residents would not seriously impair the workings of the college system, whatever that system may be.
But our chief contention is this: that the benefits which may accrue over the passage of time from the college system—and there are, indeed, many—are still not sufficient compensation for the loss, caused by horrible overcrowding, of one of the most precious commodities of an undergraduate’s career. And that commodity is the right to privacy, the right to get away from ringing telephones and noisy friends, the right to have space for one’s own library, the right to live one’s own existence untrammeled by the necessary compromised of desks wedged between beds and bureaus stuck in closets to provide room for a chair. The “dialectic” is good and it is possible under most academic circumstances; but solitude is also good, and it is rapidly becoming impossible.
There are men who, for these reasons, desire singles and doubles; but these are the men for whom there are no singles and doubles anymore. And these are the men for whom a thorough examination—by the University—of the possibilities of off-campus living would indeed be a gracious gesture.
Robert Baylor Semple Jr. ’59 penned this column almost exactly 50 year ago, on Wednesday, April 9, 1958.