The Yale College Council is poised to continue using research reports as a means to influence University decisions, a year after debuting the strategy with mixed success.
YCC President Jon Wu ’11 said the YCC will continue to bring policy research before Yale’s administrators in order to influence campus issues, such as academic minors and gender-neutral housing. In doing so, Wu follows closely in the footsteps of former YCC President Rich Tao ’10, who led the writing of several reports during his tenure. But the success of the approach is unproven: The fate of the YCC’s proposal for academic minors could be decided this month and faculty interviewed differed in their opinions on whether the YCC’s report on the issue would have an impact.
“[Former YCC President Rich Tao ’10] and last year’s YCC were able to basically lay the groundwork,” Wu said of the work on academic minors and other issues for which the council advocated. “This year it’s really the year to follow up on that.”
Over the past two years, the YCC has tried to reinvent itself as not only a strong voice for the student body, but also a strong arm. After abandoning resolutions for a project-oriented approach in 2007, the YCC took on the role of a think tank during the 2008 academic year, conducting in-depth research into student policy issues. The YCC issued several lengthy reports last year, addressing issues such as financial aid reform and sustainable design decisions within Yale’s two proposed residential colleges.
“I think we’ve had a succession of very good leaders in the last few years in the YCC,” University President Richard Levin said, citing the YCC’s reports on the Yale College dean’s search and the report on the two new residential colleges as particularly useful. “I would personally encourage the YCC to take a more active role with serious issues on the one hand. On the other hand, they’re an elected body and it’s up to you voters to decide what they should do.”
Tao said last year’s approach built relationships between the YCC and top Yale decision-makers.
“We made concrete progress on issues but a large part of what we did last year was increasing legitimacy, building relationships and setting the framework for future advocacy,” he said. “Now you could really go to work.”
And that work, Wu said, begins with minors, which he named as the YCC’s top policy issue for the coming year.
Last spring, the YCC submitted a 26-page report to the Committee on Majors proposing an academic minors system wherein departments would opt into a minors program. Such a program would increase the breadth of classes students opted to take, the YCC said then. When it convened in April, the Committee on Majors encountered contentious opinions among faculty members and deferred a decision until this fall. In preparation for that meeting, council members began lobbying individual faculty members last spring; that work has continued into the fall.
The report’s impact among faculty members is mixed. Wu and Tao said faculty members in favor of adding minors brought the report to meetings and used it as a reference.
Ultimately, Committee on Majors co-Chair Pericles Lewis said the minors decision will rest solely with the University faculty.
“We drew on the report to get a sense of student opinion,” Lewis wrote in an e-mail, though he added, “Ultimately, curricular decisions are the province of the faculty.”
Physics Department Director of Undergraduate Studies Charles Bailyn ’81 said he read the YCC’s report but disagrees with the YCC’s stated philosophy, which claims minors will encourage students to take higher-level classes in departments outside their major.
Bailyn said he and others weighed the YCC’s recommendations as one factor in forming their own decision. But Bailyn said his own experiences led him to another conclusion, and that while the YCC weighing in on academic matters was “entirely appropriate,” their arguments were not necessarily entirely convincing.
“On the issues of academic policy, in the end it comes down to votes in the faculty meeting,” Bailyn said. “If there are topics brought up where the student opinion differs from the faculty opinion, I don’t think the students will prevail.”
Portuguese Director of Undergraduate Study David Jackson noted, however, that student opinion is in some ways essential.
“I think student opinion is crucial,” he said. “Nobody is going to go ahead to discuss details if the students aren’t in favor of it.”