On Tuesday, Feb. 18, President Peter Salovey emailed Yale College Council President Danny Avraham and Graduate Student Assembly Chair Brian Dunican with a pressing matter: He tasked their respective councils to nominate a student to serve on the 15-person Deans Search Advisory Committee. President Salovey stressed that a student must be nominated by Monday, since the committee would commence its work that week due to the stringent timeline of the selection process.
On Thursday, Feb. 20, Avraham reached out to Tyler Blackmon ’16 and Scott Stern ’15, as they had both previously written pieces in the News arguing the necessity of having a student on the Deans Search Advisory Committee. Diana Rosen ’16, a columnist for the News who had expressed interest in the topic, was also invited.
During an early meeting with Avraham on Saturday, Feb. 22, the three invitees requested a campus-wide election to select the undergraduate representative on the committee — the first time such a request had been made to Avraham. He added their request to the YCC’s agenda and invited them to attend the regularly scheduled council meeting later that day. Despite a lengthy discussion in which Blackmon, Rosen and Stern reiterated their request for a campus-wide election, YCC voted to proceed with President Salovey’s original request that the council members nominate a representative, and they voted to nominate Avraham.
Over the past week, it has been frustrating to see the publication of ill-informed responses to this nomination, which has contributed to the community’s confusion about the council’s decision. Although the advisory committee is expected to propose several candidates for the three open dean positions, President Salovey will eventually select and appoint the deans.
As a voting member of YCC, what follows is my take on our decision-making process.
For over an hour, YCC thoughtfully considered all voices present, and all were given the opportunity to plead their case for or against a campus-wide election — a procedure that would have deviated from President Salovey’s initial request, which had specified that the council nominate a representative.
Given the time frame stressed by President Salovey, holding a campus-wide election would be impractical and would risk the election of a student who would not represent the needs of all undergraduates. Candidates would be pressed to engage the campus in at most two days in the midst of midterm season. In comparison, standard YCC campus-wide elections are held in a two-week time frame at the beginning or end of the year. Such an abbreviated and strictly symbolic election would be a disservice to voters, as they would be unable to become appropriately familiar with the issue and the candidates running.
In conversations that I and fellow YCC members have had with students across campus, it seems that, though a vocal minority supports a campus-wide election, an overwhelming majority is unfamiliar or even indifferent to the process. In the event of an election, such conditions would allow certain groups to promote a candidate with narrow interests, resulting in representation antithetical to the collective needs of students.
Despite an awareness of the potential for backlash, the council voted in favor of a nomination process and subsequently decided to nominate Avraham in an almost unanimous vote. Informed by council members, campus-wide surveys and other outlets, Avraham consistently advocates for student interests to the Yale administration. He has the ability to provide the Deans Search Advisory Committee with invaluable and unique insights on the dynamics of the Dean’s Office and its relationship with students. The student on the committee is not only expected to list student requests; he must also be able to persuade the administrators and faculty members present.
President Salovey directly requested that YCC nominate a student to the Deans Search Advisory Committee, a request that YCC honored. The council followed standard procedure, as it nominates dozens of students to various critical University committees each year. The GSA independently reached the same conclusion as YCC; it conducted an internal selection process and appointed its chair, Brian Dunican. In recent cases at peer institutions, the president of the student body has served in a similar capacity on selection committees.
All voting members of YCC are elected in an open and fair manner that neither excludes undergraduate students from declaring candidacies nor from casting votes. Attempts to undermine the legitimacy of such fairly held elections are irresponsible. As a democratically elected body, YCC represents students to the Yale administration on a constantly evolving set of issues. As a result, it continuously makes efforts to address any gaps in representation. This past year, for example, YCC instituted a referenda process to allow the entire student body to collectively voice its opinions to the administration on specific policy proposals. It was in this spirit that Avraham reached out to outspoken students to hear their ideas.
Representation requires understanding the varied opinions and requests of constituents, but it does not necessitate yielding to those with the loudest voices, particularly if they are in the minority. At the meeting, Blackmon, Rosen and Stern spoke vehemently in favor of the campus-wide election despite acknowledging the shortened time period, and they threatened electoral retribution against those who voted against the cause they championed. The representatives that voted against a campus-wide election did what they believed was right for the student body. By refusing to yield to these threats, YCC prioritized its responsibility to students over positive publicity.
Bechir-Auguste Pierre is a junior in Jonathan Edwards College. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.