Last spring, the 2013–’14 Yale College Council was elected after a race with three uncontested seats and low voter participation.
Despite widespread student apathy during that race, the YCC — under the leadership of president Danny Avraham ’15 — has taken an active role over the past year, launching and executing both internal improvements and external projects with varying degrees of success and mixed reception by students. According to YCC Vice President Kyle Tramonte ’15, this year’s YCC worked on more than 60 projects. Some initiatives led to tangible results, including the addition of a day to reading period and a referendum on fossil fuel divestment, while others made strides in conversations with the administration, according to members of the YCC board.
While a majority of the approximately 20 students interviewed were indifferent to or supported the progress of the initiatives YCC tackled this year, several added that the YCC has attained a reputation for being out of touch with the student body.
Tramonte said this year’s YCC operated under a new structure, consisting of a Management Board comprised of an academics director, student life director and University services director. Rather than having project committees, every elected representative was required to lead a project under one of the three directors on the Management Board.
Tramonte said the new structure allowed the YCC to more effectively pursue a greater volume of initiatives. The addition of a Management Board increased accountability and productivity, he said.
According to YCC Communications Director Andrew Grass ’16, the restructuring was part of the YCC’s efforts to create a flexible and sustainable system that could transition smoothly between YCC boards. Tramonte said past YCC boards often wasted time repeating failed policies and projects because of a lack of centralized data and communications. This year, the YCC board focused on building institutional memory for ongoing projects, communications and initiatives, he said.
Grass said one of the YCC’s most significant accomplishments this year was the addition of a day to reading period for the 2014–’15 academic year. The project’s success — announced in early March — stemmed from discussions with the Yale administration from January 2013 to February 2014. When asked to identify one of the YCC’s recent accomplishments, most students interviewed noted the calendar change.
“For the first time, this year, we’ve seen real [academic] changes that were previously viewed as impossible,” Tramonte said. “We’ve done this a couple of times this year by strategically moving through these committees.”
The YCC also furthered community efforts to address mental health after the council released an extensive report and recommendations last September.
In an April email to the student body, Director of Yale Health Paul Genecin detailed new initiatives to improve dialogue between students and Mental Health & Counseling administrators, and cited the September YCC report on mental health treatment as part of what motivated the University’s response.
“A lot of very positive steps were taken this year [regarding] gender neutral housing and even mental health,” said Michael Herbert ’16, who was recently elected to serve as the next YCC president. “However, they could have stepped up on leading with issues, particularly sexual assault. That is an area [where] they could have demonstrated greater leadership.”
Tramonte said another important YCC achievement was amending the personal expenditures portion of financial aid to cover the student activities fee — a $75 charge billed to every undergraduate.
YCC proposals that have not yet achieved their objectives include expanding mixed-gender housing for sophomores, divesting the University endowment from the fossil fuel industry, instating an off-campus meal plan, standardizing teaching assistant grading and encouraging the University to reconsider implementing academic minors.
“You can have some big projects and some success, but because of nature of administration, for some projects there’s a lot of positive movement forward that may be successful in the next year or in the future,” Grass said.
Still, a majority of the 20 students interviewed were not well informed about the activities of this year’s YCC. While some said they had not noticed or heard of any major changes, many admitted that they simply did not pay attention to the YCC.
“I know nothing about YCC,” Zobia Chunara ’16 said.
Aaron Gertler ’16 said his impression is that most students neither know nor care much about the YCC. If students are unwilling to communicate their interests, it is difficult for the YCC to represent those interests, he said.
Still, other students who said they followed the YCC’s progress this year expressed reservation about how it was governed this year.
“The silent majority is indifferent to the YCC but there is a very vocal minority that wants to say the YCC has become out of touch with students,” Zach Young ’17 said.
Linda Oh ’17 said she has the impression that most students “don’t have that great of an opinion” of this year’s YCC, citing controversy in February after the YCC appointed Avraham to the selection committee for the new Yale College dean without a campuswide vote.
At the time, some students interviewed said they believed there should have been a campuswide vote for the student representative to the committee, despite the logistical challenges of conducting that vote within a short space of time.
Grass said this year’s YCC attempted to emphasize transparency by revamping its website and emails and providing detailed meeting minutes for interested students to learn about the council’s actions and its projects. He acknowledged that this year, because the council devoted a lot of time to improving its internal operational work, the YCC could not spend as much time conducting “proactive outreach.”
“I think the YCC could do a lot more active reaching out to groups and people on campus to find out what issues they are concerned about,” he said.
The 2014–’15 Yale College Council will begin its term on May 8.
Phoebe Kimmelman, Larry Milstein and Rachel Siegel contributed reporting.