It’s like deja vu in the Dean’s Office.
Thursday at noon, Yale College Dean Jonathan Holloway sent an email to the college community announcing the formation of two groups to “advise [him] on the practical questions involved in opening the two new residential colleges.” There’s something familiar about this — we’ve seen versions of these committees before.
The first group is a steering committee composed of 16 students, faculty, staff and alumni who will “articulate the questions that need answers before the colleges open.” The second is a working group composed of staff who will seek answers to those questions.
We’ll raise only briefly the obvious question of how these individuals were selected. Were the students hand-picked by Holloway, after the Yale College Council sent its nominees to the Dean’s Office? And with what criteria in mind? Are the committee members being trained or educated to do this work competently? Was diversity taken into consideration? It’s good that Holloway is taking steps to involve students and faculty in decision making, something for which we’ve advocated in previous editorials. But it’s better when community members are chosen democratically, or at least selected through a transparent process.
Our deeper concern is with the committees themselves, which were, granted, a recommendation of a prior committee. Why is the Dean’s Office creating new advisory groups to raise new questions before coming to grips with the ones that have already been posed by previous committees?
In the six years since the Yale Corporation approved the new colleges, several steering committees and working groups have tackled the challenges of expansion. In 2008, the Study Group to Consider New Residential Colleges — of which Holloway was a member — released a report outlining the extensive additional construction necessary to accommodate outsized undergraduate enrollment. Drafted by two committees of faculty, staff and students, the report recommended more than a dozen concrete steps, including the following additions to the University’s physical resources: a “much-needed” lecture hall capable of seating 200 people, mid-sized classroom spaces that can double as spots for rehearsals and student meetings, a theater and dance space and an additional fitness center near Science Hill.
What’s the fate of these suggestions? That’s the question crying out for an answer.
In May of this year, the Ad Hoc Committee on Yale College Expansion — again, Holloway was a member — released a report recommending changes to the allocation of classroom space and an increase in the hiring of non-ladder faculty, among other ideas. We disagree with many of the committee’s findings, such as the feasibility of simply moving large lectures to early time slots to reduce demand, but these recommendations exist nonetheless. The committee also highlighted concerns ranging from fellowship funding to intramural sports, but we’ve yet to hear anything about how policy will change in response. One specific recommendation was the creation of this working group, composed of students, faculty and staff. But what about the other suggestions? Were they just shelved?
The point is: These new committees are repetitive and futile until the work of previous committees is acknowledged, whether their recommendations are acted upon or refused. We’re now only two and a half years away from ribbon-cutting. Where are the teaching assistants going to come from? Where are all the new students going to find room to study?
We should not allow the formation of another set of committees to create the appearance of preparedness for this expansion. The University is not prepared, and everyone who’s read the previous committee reports knows that.
It doesn’t matter which “heraldic devices” these colleges use, which is among the questions the committees will tackle, according to Holloway’s email. It matters that the students who populate them aren’t squeezed into a College without the proper academic or physical resources to accommodate them. The challenges posed by two new residence halls, and 800 new students, transcend this one plot of land. They extend across the College and require the attention of Holloway and other administrators.
Holloway’s email provided instructions for sending thoughts and suggestions to the new groups. Our first suggestion is to revisit the conclusions of their predecessors. To do otherwise would be to make the same mistakes over and over again.