American postsecondary education is transactional by nature. Students pay tuition, room and board, and in return they receive access to curricula, professors, academic resources, housing and food. Yale is certainly unique in many ways, but regardless of how the University might try to frame the Eli experience as one-of-a-kind, it, like most colleges, cannot survive without its client base — us, the student body.
Yale’s financial reports reveal that, despite fluctuations in the total sum that students paid to the University, net tuition, room and board has made up roughly nine percent of the University’s budget in recent years. Yes, there are dips and jumps in this figure, but generally the University relies pretty heavily on students to help pay the bills.
I would be lying if I said that I am displeased with the annual transaction that my family has made for the past four years. I have learned how to learn, made lifelong friends, been wrong and thankfully corrected in both academic and social settings and, overall, grown quite a bit. However, if the University depends on students to contribute almost a 10th of its operating budget, we must ask: Where does the University not live up to expectations in serving its clientele?
The administration most resoundingly (even if not explicitly) demonstrates the limits of our transaction with them in their unwillingness to adequately and transparently incorporate student opinion into decision-making. Perhaps at one point in the school’s younger years, administrators found it important not only to pursue student involvement in planning for the future but also to explain University actions. But if such a tendency did exist, whatever muscle twitched and encouraged such activity seems to have atrophied long ago. Emboldened by its prestige, an ever-increasing number of qualified applicants and a student body with a lifespan of four years, our administrators are increasingly comfortable with making decisions and not answering to the student body after announcing them.
Mechanisms exist to incorporate the student voice into University planning and policymaking: the Yale College Council and various working groups and University-wide standing committees that convene on a semi-regular basis and include faculty, administrative staff and students. Having served both in working groups and standing committees, as well as having overseen the appointment process of student members for two consecutive years as vice president of YCC, I say with the utmost confidence that the mere inclusion of students on the committees is not enough to adequately represent student concerns.
This is not to say that the student members of these committees are not respected; their opinions are heard very closely and their advice is often heeded. However, as a matter of procedure, many of the recommendations that these committees formulate require subsequent faculty approval at faculty meetings. But while administrators concede that only a handful of faculty committee members cannot decide policy for an entire campus, no parallel concession exists regarding the ability of a couple of students — who happen to be selected for committee membership — to make decisions on behalf of their peers. Committee recommendations are never subjected to a student vote. Because members of standing committees sign confidentiality agreements, even if we asked our peers or professors who serve on these committees about a recommendation, it is unlikely we would get any information from them.
Whenever a policy change occurs, we are often invited to share our thoughts via email with the administration. And that’s it. Decisions are made, reports are released and policies are implemented. A veto option for 11,000 students (or roughly 5,400 undergrads for policies related solely to the College) seems unwieldy. But forcing our administrators to explain why they made decisions is certainly not too much to ask.
I began this article by framing the contract between students and the University as an economic transaction. But regardless of how much students contribute to this school, one should never have to put a price on inclusion in the future of one’s own education and environment. We help fund this University, we comprise its core and, while our time here is limited, we have its future in our minds just as much as anyone else.
In the 2013–14 academic year, contributions to the school comprised four percent of the operating budget. While I’m sure plenty of donations went to the endowment, I’d be interested in learning what the price tag is for an answer when a donor calls Woodbridge Hall.
Kyle Tramonte is a senior in Saybrook College and the former vice president of the Yale College Council. His column runs on alternate Wednesdays. Contact him at email@example.com.