On Feb. 3, Dean Jonathan Holloway sent out an email to the undergraduate student body inviting them to partake in the 2015 Yale Enrolled Student Survey. Consisting of 32 questions on topics ranging from advising to alcohol, as well as some demographic questions, the survey touched upon most aspects of students’ academic and social experiences.
Significantly, the survey offered a rare window into which specific aspects of academic and campus life are currently of interest to Yale’s administration. While the administration has been clear about its general goals for the University (using slogans such as “a more unified Yale”), it is often reticent to reveal more specific priorities or upcoming initiatives that have not yet been finalized. By analyzing the questions asked by the most recent survey, we can begin to guess what the administration cares most about at the moment.
So, what does the survey tell us about the administration’s priorities? First of all, the overwhelming focus of the survey is the experience of students in the classroom and with Yale faculty. Over half of the survey’s questions touch on academics in some way or another. An entire section is devoted to whether students have developed strong and productive relationships with faculty members. Another section asks whether students have regularly “been excited by a class” or “applied what you learned in class to a problem or issue outside of class.” Several portions of the survey focus on which pedagogical methods students have encountered in courses and what skills they have taken away.
It is exciting to see that the administration is interested not only in “academic excellence” as a catchall phrase, but also about the specific classroom experiences and faculty relationships that undergraduates have during their four years here. Too often, we assume that Yale’s academics are some of the best in the country without examining what gaps exist in our education and how our professors could improve their pedagogy and their interactions with students. In addition, even as students often prioritize extracurricular activities and social life over academics, it is good to know that the administration’s priorities remain focused on the central rationale of our University community: teaching and learning.
Another aspect of the administration’s priorities revealed by the recent survey is an extensive focus on diversity and identity. At least six questions on the survey ask students to comment on whether they “interact with people whose background differed from your own (e.g. racially, economically, politically),” “had meaningful and honest discussions about inter-group relations” and “felt insulted or threatened based on your social identity (e.g. sex, race, national origin, sexual orientation, or values).” Other than academics, diversity is the most common theme of the survey’s questions.
It is somewhat disturbing that the Yale administration sees fit to ask more questions about diversity and identity than any other topic besides academics. Obviously, an important part of the University experience is bringing together individuals of different backgrounds and helping them understand each other. Yet, too often, we focus on identity politics as the be-all and end-all of social interactions; we pay more attention to people’s identities and backgrounds than the ideas they put forth to one another and the experiences they build together. The survey’s extensive focus on diversity and identity might indicate a diminished focus on all of the other important aspects of social life on campus, potentially reflecting a skewed set of administrative priorities.
Finally, it is instructive to examine what sorts of questions were left off the Yale Enrolled Student Survey. While the survey touches on extracurricular activities, student work, stress and time management, almost no questions were devoted to asking students about their personal development over their time at Yale. One question asks if students have “reconsidered [their] position on a topic after evaluating the arguments of others” and a couple more questions touch on teamwork, leadership, self-esteem and interpersonal conflicts. Besides these few questions, however, the survey shows little interest in asking students whether their Yale experiences have helped them grow personally.
The absence of questions about personal growth may represent a blind spot on the part of the administration. The University experience aims to help students develop, not just academically, but holistically. Therefore, a survey that touches on most aspects of student life but not students’ personal development will deprive the administration of important and relevant information about the student body.
Ultimately, we should be humble about extracting broad conclusions about administrative priorities from a 32-question survey. Yet, by thinking about what the administration is likely to be concerned about, Yale students can also enrich our conversations about what parts of our community we should focus on and strive to improve.
Scott Greenberg is a senior in Ezra Stiles College. His column runs on Tuesdays. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.