I have contributed to these pages for nearly two years now, and not once have I used my 700 words to praise the Yale administration. In general, I think that trend is both natural and perfectly justifiable. Citizens do not rally at the town square to demonstrate when they are perfectly pleased with the status quo. Neither do writers pen letters to the editor just to say the kids are all right.
But this column breaks with opinion writers’ combative tradition to laud Yale College Dean Jonathan Holloway for finally being the kind of administrator students deserve. Over the last year, he has broken the mold to prove that, with enough effort, administrators can make active listening an institutional part of their job.
I must admit I began as one of Holloway’s sharpest critics. Indeed, my very first column for the News as a freshman columnist pointedly criticized him for blocking gender-neutral housing in his role as chair of the Council of Masters. When rumors began to swirl that he might replace Mary Miller as dean, I joined several students in calling for an undergraduate to be on the decanal search committee. The hope was that he or she could speak against any would-be administrators who were going to hold up progress.
But as dean, Holloway has defied my expectations. Outlining a model other administrators should follow, Holloway swallowed his pride and reversed his opinion on gender-neutral housing after listening to actual students whose lived experiences gave him a new perspective. For once, it seemed to student activists, an administrator had trusted students with a high-level policy decision directly affecting our lives.
Though that decision meant a lot to me personally, I’ve come to realize it was indicative of a dean who listens. Throughout his tenure, Holloway has rightfully earned a reputation as one who truly values student voices in his decision-making process.
For example, in the ongoing discourse about mental health, students and the administration have rarely seen eye-to-eye. And though our disagreements continue, few can question Holloway’s genuine efforts to ascertain how students feel about Yale Mental Health and Counseling. His responses to student concerns have been quick, and his ongoing work on readmission policies shows he is committed to putting words into action. Next week, Holloway has even promised to stop by a meeting of the Yale College Council to discuss the issue further.
Controversy has also arisen regarding Yale’s cultural houses. Much like mental health concerns, students have fundamental disagreements with the University over how to proceed. But regardless of the eventual results of this reform process, there has been little doubt throughout that Holloway was listening. In an email to the student body presumably responding to a student petition calling for the resignation of Rodney Cohen, the director of the Afro-American Cultural Center, Holloway validated passionate student voices by saying, “We give you our promise to take action informed by your good counsel.”
This analysis of Holloway’s leadership may prove controversial for some students, but we must remember a key distinction between a leader who listens to students and one who blindly turns every student proposal into reality. As students, we have never demanded the latter.
Sadly, Holloway’s genuine desire to listen sets him apart from others in the administration. On the opposite end of the spectrum lies the Yale Corporation, a body that met last week under a shroud of secrecy so thick it would put the society tap process to shame. Those at the highest level at Yale not only do not solicit student input; they actively avoid it at all costs.
So there are a couple of lessons to be learned here: first, that the University as a whole should operate a lot more like Jonathan Holloway. Doing so would not only enrich the undergraduate experience but would also heal the deep mistrust between students and their administrators.
But the second lesson is for students: We must take more seriously our role as policy developers at this University. Yale often makes misinformed decisions about mental health, housing and financial aid simply because not enough students think they have the power to speak up. For the Holloway model to work, we must be active participants in our own governance.
Tyler Blackmon is a junior in Jonathan Edwards College. His column runs on alternate Tuesdays. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.