On Feb. 25, at an open forum where University officials invited students to voice their concerns with Yale’s mental health and withdrawal procedures, Yale College Council President Michael Herbert ’16 asked administrators if they would commit to addressing the YCC’s recommendations on mental health and withdrawal by the end of the year. The recommendations were published in two separate reports in September 2013 and March 2014.
Yale College Dean Jonathan Holloway and English professor John Rogers, who chairs the committee tasked with evaluating Yale’s withdrawal and readmission policies, did not agree to Herbert’s request.
“This is why people in general have tremendous distrust of our administration,” Herbert responded during the panel. “There’s a very real question about how seriously [these issues are] being taken.”
The 2014–15 academic year has seen a variety of YCC initiatives. Some have been successful: Whole milk was introduced, and in December, Holloway approved sophomore mixed-gender housing, a project that the YCC had introduced the previous year. And for the first time in three years, the student effort contribution expected of students on financial aid will not rise next year. This freeze partially arose from a January YCC report on financial aid, Director of Financial Aid Caesar Storlazzi said.
Other initiatives, however, have met more resistance. The YCC’s push to move next year’s academic calendar up by one week, one of its most widely supported projects, was unsuccessful. For many students, Holloway’s and Rogers’ inability to honor Herbert’s request is another example of administrative inaction. Still, YCC representatives interviewed emphasized their appreciation for the administration’s willingness to engage in conversation.
Holloway said the administration works closely with the YCC and gives serious consideration to its proposals.
“I do everything I can to be the students’ best advocate and listen to and work with them,” Holloway said. “I take the YCC seriously. I understand why [Herbert’s] frustration led to that kind of declaration [about distrust in the administration], but I’m never going to give in to grandstanding politics.”
Rogers added that while the review committee is certainly taking the YCC’s recommendations seriously, it also solicited its own data in the form of a survey distributed earlier this semester to all recently readmitted students. Many of the survey’s responses move beyond just the scope of concerns detailed in the YCC reports, he said.
Still, Rogers said both the YCC report and the survey’s results will play an important role in the committee’s work. Rogers added that he would not commit to Herbert’s request because he wanted to leave the committee with some leeway.
“To restrict the committee’s work to a point-by-point engagement with the proposals set forth in one document might restrict the scope of the review,” he said.
But Herbert said that while the YCC has been pleased with the dialogue it has had with Holloway regarding reforms within the college, the administration’s response during the mental health forum was indicative of barriers encountered by the YCC when it attempts to address issues that extend past just the college itself.
University Secretary and Vice President for Student Life Kimberly Goff-Crews said the YCC, along with bodies like the Graduate and Professional Student Senate and the Graduate Student Assembly, is a conduit for voicing student perspectives to the administration. Their ideas are presented to diverse groups across campus, from senior administrators to the Corporation, which ultimately designs and implements programs and policies, she said.
Herbert acknowledged the confluence of factors that must go into every administrative decision, but expressed a desire for more transparency.
“What’s frustrating a lot of times is not the decisions being made but how they are being made,” Herbert said. “We understand there are resource constraints and different components in the decision-making process, but those things should be explained to us because … Yale is here to be an educational system, and students are the purpose here.”
Students interviewed acknowledged limits to the YCC’s influence, but agreed that student support for YCC initiatives can increase their effectiveness.
Holloway echoed students’ words about the importance of widespread support for student government, saying it would be better if more students “believed in” the YCC.
Ultimately, Holloway said, no administrator acts alone. Indeed, Assistant Dean of Academic Affairs Pamela George, who chairs the readmission committee, said that while she independently promised Herbert to address all of the YCC’s recommendations on readmission by the end of the school year, those were the only recommendations she could address, adding that she in no way intended to usurp her colleagues or senior administration.
“[Other administrators and I] have to work collaboratively to represent our constituencies [and] to put the best plan forward,” Holloway said. “It’s not always going to be a YCC win. But we are listening.”