Whenever the subject of U.S. presidential elections pops up, Yale proudly boasts that five of its alumni once called 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. home. Unsurprisingly, our campus is filled with many a budding politico, and nothing makes this more apparent than Yale College Council election season. We’ve hosted debates; we’ve heard campaign slogans; we’ve even read media endorsements. If you took the time to peruse the lofty campaign platforms, you would assume that the Yale community is on the verge of making an important decision — one that could determine the future of the University.
But are we really? I have no doubt that student representation is important. My friends involved with student government do seem to put in a lot of effort, and I believe that individual YCC members really are trying to change the way that Yale runs for the better. But as an institution, the YCC has done a terrible job of explaining what they do, why they matter and what their limitations are to the broader campus community.
For the vast majority of us, interactions with the YCC come in two forms: the errant email asking about a survey/task force/insert-bureaucratic-term-here and Spring Fling. Those of us who have taken the time to open a YCC email or two often find ourselves asking a simple question: What ever happens to those task forces and surveys?
To find out, I took a brief look at the YCC website. I certainly chuckled when the first thing to pop up was a giant banner encouraging me to download Ublend, an app that YCC tried to convince us would be the next big thing back in August. I pressed on, clicking the conveniently named “Projects” tab. A collage of blue tiles filled in my screen with catchy names like “Credit/D/Fail Reform” and “Seminar Access for Sophomores” (that one certainly would have been useful back during shopping period). The page promises to help track projects as they move through six pre-defined phases, each with a corporate-sounding name. Clicking on any one of them returns a one-paragraph summary of the project along with its current status.
These summaries are generally vague, and the status descriptions are unhelpful. The “Freshman Advising Improvement” project, for example, is simply listed as “Dead.” Does that mean that the YCC no longer cares about improving freshman advising? Or does it mean the administration shut the project down? The remaining statuses are some variant of “Presented to Council/Administration.”
Is that it? What did the council say? What did the administration say? What was the debate about? What’s going on? When will the project move to the next step? What are the next steps? For the few projects that have come to fruition, the only tangible results seem to be lengthy reports urging Yale to change one thing or another. Somehow, I can’t imagine the administration responds to such reports with much more than a “Duly noted” and a pat on the back for report’s authors.
The website doesn’t inspire confidence in the YCC to do anything more than complain — or, more accurately, complain and then write up those complaints in lengthy reports that are forgotten as soon as they’re written. You couldn’t be faulted for assuming that the YCC cares more about self-congratulation than policy proposals.
I know that isn’t true. If the candidates running for the presidency this semester are any indication, there are certainly many Yalies in the YCC that are genuinely concerned about the future of the University. But we never see the fruits of their labor. There’s no easy way to obtain information about YCC activities. The website is useless. And that would be fine if we were kept in the loop through emails or other channels. But for most YCC projects, we aren’t. There’s really no way for a constituent to understand what the YCC is doing without attending council meetings, which is an unacceptably high barrier to entry. What would it be like if the only way to keep up with government were to sit in on a congressional session?
Perhaps campus publications should take a more active role in informing students about the YCC. In the real world, the media serves as a check on government. But so do the people. And at Yale, the people don’t care, because they don’t know what the YCC is doing. If we want real reform on this campus, that needs to change.
Shreyas Tirumala is a sophomore in Trumbull College. His column runs on alternate Fridays. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org .