Consider the following syllogism;
Yale’s mascot is named “Handsome Dan.” “Handsome” typically describes attractive, cisgendered men. But not all people are attractive, cisgendered men. Therefore, Handsome Dan is little more than the patriarchal standard-bearer of Yale’s athletic-industrial complex, a soulless, cissexist bureaucracy that perpetuates androcentric beauty standards at the expense of queer and female-bodied persons. Checkmate, Bulldogs.
I fail to see how the above reasoning is any more absurd than the stated rationale for scrapping “freshmen,” the latest casualty in Yale’s unending campaign against common sense. This word, we are told, is “gender-specific,” aligning it with such oppressive verbalisms as “craftsmen,” “yeomen” and — the most brazen portmanteau of all — “women.” And so, a cadre of progressive administrators has unilaterally decided to substitute “first years” for freshmen, an amendment meant to “reflect the values … of diversity and inclusivity,” as Dean Camille Lizarribar eloquently put it.
The change reflects something else, too: the University’s steady march toward corporatization.
Dean Lizarribar, after all, oversees the Office of Student Affairs, whose bureaucratic infrastructure includes not one but three student affairs fellows, a student affairs intern, an assistant dean and something called the “Sr. Admin Asst II Yale College Dean’s Office.” What any of these people actually do is nowhere to be found on the Yale College website. However, astute observers will note that the dean’s directory goes out of its way to distinguish student affairs from academic affairs, and academic affairs from student “engagement.” This bevy of vague and, one suspects, superfluous administrative positions represents the ascendance of a new model of University governance, one rooted in technocratic values of efficiency and centralization. Corporatization means different things to different people, but its impact on campus is undeniable; between 2005 and 2015 alone, the University hired 1450 new staff members and grew by 82 percent in financial terms. Put another way, the Office of Student Affairs operates as it does because Yale is becoming increasingly like a company — and no company is complete without an HR department.
It is therefore misleading to reduce this most recent decree to a simple case of P.C. culture run amok. Yale’s newly anointed “first years” will inherit a university governed less by considerations of scholarship and more by the specious demands of managerialism. Such a climate naturally empowers unaccountable functionaries to upend centuries-old traditions in the name of tolerance and innovation, the cornerstones of any millennial marketing campaign. No wonder Yale saw fit to abolish “freshmen” for essentially no reason at all. Constant, liberal-lipped change makes for great branding, and great branding makes an inky, irrefutable case for bureaucracy.
The real threat of corporatization, then, is not revolution but decadence. Middle-level apparatchiks like Lizarribar have a vested interest in promoting a vision of university life that treats students as consumers of luxury rather than curators of knowledge — otherwise these bureaucratic automatons would have no place in Yale’s institutional logic. To justify its own existence, the corporate class must go about creating and solving an endless series of nonexistent problems that would command exactly zero attention at an institution fully devoted to research and learning. Overbureaucratization thus threatens to erode traditional values of scholarship and intellectual fraternity under the balmy guise of incrementalism.
Furthermore, it crowds out discussion of real problems like sexual assault and mental health with red tape and red herrings. The very existence of these injustices proves the bureaucratic system premised on their elimination is not working. For this reason, one needn’t be a crotchety conservative to oppose corporatism’s creeping tendrils; die-hard leftists also have good reason to reject an incentive structure that rewards administrators for wringing their hands over the nonexistent connotations of “freshmen” when they should be worrying about things like financial aid policies instead.
On that note, Yale’s ever-growing roster of bureaucratic overseers has come at substantial cost to its academic programs. In 2015, classics professor Kirk Freudenburg published a report alleging that the administration had redirected his department’s restricted funds to the University’s “general budget.” Just so we’re clear, this is the same budget that pays a “dean of student engagement” to police senior society tap. For us reactionary troglodytes who believe Yale is a school before it is a daycare, such decisions highlight the fundamental tension between corporatization and a liberal education.
Resolving this tension will require nothing less than a radical reconceptualization of the purpose of university life. As the past two years have made quite clear, many students expect campus administrators to micromanage nearly every aspect of their undergraduate experience. That mentality is reinforced by an obliging bureau of pencil-pushers, who understand their jobs will be safe so long as nobody questions the system’s basic logic. Corporatization, it would seem, relies on a symbiotic relationship between bureaucrats and students, one that will be difficult to disturb.
But disturb it we must. The vitality of our university, and the integrity of its traditions, depend on it.
Aaron Sibarium is a junior in Timothy Dwight College. His column usually runs on alternate Wednesdays. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org .