The completion of Benjamin Franklin and Pauli Murray colleges and the arrival of their newest residents are the talk of our school year. Having seen these stunning facilities rise from an empty pit, I am just as excited as the next Yalie to explore their basements, test their dining halls and discover their architectural nuances.
I am also happy that a greater number of students can now enjoy the Yale experience, although the community around me doesn’t seem 200-plus larger. From my vantage point, just as many lanyard-wearing first years are walking these streets as there were when I arrived in 2014. Numbers for a cappella rush are even down this fall.
But our community has grown whether it feels that way or not, and it will only continue to do so. Unfortunately, this excitement has masked concerns that still lie ahead for our increasing undergraduate population.
Some faculty members have not forgotten this reality (“Faculty senators call for broader talks on new colleges,” Sept. 1, 2017). They want more communication from administrators on the effects of a larger student body, and they want to know that the Yale education will remain valuable moving forward.
Neither should we students let our excitement for the new colleges get in the way of focused attention on Yale’s future.
When I talked to my peers over the past three years about their concerns with the opening of Benjamin Franklin and Pauli Murray colleges, I heard accounts of their Yale experiences that made me anxious — packed libraries, overcrowded seminars, competitive fellowships, insufficient job availability, out-of-touch advisors, unqualified teaching fellows. Those stories were just the start, and they were the reality before Benjamin Franklin and Pauli Murray even opened.
I’m thus confused about why I’ve heard so few discussions about these problems since our return to campus. Maybe we’re too busy with shopping period or too thrilled to physically step into the new colleges. But I know that these problems haven’t changed, and I know that they won’t go away in the near future. They will only compound absent institutional reform.
Luckily, University administrators haven’t totally pushed such challenges down the road. Yale’s Teaching for the 21st Century Exploratory Committee, for example, will ensure that our institution remains a leader in collegiate education — although its lack of undergraduate representation will likewise guarantee that Yale College students remain in the dark about the status of their classrooms.
Furthermore, having served on many a University committee, I am sure that Yale will not immediately implement this committee’s recommendations (or those of subsequent bodies). After all, it is still responding to suggestions from the 2003 Committee on Yale College Education, the most far-reaching analysis of undergraduate pedagogy from recent years. That doesn’t even account for the scarcity of communication that is bound to come along with the implementation of future committee recommendations.
In my previous role as vice president of the Yale College Council, I always said that change takes time. I still believe this, just as I believe in the mission of our University.
But students should take heed from the Faculty of Arts and Sciences Senate and stay vigilant about the larger role of Benjamin Franklin and Pauli Murray in the Yale experience. Last year’s YCC did this by investigating numerous questions about a larger undergraduate population — from the availability of strong teaching fellows to the ability of preorientation programs to absorb more students. I am glad that this year’s YCC will sustain this scrutiny.
But committees and councils can’t conduct their work effectively if other Yalies aren’t as clearly focused on our community’s challenges. Unlike something like a preorientation program that a student can individually opt into or out of, the opening of two new residential colleges affects all undergraduates.
So as you inevitably complain with your friends about bad Facebook memes or about non-chicken tender Thursdays, don’t forget other important discussions, like those about the future of Yale College. After all, tomorrow’s Yalies deserve an even better educational atmosphere than we have today — and a larger student body won’t make that any easier.
Christopher Bowman is a senior in Saybrook College. He served as the 2016–2017 Yale College Council vice president and was a member of the Steering Committee on Yale College Expansion. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org .