For those of you who don’t often venture up Science Hill, it can feel easy to ignore the two new buildings sprawling along Prospect Street. Years of planning and fundraising went into the creation of Benjamin Franklin and Pauli Murray colleges. We urge students to visit them – read the inscriptions on their walls and take in the marvels of Robert Stern’s architecture.
Administrators often say that we are living in a historic moment, that the opening of the new colleges marks a new chapter in Yale’s history. We at the News not only agree, but also feel as though the stewards of our University have not gotten the credit they deserve for seeing this ambitious project through. For the first time in decades, more students will have access to a Yale education. With or without ramen bars, that alone is cause for celebration.
At the same time, we must think critically about what comes after the opening of the new colleges, to ensure our excitement doesn’t eclipse the challenges ahead. This achievement also represents enormous change for Yale and New Haven, and there remain unanswered questions about how the new colleges will interact with our broader communities.
The foremost challenge is to preserve the essence of a Yale College education. Because of Pauli Murray and Benjamin Franklin colleges, Yale can expand the size of each undergraduate class by 15 percent. While the University planned for this growth, members of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences have repreatedly stressed the importance of maintaining the quality of the undergraduate educational experience. The number of ladder faculty remains at roughly 700, even as 200 more students enroll at Yale each year. Issues with class sizes or section capacity are sure to emerge in the months and years ahead, and, as they do, faculty should be given the opportunity to help set tem rigt.
By shifting Yale’s center of gravity toward Science Hill, the new colleges also accelerate Yale’s pivot from the humanities and social sciences to the STEM disciplines. Indeed, a recent survey conducted by the News showed that 44 percent of respondents planned to major in STEM fields. We are excited about the possibilities of this shift but also hope that Yale’s traditional strengths are not overlooked.
The University should also continue to make a Yale education more accessible. In his 2015 remarks at the new colleges’ groundbreaking, University President Peter Salovey spoke of the project’s overarching goal: to give hundreds more students the chance to attend Yale. During his tenure as president, Salovey has taken significant steps toward making Yale more accessible by decreasing the student income contribution and working to enhance admissions outreach. But with the new colleges finally open, efforts to make the Yale experience more attainable — including by eliminating the student income contribution — must not end.
We cannot forget that the opening of the new colleges also affects New Haven as a whole. They will alter the demographics of several aldermanic wards in the city, most notably those in the historically black Dixwell neighborhood to the northeast of campus. As students move into Pauli Murray and Franklin Colleges, aldermanic Ward 22 will now be half-comprised of Yale students, including those who live in Timothy Dwight, Silliman, Ezra Stiles and Morse colleges. The Yale students voting in Ward 22 would do well to get to know Dixwell residents with whom they share the ballot box.
Furthermore, Yale must consider the subtler economic impact the new colleges will have on the city at large. Since the early 2000s, Yale has been buying properties around the new colleges, adding a commercial laundry facility in 2002, the Rose Center in 2006 and offering financial incentives for Yale employees who buy homes in Dixwell. As Yale continues to purchase land to the north of campus, it would do well to consider how its economic might impacts the Elm City.
In a few years, once the novelty wears off, the two new colleges will just be two of many colleges, with unique nicknames, mascots and cheers. But the trajectory of this change is still in our hands. It’s up to us to ensure that these colleges make Yale a better neighbor while building an even more accessible and thoughtful undergraduate experience.