A former columnist with the News three years my senior argued in his final column that those who love Yale should critique it. Four years of unmet expectations, many of which were detailed in this paper, had not hampered this gentleman’s affection for his school. But Yale would not fully bloom until its loving critics excised the bad. Since such a place certainly ought to be the best it could, this gentleman argued, all concerned had the duty to not stop until Yale reformed.
I suppose my only quarrel is that this is the wrong message sent to the wrong people. Yale’s students now criticize their school all the time for everything — this general attitude causes cynicism and inhibits education. It turns undergraduates into a superficially loyal opposition against their professors. If you love Yale, I suggest (especially to new students who innocently expect they will love Yale) that you do not critique it, but delight in and revere it.
Everyone has her reasons for coming to Yale. One was likely a version of this: “Yale is the one of the best schools, I will learn a lot and students tend to enjoy their time no matter their course of study.” Perhaps someone came here so she could truthfully say, upon receiving her diploma, that she attended Yale College — (and if you are such a person, transfer to Harvard, which will ask less of you, and whose name still widens more eyes. No need to write). But mostly, we are here because we share the belief that we’d receive an excellent education.
The belief was not ill-founded and probably well-researched. Yale faculty are present their research worldwide, teaching is central to our school, our departments are acclaimed in the hard and social sciences and our humanists are the pride of Western civilization. Our course offerings are so diverse it’s dizzying. Our professional schools are peerless. The scholars leading our University — Peter Salovey, Tamar Gendler, Marvin Chun and colleagues — lead their own fields as well. Our residential colleges have been imitated over and over. You know all this. It’s why you decided to come.
You also did nothing to create it. You earned admission here. You could’ve gone elsewhere, but far more easily, Yale could’ve admitted someone else. Or instead of that someone else, a third or a fourth or a fifth someone else. Residential college deans sometimes try to assuage our worries that we got in by clerical errors or dumb luck. But it’s a good worry to have. It instills humility. The next time you want to lie in bed watching Netflix instead of studying, remember that your presence here is an earned privilege mixed with chance, rather than destiny. The proper reaction to admission and study here is gratitude.
Anything else — and certainly constant critique — makes nonsense of why you decided to apply and what permitted you to matriculate. If this institution excels at its primary mission, it has to do with the people running it, past and present. Centuries of trying, erring and improving have created the present Yale. Yale is quite intricate. It was not the result of a committee meeting that produced the final report on what a school should be like. Yale and its departments are stewarded by experienced, prudent people for a time. They pass it along, bit by bit, to younger qualified successors. This is the ancient practice of pretty much every great institution. The smallest change to the Yale curriculum must refer to years of practice, to broad educational goals, to the resources of the relevant departments, to the expertise of current faculty. And all those too are produced by years of work, consultation and study. Sound tedious? Welcome to Yale.
A task as complex as running Yale, with such a history, will not fare well if Yale’s most transient, youngest and most volatile residents act as its stewards. I mean undergraduates, of course. We are here for a mere presidential term (how long are those years, how short and glad are these). We know pretty much nil about Yale’s institutional mind before we arrived, we won’t learn much about it now that we’re here and won’t care to study it once we depart.
Yale does not operate by everyone “having a stake” in how the place runs. It runs by its many beneficiaries trusting their superiors to do their jobs, which, judging by the product, they seem to do well. So when some hyperventilating junior approaches you about occupying the president’s office because if the damn capitalists running our endowment don’t sell the Exxon stocks we’ll have sunburned penguins floating in the Quinnipiac River, refuse to indulge in the cheap rage and get back to reading the Iliad.
Cole Aronson is a senior in Hopper College. His column usually runs on alternate Mondays. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org .