As students saw Benjamin Franklin and Pauli Murray colleges rise from the ground, many wondered whether these new spaces would limit student access to University resources. Would seminars have enough spots? Would new fellowship opportunities appear? Would preorientation programs be able to accommodate so many more undergraduates?
All were good queries, and I shared these same concerns. Unfortunately, students did not always receive complete answers to their questions, but this lack of transparency is a whole other topic.
What I do know, however, is that Yale College could not, and cannot, successfully absorb these new undergraduates without the support of a strong, thriving bureaucracy.
Many Yalies have a tendency to rail against our school’s bureaucracy. Some of our professors do the same, and they sometimes have a point. Administrators could easily have given us more information about the opening of the new colleges. More recently, during shopping period, countless instructors went days without confirmations of teaching fellows or new classroom assignments from the registrar.
Yet, most of the time, members of our community undervalue the bureaucracy for its vital role in our daily lives.
As students, we make constant demands of our school. I named some of them above — plentiful seminars, fellowships, preorientation programs — but, of that spread, Yale only really needs to ensure that we can access appropriate classes. After all, we are an academic institution, and social or residential add-ons are just that: additions.
Yet, if Yale were to suddenly cut its network of fellowships or its popular preorientation programs, there would be a student uproar. They want Yale to not only maintain these systems, but also expand them.
From what I’ve heard, students want more frequent bus routes to Science Hill. They want more meal plan options. They want a reformed drug policy. They want more convenient fellowship and career information sessions. They want more peer support programs.
I broadly agree that Yale should expand such student services. After all, I consider these “additions” crucial to a university’s mission and to its undergraduates’ development. Yale’s strong emphasis on community life only makes student services more important to our own campus.
Yet such services require money and labor. They require negotiating with unions, considering legal barriers, finding new sources of revenue and providing training, and that’s just to get programs off the ground. In other words, undergraduate services require a bureaucracy that can think through the logistics of an idea and eventually execute it.
And, although Yale’s bureaucracy may be slow-moving, it takes time to sort through a constant surge of demands. It takes time to determine the merits of new ideas and to talk to the constituencies involved with them. After all, when the University adds programs, they are usually here to stay and must be worth the funding and energy to sustain.
To be sure, I don’t always agree with Yale’s administrators. I have yet to meet one student, for example, who deemed it vital to the Yale experience that the University replace the word “freshman” with “first year.” I also realize that students themselves have been on the forefront of creating new service programs for their peers, and, in these scenarios, they take responsibility that the University would normally bear. The new Disability Peer Mentors, championed by the undergraduate organization Disability Empowerment for Yale, are a fantastic example of this initiative.
From what I’ve seen, however, DEFY’s grassroots innovation is an exception to the rule. Most students turn to Yale with demands, expecting that the University will fulfill their requests. I’m sure that other college campuses are not much different. After all, most institutions of higher learning have grown into behemoths of student services, and their exorbitant tuition costs imply that their constituents should be entitled to anything.
So universities need bodies to provide student services, and, although these bodies may be politically expedient scapegoats, they are vital to our college experience. In some circles, it has become fashionable to satirize Yale’s many committees or lampoon its legion of deans and directors. These aspects of bureaucracy represent everything we detest about campus life — weak WiFi, Cape Shark, late Yale shuttles.
But let’s cut through the red tape and face the truth: We could not have the Yale of today without the bureaucracy that built it.
Christopher Bowman is a senior in Saybrook College. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org .