How do you solve an entrenched and recurring problem in the world? You create a new committee, fill it with high-profile “experts” and give it a fancy name. This is often what one hears at the United Nations, a body ridiculed for its layers of bureaucracy and limited power. But recently, one also hears this at Yale, where there is an emerging tendency to produce ad hoc committees for everything. The new Committee on Social Life and Community Values is symptomatic of that problem.
In fact, the UN analogy is quite relevant here. For an organization that has six overarching bodies and about five committees per body, the UN spends a lot of its time creating more committees, engendering subsets of subsets in a never-ending dendritic tree-like continuum. Each committee publishes its own reports, finds new people for the next committee and passes on the mantle — and somewhere in the paperwork and overstaffing, most problems are not solved.
Although less dramatic, the problem is similar at Yale. You may retort that there certainly are many Yale committees that have had meaningful impact. The Committee to Establish Principles on Renaming transformed Calhoun College. A high-level financial aid committee in 2015 helped reduce the student income contribution. The Council of Masters dramatically changed the title of its own members. But for every committee that gains publicity for achieving results, there are many others — such as the Committee on Freedom of Expression and Committee on Investor Responsibility — that achieve little success in the eyes of students.
The problem with committees is that they are inherently reactive, driven by the vagaries of hot-button issues rather than proactive in their attempt to address problems that are timeless but only blow up from time to time. Sexual assault, lack of diversity and free speech controversies on campus are not new, yet committees seem to form and disband intermittently as if they were. At worst, the Yale administration follows a wait-and-watch approach — another scandal or disaster strikes, another committee is formed and three months later, another case is closed.
The obvious flaw is that many deceivingly hot-button issues must go through the slow humdrum of committee formation, naming, member selection, scheduling and public relations announcements rather than getting the deserved immediate response. Someone should always be monitoring issues addressed by these committees and there should be permanent channels of communication that enable committee-like consensus-building. Moreover, Yale must strengthen mechanisms of execution, rather than always relying on the winding treatises that are characteristic of these committees.
Even if committees enable thoughtful, considered decision-making, they often provide a false sense of security that the problem has been solved. They are a troubling form of delegation, whereby a major issue is assigned to a slow-moving cohort of people, ticked off on the list of priorities and shoved aside by the next issue to be addressed. It is too easy for administrators to point to the “landmark committee” that they formed as their legacy rather than the delivered results.
Victims of sexual assault have rightfully criticized the new Committee on Social Life and Community Values as a “PR stunt.” Don’t get me wrong — I would much rather have the University invest time in an issue by creating a committee than leave it unaddressed. But no one should delude themselves into believing that this is the gold-standard solution. And even if this committee is one of the rare ones that has long-term successes, it is a paltry compensation for those who will be dealing with a hostile sexual climate even next weekend. For an issue and an organization that Yale has dealt with so aggressively in the past, the creation of another committee would make any person doubt the authenticity of the administration’s commitment. Delay tactics, window dressing and theoretical reports — collectively, these might just be another ad hoc non-solution.
Arvin Anoop is a senior in Jonathan Edwards College. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org .