Britton O'Daly

Roughly 30 students on Thursday night attended a town hall with Dean of Yale College Marvin Chun on “the state of the residential college system.” The Yale College Council and the News co-hosted the event, which took place in a Linsly-Chittenden Hall auditorium.

The town hall provided students the opportunity to ask Chun about the future of the residential college system. Questions focused on dining options in the colleges, the financial costs of living on campus and how to keep older students from moving off campus in droves. Chun told the News that “nothing was completely new” in the questions he heard at the town hall, but he added that it was still helpful to hear concerns repeated.

“He’s aware of the problems we’re facing,” said Mrinal Dursun ’20. “Nothing we told him seemed to be new to him. He was aware of everything, and he had ideas about how to tackle everything.”

And while larger questions — like finding room for late-night dining at Yale and making on-campus living cheaper — dominated the night, smaller issues also cropped up; as well,  such as the decline of intramural sports in the colleges, dining hall restrictions to prevent overcrowding, rapid turnover of residential college deans and the difficulties students have with inefficiencies at the Elm Street post office, which Chun said he avoided “like the plague” while he was head of Berkeley College.

Matt Guido ’19, president of the YCC, said that he thought the questions asked during the town hall contributed to ongoing conversations about managing the residential college system.

Still, the sparse turnout of 30-odd students for the town hall weighed on Guido, who said he wishes more students had come out for the talk to engage with ideas for enhancing residential colleges. Chun made it clear that the discussions at the town hall were based on ideas, not plans.

“Many ideas — some very bad, some reasonably good — were thrown around tonight, but the Dean’s Office seems far too hesitant to take action on any of them. Inaction will only lead to greater apathy,” said Finnegan Schick ’18, a former University editor for the News who recently wrote an op-ed describing the decline of the residential college system. “But I must admit that he seems more concerned with lowering the rates of off-campus living than with preserving the culture of the residential college system as a whole.”

At the talk, Schick asked a question about why older alumni seem to have far more residential college spirit than current students who, despite benefiting from improved facilities, seem less attached to their colleges and more inclined to move off campus.

Chun noted that the raising of the drinking age from 18 to 21 contributed to the spread of social life away from the residential colleges, as the heads of colleges were no longer allowed to provide alcohol to all their undergraduates. He also said that because New Haven used to be a more dangerous city in the ’80s and ’90s, many alumni stuck to living and socializing within the residential college system rather than venturing off campus.

When asked why Yale cannot further subsidize on-campus housing to boost competition with cheaper off-campus options, Chun explained that Yale’s higher-quality housing and food services make lowering prices difficult. He also noted that Yale’s dining system, which relies on a wide network of dining halls across the 14 residential colleges, is very cost inefficient compared to systems that consolidate labor and equipment costs by just using a few large, main dining halls.

Chun emphasized, though, that he hopes to bring late-night dining options — potentially in the soon-to-be-built Schwarzman Center — to students. As a psychologist, he added, he understands why Yale students would need access to food late at night to maintain a healthy lifestyle.

“I think students should never go hungry,” said Chun, a psychology professor. “And the psychologist in me knows that at your age, [with] your metabolism and your lifestyles, you have to have something late at night.”

Students took a special interest in one idea offered by Chun about how Yale might find the extra money to open a dining hall until 10 p.m. — closing down one residential college for hot lunch each semester, on a rotating basis.

Attendees also got a taste of some more radical ideas that Chun has raised with other University administrators, including a proposal to convert all of Old Campus into mixed senior housing and move all first years from Old Campus to their colleges. Chun said that his suggestion to make Old Campus for seniors — which would involve renovating and then converting all of the Old Campus dorms to singles to entice the seniors — was quickly shot down. But a smaller version of that plan, which would turn McClellan Hall into mixed senior housing to test the idea of housing seniors on Old Campus in a smaller sample, might go into place soon.

“I’m a little crazy,” said Chun. “I have no inhibition when it comes to ideas, but I’m also disciplined. When I have people telling me, ‘you’re crazy,’ I will pull back.”

Britton O’Daly | britton.odaly@yale.edu