Around 25 students attended a town hall this past Saturday with Dean of Yale College Marvin Chun to discuss pressing issues, including the student effort — colloquially known as the student income contribution — and mental health resources.
The town hall provided students with the opportunity to learn about the University’s priorities related to mental health, the residential college system, shopping period reform, dining policy and financial aid.
Just two days after Students Unite Now hosted its own town hall to discuss Yale’s financial aid policies, Chun addressed student concerns regarding Yale’s student effort. Student effort, according to Yale’s financial aid website, is “a standardized estimate of a student’s ability to contribute financially to her/his educational costs while enrolled at Yale.” He said that Yale has two priorities in regards to financial aid — providing the best education possible and making Yale accessible to all students regardless of their background. Chun said that any further elimination of the student effort would be “a luxury.”
“I know that there are students concerned that the student effort of financial aid is keeping them from reaching [their] full ambitions at Yale,” he said. “[That’s] something we can all agree on… [but] eliminating student share altogether is just not a possible thing.”
Chun acknowledged that Yale does have “a lot of money,” but that it also has a large amount of expenses that account for faculty, laboratories, libraries, museums and other necessary structures that must also be provided for in the budget. Still, he emphasized that Yale’s financial aid package is already on par with peer institutions and is amongst the most competitive and generous in the country.
“There’s not a big pile of cash that can be used to eliminate student share. It has to come from somewhere,” Chun said. “[They are] trade-offs we’re not willing to make. The amount of money it would take to eliminate student share for everybody is comparable to losing about 100 faculty members.”
Chun said that eliminating student effort could result in reducing the number of students at Yale on financial aid in general, which goes against Yale’s need-blind admissions process.
In the question-and-answer portion of the town hall, one student questioned the lack of Yale administrative presence at the SUN town hall on Thursday, which featured many students sharing their own experiences with the student effort. Chun expressed his regret at not being able to attend, but promised to watch the livestream and emphasized his commitment to listening to students. He also said that most of Yale’s administration were invited to the event with little notice, preventing them from attending.
Another student asked Chun if Yale’s administration would take a wider look at the intersection of financial aid and Yale’s endowment, adding that many student activists believe that financial aid improvement and the endowment should go hand in hand. The student said that the cost of eliminating the student effort is roughly equal to less than one percent of Yale’s endowment.
In response, Chun said that although Yale’s administration welcomes student activism, he believes that students would have better success with tangible and evidence-based reports instead of rallies and town halls. Chun said that he would be open to having meetings with SUN leaders to facilitate more effective dialogue. He added that percentages are misleading, characterizing the endowment as a tree that bears the fruit from which the University takes away roughly five percent. He cited the process as typical conservative spending and said that taking more money away from the endowment is considered irresponsible to the future of Yale.
“If you take away more than the amount we’re [currently] taking off of the endowment, you’re taking away more than that — the ability to keep endowment strong and withstand financial security crises becomes greatly diminished,” Chun said. “It’s a promise to future Yalies.”
Students continued to press Chun on the student income contribution issue, with one asking Chun if there is a number that the endowment needs to reach to eliminate student share.
Chun responded that currently Yale needs about a $160 million budget for financial aid, with a little over half of that being covered by endowment funding meant for that purpose and the other half stemming from funds that are unrestricted. Chun added that if Yale could reach a point where that budget was fully funded by financial-aid-specific endowments, then they could discuss increasing the financial aid budget overall.
During the town hall, Chun also discussed the University’s current ongoing academic and extracurricular projects — including the addition of two new certificates in advanced language proficiency and data sciences, an expansion of on-campus social events and shopping period reform. He added that administrators realize that there is large student support for the creation of minors and that the topic is currently under consideration by the Yale College Committee on Majors.
According to Chun, Yale’s administration is also focusing on expanding the domestic summer award, which provides a stipend to students on financial aid for an approved, unpaid summer opportunity. For example, starting this summer, the DSA can be used to support research opportunities at Yale
Still, Chun said that one of the biggest challenges on campus is providing mental health and wellness resources to students.
“This is a big challenge for campuses all around the nation, which is not meant as an excuse,” Chun said. “[It’s an] objective fact that solutions don’t come easily for it. One thing I can say is that we have an opportunity to [implement] change.”
Since current Director of Mental Health Services Dr. Lorraine Siggins is retiring in June 2019, the Yale administration has been actively searching for someone to fill the position, according to Chun. Citing the YCC Mental Health Task Force Fall 2018 report, Chun said that there are many issues regarding mental health resources on campus, such as long wait times for mental health counseling. He added that the administration is looking for candidates to fill Siggins’ position that have innovative solutions to these issues and different ideas on ways to reform Yale’s structure of mental health services.
In the question-and-answer portion, one student also asked Chun about Yale’s efforts to accommodate the growing student body. Chun said that he is aware of many of the problems created by this issue, such as capped seminars and oversubscribed lectures. He added that Yale’s administration is working to increase its number of faculty members, especially in regards to female faculty and faculty of color. Still, Chun said that the process has been challenging and that these potential faculty members are “more in demand than a European soccer player star recruit.”
“[We] recruit one and lose another because of how competitive the market is for them,” Chun said. “[We] want to hire in growth areas, more computer science, data science, STEM fields, but it’s hard to compete with Google and Facebook who offer three or four times more money than academia can. [We’re] at a further disadvantage by being in an area that doesn’t have a huge tech industry surrounding us.”
In response to a question on expensive dining plans, Chun said that the problem is challenging because there are many staff and residential college administrators with a vested interest in each dining hall. Chun cited his proposal last year as a possible improvement to dining, which would close one dining hall for lunch each day and in return save roughly a million dollars. Although the specific dining hall would rotate among the residential colleges and result in a late-night dining option or more flexible meal plans, Chun said the proposal “failed miserably” because the residential college under consideration did not approve of the plan.
YCC President Saloni Rao ’20 said that she was particularly impressed with the town hall this year, especially with the questions asked.
“They weren’t easy, softball questions,” Rao said. “They were very well-informed, well-articulated, hard hitting questions, that I think got to the heart of a lot of what the university’s priorities are.”
Katherine Du ’22, who wrote the mental health report with another YCC senator, said that she also thought the town hall was very informative and a productive way for the student body to know what initiatives are advancing on campus. She added that Chun’s ability to “talk about what the university is doing about those in the future” gave the project “incentive and direction.”
Marvin Chun was appointed as dean of Yale College in April 2017.
Alayna Lee | firstname.lastname@example.org
Correction, March 4: A previous version of this story incorrectly stated that the endowment only funds a small fraction of Yale’s budget. However, the endowment in fact covers over half of the FAS budget.
A previous version of this story also incorrectly stated that the University is working to make the DSA usable for an unpaid summer student job at Yale that is not research. Chun actually intended to say that starting this summer, the DSA can be used to support research opportunities at Yale.