Yale has shown that it does not care about its students or their opinions — at least not in the way it claims to. From shopping period changes to the failures of Yale Mental Health and Counseling and beyond, the University’s top administrators have consistently made decisions that conflict with the needs of Yalies, even as they claim to act in our best interests. Their decision-making processes are steeped in mystery, and the policies that emerge from those backroom discussions often fly in the face of student opinion. And University leadership remains comfortable with the assertion that Yale knows best when it comes to promoting student well-being and success, even as evidence to the contrary mounts.
Yale administrators often claim that they solicit student input from the Yale College Council, but using the YCC as the main proxy for student opinion is flawed. Though it strives to fully represent student interests, the YCC unfortunately does not always do so. Low voter turnout in this past year’s YCC election is evidence to that point, as only 2640 votes were cast in this year’s presidential race even though the entire undergraduate student body was eligible to vote. But even if that were not the case, even if the YCC’s policy positions exactly mirrored those of all students, the way the Yale administration interacts with the YCC would still be of concern. The council and Yale leadership frequently disagree, and Yale continues to show a hesitancy to compromise.
I could speak at length about the excuses the University administration has made to turn down student proposals and justify unpopular decisions. Want to make Election Day a holiday? Sorry, it’s just not feasible. Want Yale to offer Summer Session courses to FGLI students on campus? That wasn’t what they had in mind. How about stopping Yale from collecting criminal justice information on its college and job applications, or maybe making Yale pay its fair share to New Haven? No comment. But at the end of the day, when the policy decisions have been made, Yale’s administration will confidently say that it solicited and considered student opinions.
What has become increasingly clear is this: When it comes to policy creation, Yale does not treat its students with dignity or respect. If Yale is to continue being a desirable place for college students, Yale administrators must make a concerted effort to seek student opinions and treat those opinions seriously.
To start, Yale leadership must work harder to engage with a wide variety of students and student groups. Our school has the capacity to reach any student at any time for any reason, student groups aren’t shy about communicating their ideas and Zoom has made meetings more convenient than ever. There is no excuse not to be in constant and open dialogue with students. Furthermore, Yalies are often most affected by the administration’s decisions, so it is only reasonable to expect the University administration to ask us for input in its attempts to create policies conducive to our success. It is also crucial that the University administration not dismiss its dialogue with students as a formality. Administrators must instead be open-minded as they imagine how student proposals could shape the University for the better. They must be willing to genuinely consider the vision that Yalies have for their university, and they must show enthusiasm about the opportunity to work with students to make that vision a reality. That means avoiding superficial solutions and being willing to compromise on substantive issues like endowment justice and police disarmament.
Second, Yale must be proactive in soliciting students’ opinions. All too often, the Yale administration finds itself responding to problems retroactively. It took years of student complaints for Yale to release a plan for expanding Yale Mental Health and Counseling’s resources, and even then that plan came only after the tragic death of Rachael Shaw-Rosenbaum ’24. When an institution has the wealth of a small nation and is home to some of the world’s brightest minds, there is no reason for it to be behind the curve on addressing student issues. There is no reason for the University to not continually search for ways to support students — using its tremendous resources to solicit input through surveys, focus groups, office hours and any other feasible method. Doing so will build the University’s capacity to respond swiftly to changes in student needs and remain flexible as the demands of higher education shift.
Finally, Yale must be more transparent about its decision-making processes. When a significant policy is made, it isn’t enough to say that some student organization was vaguely involved in the decision-making process. Yale administrators should clearly state who played a role in crafting key policies and how they came to their final decision. Knowing that they can be held accountable and have their decisions scrutinized will encourage more robust deliberative processes and yield policies that align with both student and administration values.
Ultimately, the Yale administration has a responsibility to lead the University in a transparent and inclusive way. They have a responsibility to lead in a way that recognizes the value in students and their opinions. It’s time for them to live up to that responsibility.
CALEB DUNSON is a first year in Saybrook College. His column, titled ‘What We Owe,’ runs on alternate Tuesdays. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.