My job as a Yale Tour Guide, reduced to one phrase, is to present the school in a superlative light while staying truthful. Among the most harped on upsides that I stress to visitors during the tour is that Yale provides the resources of a major research institution while preserving the small school experience. But I increasingly feel that this is no longer the truth.
Many initiatives unique to Yale are meant to build up this small school experience. Residential colleges and suite-style living create smaller communities and a greater appreciation for the idea of “a home away from home.” Small class sizes, a reduced student-faculty ratio, professor office hours and mandatory undergraduate instruction for tenured faculty offer more personalized classroom experiences. Limited graduate instruction and an official university “undergraduate focus” further perpetuate the idea of Yale as a small school.
But as a student, I don’t feel like I go to a small school.
In 2011, Yale enrolled 5,349 undergraduates. According to the most recent data, our undergraduate population is now 6,536. That’s a 22 percent increase over 10 years. Further, undergraduate class sizes have increased in five of the past six years. We don’t have space for that — not even after the construction of two new colleges in 2017.
Slowly and silently, Yale has been introducing increasingly centralized and bureaucratic systems to remedy a growing undergraduate population. The abandonment of shopping period, and its subsequent replacement with a universally loathed add/drop period, is a clear sign that today’s Yale is just too big to support its previously famed flexibility with class selection. The most recent change, which prioritizes older class years over younger class years in course selection, further diminishes the idea that Yale’s small school experience will let you take the class you want, when you want. Classes have increasingly begun to require applications, pre-registration or participation in certain majors or programs (some of which require applications as well) to enroll.
I lived in Lanman-Wright Hall on Old Campus my first year. My roommate and I shared a 7-foot-by-11-foot bedroom and slept in bunk beds. I don’t know a single person outside of Yale who was confined to anything similar. Berkeley College’s website describes Lanman-Wright conditions neatly: “you should pack carefully, concentrating on the bare essentials.”
Most residential colleges indirectly pressure juniors to move off campus or risk being relegated to “annex facilities” away from their college. Pierson, my college, which does not annex juniors, is finding solutions by converting single bedrooms into doubles.
Within these so-called “dingles,” there is not enough wall space for two beds and two desks. Students are being forced to move desks to the common room or create a “desk island” in their bedroom, leaving little empty space in their rooms except enough to get from the doorway to their bed. Suites that were originally “quints” have been converted to “sextets,” “sextets” have been converted to “septets” and the number of stand-alone singles available to Piersonites has been drastically reduced. Increased demand for off-campus housing, especially among the junior classes, has caused real estate pricing to skyrocket, hurting both Yalies and the greater New Haven community.
Housing processes, traditionally individualized by college, have been centralized within an overarching housing committee, emphasizing the growing complexity of undergraduate housing and making it excruciatingly difficult to get responses to questions and requests regarding where and how you’ll be living next year. In a recent incomprehensible decision, residential colleges with the resources to do so have been effectively banned from offering summer storage to their students to “promote equity” across the colleges. Instead of 14 smaller communities, housing is now a singular ballooned congregation attempting to mold itself into a shell of what once was.
Yale is bloated, and it can only blame itself. The undergraduate experience has become increasingly bureaucratic and decreasingly personalized. Instead of seeking sub-optimal solutions to over-admission, Yale should instead consider how many students it actually has room for. Otherwise, it will risk the complete elimination of the small school experience.
CRISTIAN PEREIRA is a sophomore in Pierson College studying English. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.