For God and For Country, but Not For Yale!

I used to be in the class of 1997, so even though I won't graduate until 1999, I periodically receive nostalgic petitions for money from AYA, inspiring me to start on a path of life-long giving back to the university that gave me so much. This lapse has given me two extra years to go through my days here and gather a hearty list of reasons why I will never give a penny to Yale that isn't necessary to graduate. It's all those days when I am made to feel less like a paying client of an institution built to serve students like me and more like an annoying little child getting in the way of a machine designed to collect money from the government and from alumni too old to remember how it treated them in their time. I will use some specific examples to characterize this more fundamental arrogance of Yale to its students.

In all fairness, I will admit that some things have improved noticeably over the last five years. The Bursar's office, for example, used to be several orders of magnitude more inept than it is now, and Career Services used to be just "Career...?" Even though many students seemed oblivious to the fact that resistance to Locals 34 and 35 was in our interest, the University did what it could to ensure better service at less unreasonable prices in those areas. Perhaps I should blame SLAC, and not the administration for the fact that even if I were to stay on-campus for another five years (when the current contract expires) I wouldn't have any more appetizing options than cereal and scrod 3 times a day for $3200, or cereal and scrod twice a day for $3200 - $200 "Flex."

But school isn't just scrod and Career Services. Yale is about community, and community apparently means students out in the field like peasants and the administration in a castle guarded by a wall of secretaries and a moat of arbitrary rules. If I had a dollar for every time I had to talk to a rude secretary, or saw somebody abused by arbitrary rules, maybe I wouldn't mind donating money to the university. What is the major malfunction of administration support staff here? On occasion I have been mistaken for a TA, alumnus, or something other than a student, and in such cases I am often treated as I would expect to be. But rue the day of an unavoidable encounter with the secretary of my residential dean or one of the other offices! If we weren't essentially patrons of a monopoly, these secretaries would either be fired or else find themselves downsized along with the whole university. Fortunately, it's not quite a perfect monopoly. As students and future alumni, we can warn the administration of the consequences of abuse of its monopolistic trust. Let's take a critical look at some more familiar manifestations of our administration's indiscretion.

Since most of us are required to patronize the residential colleges for at least one year, let's start there. Along with tuition, room charges climb faster than the rate of inflation. It is natural to infer that the difference is being applied to improve the service in some fashion. But just as it is one of the great ironies of life that teachers are often the poorest practitioners, so Yale is bent on breaking this simple law of economics. One of the more arrogant shortcomings of our colleges is that they assume no liability for their service. If their dysfunctional heating system bursts and destroys all of your property, you can only hope that somebody up there is in a merciful mood, or else you cover the loss yourself. And what about summer storage? At least in Saybrook, there is minimal provision for storage, and again they wash their hands of any responsibility for the security of your belongings. This is absurd. They have plenty of space, and can ensure sufficient security so as to assume liability if they screw up. There is a real imbalance of incentives here, and it's not in our favor.

Moving on to the higher levels of administration, I picked at random a recent YDN article as an example. (This really works with almost any article about the administration's reaction to student affairs—try it.) In this case, we had the FCC petitioning for, among other things, the "right" to choose Flex dollars their second semester. I can't believe this is something that is explicitly forbidden to begin with. But Dean Trachtenberg responded to the petition by saying that although administrators have discussed the idea, "there's not a lot of enthusiasm" for it. So we undergraduates have to stand by and pray that some day the administrators show up to work, perhaps with an extra cup of coffee, sufficiently enthusiastic to effect zero-cost improvements to the lives of the undergraduates? My prayer is that we can all show an equal level of enthusiasm in response to whatever petitions the administration may make of us in the future (read "$"). To add insult to injury, Betty then continues with a characteristically incongruous rationalization of the administration's apathy: "Some people feel that it lends greater cohesion to a class to have 21-meal plans for the freshmen." (Well sure—heck, some Yale alumni feel that oral sex with 21-year-old interns isn't sex.)

Take a fresh look sometime at the Undergraduate or Academic Regulations. They would be really funny if they weren't actually enforced. Consider, for example, the 3 pages explaining the Credit/D/Fail "option." This was a great thing. I intend to exercise all eight of my CR/D/F allowance—if I can find so many courses in which the instructor hasn't forbidden the option. Year after year, as more and more restrictions have been added to what was originally "Pass/Fail" grading, it has become a joke—more of an artifact of the good old days than a tool of any use to current students. Then there's the "fire safety" regulations, and their associated fines. I am not prepared or qualified to go into specifics, but when having paper in a trash can becomes a fire hazard, I really have to bite my tongue; more-so when I see faculty living-spaces in extreme violation of the same rules. (But I guess that's just because Yale doesn't want us to die in a fire until we can write them into our will).

I have had some rather unique circumstances, which have allowed me to further test the true constitution of the administration. I left Yale after my Freshman year to serve a two-year religious mission. This is done by several students every year, but the administration refuses to grant us an extended leave for this program, insisting that we withdraw from the college. Over past decades, numerous complaints have been sent to relevant committees and administrators, but no change or justification has ever been returned. Of course, what can we expect? There is no justification. And it would be easier to change the United States Constitution than the Yale College Undergraduate Regulations. The reapplication process adds insecurity and hassle to our return, and invariably complicates our housing situation. I used to be in Morse, and even though I sent letters to Dean Wallach for the entire second year of my mission trying to arrange on-campus housing, I was curtly informed on returning (in July) that I didn't have a room and would have to find my own housing.

I'm also one of seven Yalies doing ROTC. Fortunately, we receive tremendous support from Facilities Director Ed Davis; the program would not survive even at this level without him. That it isn't more popular is in large part due to the fact that Yale refuses to grant credit for the ROTC course we have to carry every semester. Every university in the state gives credit for this course, and Yale did as well up until 1968. Whatever partisan politics motivated its removal from campus then are ridiculously childish to perpetuate today. Yet, today the administration seems to have a stronger principle of inertia than nature herself.

I'm not sure why, but Dick Levin seems to offer hope. I was at his triumphal unction as President in the Fall of 1993, and perhaps it was there that I glimpsed a Yale vision of continuous improvement and service to the students. Yale may be run by a bunch of Dicks (Levin, Brodhead, Shaw, Chavolla, Alison, et al.), but at the top they seem like reasonable people—when you can get near them. Is the Yale administration and dean's office really just a self-serving organization designed to keep students at bay until they can be milked for money by the higher-ups on the other side of the castle wall? From our perspective, that's what it looks like. However, this is a natural product of human nature, so it is perhaps just as much our fault. Our tendency to forget the many problems characterized here is eloquently noted in my favorite Yale song, "Bright College Years," which subtly cautions, "How bright will seem through mem'ry's haze, Those happy, golden, by-gone days!" Unless we make a specific effort to the contrary, there is no incentive for Yale to step up its service. It is just as natural for our administrators, realizing that their negative actions will bear no serious consequences, to continue in their ways. I hope we can all change, now.

Appendix: Revised "Bright College Years"

In afteryears, should monies rise
To fill the grey New Haven skies,
How bright will seem through mem'ry's haze,
Those abused, exploited by-gone days!
Oh, let us strive that ever we
May let these words out watchcry be,
Where'er upon life's seas we sail:
"For God and for Country, but not for Yale!"