After wading through annual campus controversies, University President Peter Salovey has the chance to positively reshape the future of Yale through its upcoming capital campaign, a fundraising effort that that is expected to raise billions of dollars. Over the past year, faculty committees across the University have contemplated where to allocate those dollars. But amid discussions and town halls hosted by these committees, administrators and faculty members have decided what Yale needs behind closed doors, relying on deans and administrators to relay student voices — students themselves have been shut out. This is an egregious shortcoming, exhibiting blatant disregard for student opinion. Yale needs to actively solicit student input concerning fundraising priorities in order for the capital campaign to be truly effective. More importantly, the University must listen to student voices to stay true to its mission: serving and supporting students in the name of their own pursuits.
The University has made public its main goal for the capital campaign: significant investment in the sciences at Yale, an area where the University has historically fallen behind its peers. There are noble, well-thought-out goals in the plan. Salovey has accepted recommendations from the University Science Strategy Committee, comprised exclusively of faculty members, to invest in valuable new research facilities, engineering hubs, graduate student funds and STEM diversity initiatives. University officials are also considering an expansion of the Jackson Institute for Global Affairs into a professional school.
But just as administrators boast the benefits of a new neuroscience institute or professional school, students have voiced support for a slate of new student life initiatives: the establishment of a Middle Eastern and North African cultural center, the elimination of the student income contribution and the introduction of greater mental health resources, including hiring more clinicians who are of color or identify as LGBTQ. For years, students have advocated for these kinds of improvements, often through informal means. Just yesterday evening, a hundred students stood on Old Campus in the cold winter wind to call for the end of the student income contribution. But their calls for change — all of our calls for change — have fallen on deaf ears.
Ostensibly, the University would have students advocate through formal means, like attending town halls. But its efforts to facilitate such means of communication have been half-hearted or nonexistent. This past week, University Secretary Kimberly Goff-Crews invited student leaders to a training session to learn about how the capital campaign operates. Discussions about how students could recommend new student life spending initiatives, however, were left off the table.
Yale shows that it does not care about student input if it fails to listen to the voices of students through informal means and will not offer them an avenue to express themselves formally. As an educational institution, the University is supposed to serve its students first: not alumni, not donors and not its bureaucracy. Somehow, administrators have forgotten that.
But they have not forgotten how to fundraise. Past development efforts have focused on getting high net worth donors to contribute to projects onto which they can easily affix their names, including highly visible undertakings like the Schwarzman Center, made possible by a gift of $150 million from Blackstone founder Stephen Schwarzman ’69. The Center will be erected at the heart of campus in the Commons and Memorial Hall, and will offer an exciting new space for students to foster community.
Even so, students and even faculty members have raised concerns over whether the enormous amount of resources going into the Schwarzman Center could be better spent on student life elsewhere. For instance, a survey by the News taken in the fall of 2017 found that only 14 percent of 314 faculty respondents from the Faculty of Arts and Sciences thought that the Schwarzman Center is a good use of money.
The University should approach the upcoming year as an opportunity to take more community voices, more student voices, into account in the course of its capital campaign. We applaud Salovey’s consultation of faculty for development priorities. But the core of student life at Yale goes beyond flashy buildings and should instead reflect the causes we — the student body — care most about.
The News’ View represents the opinion of the majority of the members of the Yale Daily News Managing Board of 2020.
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