White on Yale

"AYA Assembly LXI"
Service at Yale and Beyond
December 2006

By Jim White
Washington, D.C.

Minnesota has two seasons, says Garrison Keillor, winter and construction. Yale has only one season, and it isn't winter. (More about Yale's one season later.) Indeed, for Association of Yale Alumni Assembly LXVI, held in New Haven November 9-11, 2006, which I attended as the Class of 1962 delegate, the weather was downright balmy, with bright Yale blue skies and sunny temps in the 60's. This is my report on the Assembly.

  1. The title of this Assembly was For God, For Country, and for Yale: The Importance of Service at Yale and Beyond. That's a mighty big mouthful, perhaps necessary to justify the Super Bowl-like Latin numerals. Assembly sessions highlighted what service activities Yale is doing, and what the students are doing, in and about New Haven and throughout the world.
    1. For Yale's part, I site two handouts, (1) Contributing to a Strong New Haven, and (2) Educational Partnerships and Programs for New Haven Young People. The first describes Yale's economic and human development programs, the goal of which is a stronger New Haven. For example, Yale investment supports biotechnology business development, by renovating existing science and medical facilities and by constructing new ones; the payoff has been dramatic and gratifying, as there are now 40 biotech companies in Greater New Haven, 22 in the city itself. The second summarizes a raft of academic, arts, and athletic programs, some of which happen during school term, some after school, and some over the summer. The publications are available from the AYA or from Yale's Office of New Haven and State Affairs.
    2. Through Dwight Hall and otherwise, Yale undergraduates are involved in serving New Haven of course, for example as tutors in the public schools, and also in service in places far and wide, for example in Darfur and Guatemala, to name two. Some of this service is linked to the student's academic program; most is not, if the booths set up for alumni viewing in Commons by numerous service groups is any indication.

  2. As always, the Assembly featured sessions devoted to The State of Yale. I attended two such sessions, one on (A) undergraduate admissions, the other on (B) Yale-New Haven relations. Also, I (C) walked around the central campus, and popped into some buildings and construction sites. Finally, (D) President Levin spoke to all alumni. As you might expect, from the viewpoint of the session speakers, Yale administrators, Yale is in great shape.
    1. The statistics on admissions may be familiar. Dean Brenzel told of a dramatic rise in applications (19,000 last year) and a concomitant drop in the admit rate, with just one of 11 getting admitted, the lowest in the history of American higher education, he said. Has the selectivity issue at Yale now reached its end? Brenzel thinks it has, and hopes it has, because for him the admissions process is already too difficult and ambiguous. Are there areas of special admissions interest? Brenzel identified three: science and engineering, minorities, and international students. What about "early action" - will Yale stay with it or follow Harvard and Princeton and eliminate it? No news here; Yale is still thinking.
    2. Yale moved to New Haven from Saybrook in 1716 and from then until recently town-gown relations have varied from spotty, to bad, to awful (the 1970's). Not so today, with relations at a high point. To keep them there, Yale is working with the City, the unions, and the public to identify and solve problems as they arise, or as Michael Morand (Assoc. VP for New Haven and State Affairs) put it, fixing the roof while the sun shines. Public perception hasn't caught up with the reality of a New Haven Renaissance (Yale's term), but walking around, and as I reported last year, there are exciting things going on here, with new residents and new businesses creating a more vibrant city.
    3. One can't go too far on the campus without bumping into a construction site. Whether on the Cross Campus, where the underground library is being renovated, or at the Bowl, ditto, or at Silliman, ditto, or at the Art Gallery, ditto, there is vigorous activity. And much, much more on the drawing board, on Science Hill, at the Medical School, and on York and Chapel where Yale's art and architecture-related facilities and departments are being consolidated through renovation and new construction. Most noteworthy is the possibility of two new residential colleges. The site is set, up and off Prospect Street, near Science Hill, behind the Grove Street Cemetery. What is not set is whether or not to build, and if the colleges are built, will they be for an expanded undergraduate population (currently about 1330-50 per class) or to relieve crowding and cut down on the growing number of off-campus residents. Stay tuned. The reconfiguration of the Yale campus is in mid-stream. By any measurement, it is the most ambitious program in the history of higher education. When all is done, perhaps 10 years from now, Yale will have the best facilities of any educational institution.
    4. President Levin's talk and the Q-and-A that followed focused on what is perhaps the crux of his presidency, his vision of Yale as THE great international educational institution of the 21st century. He emphasized, for example, Yale's growing relationships with Asia's Big Three, China, India, and Japan. He spoke about summer internships abroad for Yale students. All this and more (the previously mentioned admissions emphasis and all the construction activity) is a work in progress, he said. Not all of the plans may come to pass, and some that do may not work out. Still, the vision is there, and Yale is moving toward it, at no leisurely pace.

(Jim's e-mail address is Jameskwhite1221@aol.com.)

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