Elihu Supersizes

My alma mater, Yale, tired of turning away qualified applicants, is boosting storage space, er, dormitories, um, residential colleges! They're building 2 more for a total of 14. Yale's colleges, each of which houses about 400 to 500 students, date back mostly to the 1930s, with the last two built in the 1960s. Old Campus houses about 80% of freshmen, in historic buildings, renovated every once in a while to put in central heating or insulation.The new colleges will be ready by 2013, and increase enrollment by about 15 percent (from roughly 5,200 today). The alumni interviewing committee just sent out a flyer that said only about 8 percent of applicants were accepted in this year's pool, down more than a percent from last year, partly because of the change in financial aid increasing applicants. The committee wanted to let us know as alumni interviewers that a lot of great kids we met simply wouldn't be getting in--only 1 in 11 would be admitted! I had the good and bad luck to be assigned to Ezra Stiles (think: Harry Potter's Sorting Hat without any of the subtlety as to why you were assigned into a particular college). Nothing per se wrong with the place, but we were ultima thule for the north end of campus, adjacent to Dixwell Avenue, and the projects, one of the most dangerous parts of New Haven, which was full of dangerous parts in those days (and reportedly enormously less so these days). The crack epidemic was rampant, and there were a lot, a lot, a lot of shootings. Because Yale operates partly egalitarian, partly legacy, if you had a relative who was in a given college, like Berkeley or Jonathan Edwards, you'd have preference for that college on admission. You could also relatively easily transfer colleges if there were housing space following freshman year. ezrastiles_birdseye.jpg This meant that Ezra Stiles (named for enlightened former Yale head who practiced unity and peace) and Morse (named for famous Yalie and famous slaveholder Samuel F.B. Morse) were disproportionately full of first-generation Yalies. We were no ghetto of less-privileged folks (my family was probably technically poor when I applied to Yale), but it was a different mix. (One of my freshman year roommates--tiny private rooms in a suite of 6--was the son and great-nephew of Yalies.) Morse and Ezra Stiles were designed by Eero Saarinen, a fabulous forward-thinking architect who designed a lot of great-looking modern buildings that turned out to be totally unsuitable for their purposes. Don't blame him. He died during the colleges' construction, and plans went awry, according to histories I read. Heating was originally in pipes beneath the stone floors (designed to look like rough pathways even in rooms). That apparently failed within a couple of years. Baseboard heating was installed, which worked erratically, and sometimes made a lot of noise (in my sophomore year). The colleges need a massive renovation, which will happen. Yale has been renovated all the colleges over time, shuffling students for that year into a "swing" college, which apparently won't be used as one of the two new colleges. The "birds' eye" shot above from Microsoft's Live.com shows how attractively conceived the two colleges were, each in a half moon with a tower (for density) anchoring each side. THe colleges weren't connected except at the kitchen, which was underground! You could walk through between the two if desired, but folks rarely did. For some reason, I knew virtually no one in Morse College, even though at my 10th reunion I met a woman who has become one my dearest friends who was in Morse. In comparing notes, we wound up finding one person we both knew in common, even though we were both in the humanities. I'm hoping the new colleges aren't quite as cutting edge in terms of features, but rather focus on being both attractive and functional. My biggest disappointment as an undergraduate was the master and dean of my college. The master is in charge of student life; the dean, of academic life. The master, while not a bad fellow, was very out of tune with us (he made peculiar jokes about Asian students ancestors doing his laundry, but he didn't do so with any malice), and really bonded only well with the jocks. He was well known for not shutting down parties unless they got out of hand (cf., the Deca-dance). The dean was aloof, icy, and irritable, and had a few favorites, while the rest of us were so much dross. She got married while I was an undergrad, and essentially lived off campus, even though the dean and master's roles involve them living term-time in the college. I didn't mind her absence. When I hit academic problems in freshman year, she was entirely unsympathetic. Later, a miscommunication with the registrar's office via her secretary almost led to me not graduating. She grudgingly helped out. (The Registrar, who I met with, was infinitely more helpful.) I made a fair amount of my life within the college, and enjoyed my friends there. I always had someone to eat with, and there was only a slight amount of cliquishness. I made most of my life outside the college working in theater at times, and for the weekly newspaper all four years. It worked out just fine, lest I sound bitter.