Last September, Yale could boast an impressive 617 registered undergraduate organizations. At the start of this semester, thanks to new registration requirements implemented by the Dean’s Office, it could claim less than half that number, a measly 279. A university that prides itself in its undergraduate community should be seriously concerned.
Every fall, student organizations are required to renew their registration with the Yale College Dean’s Office. Those that fail to do so lose their abilities to apply for university funding and reserve university spaces, such as classrooms or theaters. For many groups, this amounts a semester-long moratorium on their most basic activities. Traditionally, however, this registration process has been simple, straightforward, and therefore acceptable; groups completed it largely without a hitch.
Last Fall, however, the Dean’s Office altered the process; in addition to filling out an online form and attending the standard registration meeting, student organizations were required to send three officers to three distinct “leadership workshops.” Such meetings were poorly advertised, tucked away in least convenient corners of campus, and scheduled in those hours of the afternoon when most students are either in class or at athletic practice. But at least the workshops, to use the administration’s language, “[promoted] a respectful and safe campus climate,” right?
Not quite. These workshops were, by any standard, an utter waste of time. Ostensibly focused on the noble goals of eliminating hazing and other unsafe practices, these graduate student-led disasters instead broached such relevant topics as the “proper” way to organize “naked paint parties” and “sex-toy scavenger hunts.” Many students walked away, not enlightened, but uncomfortable. And rightfully so; a University that really cares about promoting a healthy campus culture doesn’t force religious and sexually conservative students to listen to this stuff. All things considered, it’s fairly clear that the Dean’s Office devoted only cursory attention to planning these workshops.
So what then was the purpose of creating them in the first place? Why require 617 undergraduate groups to reconfigure their officers’ schedules in the middle of the semester? Why drag students away from their studies, their organizations, and their friends? Light & Truth fears that the Dean’s Office had an ulterior motive.
The Yale Undergraduate Organizations Committee, the group responsible for allocating funds to student organizations, has a yearly budget of $205,000. Assuming that all 617 groups applied for the maximum amount of funding, the UOC would barely be able to fulfill half of their requests. Light & Truth admires the students who volunteer with the UOC; the group does fantastic work that truly contributes to campus life. Knowing this, we expect that, anticipating the demand coming from 617 groups, the students on the UOC asked the Dean’s Office to increase the amount of funding they had to allocate.
Going back to registration, Light & Truth contacted Ben Ackerman, Student Organizations Director of the Yale Class Council for comment on the new registration requirements. “The [YCC] did not play any role in establishing requirements for registration,” he told us. Additionally, “the Leadership Workshops were planned and executed by the Yale College Dean’s Office without the involvement of the [Council.]” Furthermore, “when the [YCC] was informed of these new requirements, we expressed concern that some student organizations would lose their registration.”
This interview and the aforementioned financial circumstances allow for two explanations of the new registration requirements. It’s possible that the Dean’s Office simply miscalculated the burden these requirements placed on student organizations. The whole episode may well have been an honest mistake, born out of simple misunderstandings about students’ schedules. But there are problems with this narrative. The YCC informed the Dean’s Office that the workshops could harm student organizations; it just didn’t listen. Furthermore, if the Office was truly troubled by the number of groups that failed to complete the registration requirements, it could have issued a temporary stay on the sanctions that accompanied deregistration. For example, it could have granted groups another semester of funding before getting financially suspended.
With these problems in mind, Light & Truth would like to offer a second explanation for this whole affair; perhaps the Dean’s Office instituted these new requirements with precise intent to reducing the number of student organizations. Fewer groups means fewer applications for funding, thereby invalidating the UOC’s request and easing the burden on the administration. That the leadership workshops were hastily and poorly planned fits with this story; they weren’t really intended to promote a healthy culture, but to filter out groups that the Dean’s Office now considers ‘unworthy’ or ‘second rate.’
Such a criterion for classifying organizations is absurd. Although Light & Truth begrudgingly met the new requirements, it rejects the idea that a group’s willingness to learn about “naked paint parties” is in any way indicative of its contributions to student life.
Going forward into this new semester, Light & Truth hopes that the Dean’s Office will listen to the YCC’s suggestions on how to improve the registration process. Although “new student organizations” (including those 338 that failed to renew their registrations last semester) can normally apply for only half of the standard Yale grant, the Dean’s Office should temporarily lift this limit to account for last semester’s mishaps.
Furthermore, if some groups must receive funding over others, Yale should be prepared to select X over Y by more meaningful criteria than workshop attendance, perhaps on the grounds that X contributes more to the University than Y. Of course, publicizing such an administrative position would mean telling future donors (and the children of current donors) that their debating society, performance group, or cultural club just isn’t as important as the other guy’s, that their contribution to campus wasn’t truly welcome… That’s a poor strategy.
Instead, the Dean’s Office should increase the UOC’s budget.