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Higher Education News from the Collegiate Way

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Yale Alumni Magazine Contemplates College Design

[Yale University] — The March/April edition of the Yale Alumni Magazine carries a feature by Marc Branch on design ideas for the two new residential colleges being planned for Yale University. “Your Dream College Here” invites Yale alumni to suggest styles and features for the new colleges, and it presents the recommendations of a number of current college masters and residential college specialists, including architect Jane Wright of Hanbury Evans, a long-time friend of the Collegiate Way website who has made use of many of the design principles developed here in her work.

I was also interviewed for the story, and I offered these recommendations in particular (you’ll find them in the sidebar headed “What this place really needs…”):

One of the things I think is most important is to have the college offices in a high-traffic area. If they’re tucked away, that prevents the serendipitous encounters that are so beneficial in a residential college setting. Also, Oxford and Cambridge used to have working gardens that helped provide the food for the colleges. I would certainly build a working garden into any new college. Finally, I don’t think either Yale or Harvard has taken care of its arts and sciences graduate students very well, so I think there ought to be a lot of consideration as to how they might be incorporated as the college system expands.

Some of the detailed design suggestions already submitted by alumni have been posted on a special page, “What should a college look like?” Many of them are quite insightful. The recommendations of alumnus Lloyd Etheredge in particular echo the call for the inclusion of graduate students.

An important issue that is not addressed in Branch’s story or in the posted alumni commentary has to do with freshmen. Both Yale and Harvard, for historical reasons, segregate their freshmen—Harvard’s in the “Yard” and Yale’s on the “Old Campus,” the two original core sections of their grounds that date back over three centuries. While in general I do not favor segregating freshmen in this way, the historic justification in these two cases is a compelling one, especially since Yale’s freshmen are all made members of a residential college upon admission to the university and their Old Campus residences simply function as college annexes. But this pattern places a special constraint on the overall size of the college system: if all freshmen are to be housed in the Yard or the Old Campus, then the capacity of these two areas fixes the size of the entering class. Yale has already broken this limit and houses a number of its freshmen elsewhere. If it is to expand further, then even more freshmen will have to be housed outside the historic core unless some significant reconfiguration takes place.

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