So as I mentioned yesterday, taking Maria to college at Yale was a pretty heady experience. As we walked around campus, and in especially in her and my dorm, Calhoun—so embarrassingly named for slavery’s biggest cheerleader—the memories kept drifting by my eyes, like ghosts. The thing is, compared to what I was seeing in reality, they were such shabby ghosts.
Call me naive and unobservant, but in my day (early and mid 1970s), the place didn’t seem so darned fancy. There was some cool architecture, old and new (like Eiro Saarinen’s Yale-whale hockey arena), but the word “renovation” wasn’t in the institutional vocabulary: the basic feel was shabby genteel. The modern addition I most frequently frequented was the glaringly depressing and soul-deadening Cross Campus Library.
How things have changed. Cross Campus is gone, replaced by a library donated by the Bass family, which, like everything else nowadays, is incredibly spiffy and tasteful. Maria was one of the first students to move into the newly rehabbed Calhoun: again, totally spiffed out. The Yale gym is incredible, the dining halls splendid (both Maria and I are fans of Yale food), there’s a wide assortment of good restaurants around if you want to venture out (on Tuesday we ate lunch at Pepe’s Pizza and dinner at Thali Too–four stars all around), everything is wifi and polished wood. And, oh yeah, there are good professors and classes, and plenty of funding (Maria tells me) for internship stipends and international research projects.
The odor of money is not a figment of my olfactory glands. The Chronicle of Higher Ed just came out with its annual Almanac Issue, and the numbers that go with Yale and the other “have”s are out of this world. Briefly: $22.9 billion endowment (which works out to about $2 million per student), $486 million in donations raised annually, annual library expenditures of $81 million, average full professor earns nearly $175,000. I’d rather not discuss the $50,000 sticker price for tuition, room and board, and expenses.
Don’t get me wrong. I understand the importance of global universities like Yale, and I know you can’t operate them on the cheap. I get it that amenities are a major way colleges at every level compete with each other for students. Hey–I like polished wood as much as the next guy. But it all seems just a bit excessive.
No question, I could not get into Yale today. Being accepted at a college like this is like winning the lottery—including almost the same long odds. (This year, Yale, Harvard and Princeton each selected about 9 percent of applicants—applicants who pre-selected themselves in thinking they had a chance to get in.) The analogy is pretty apt, the more I think of it, with the qualification that this is one lottery reserved for the affluent and/or gifted. Maria and her peers have won an amazing prize. Certainly, they appear much happier than I remember being, plus talented and in the prime of youth, and plunked down in this unbelievable environment. She will probably disagree with me in this space, but I think she should pinch herself. No question, she should enjoy it while she can.