Fight the damn system
You can't handle the truth
By David Bookstaber
The most useful lesson I have
learned at Yale is how to fight the system. The Administration is a perfect
example of a bureaucracy designed to carry out routine tasks efficiently
while resisting change and failing to accommodate any extraordinary demand.
On many occasions I have confronted this system. Through the use of focused,
persistent efforts, I have learned that it can be overcome.
Two of my more passionate crusades have been for the Reserve Officer
Training Corps (ROTC) and the Yale College Course Critique
(YCCC). These are institutions in which I have both a practical and an
ideological interestinterests that Yale does not share.
In spite of Yale's longstanding military tradition and its distinction of
having started ROTC, the Administration voted 30 years ago to revoke course
credit from ROTC programs. This act prompted the Department of Defense to
dissolve the ROTC program at Yale. Nonetheless, since then a few cadets each
year, myself included, have attended Yale and commuted to the University of
Connecticut at Storrs in order to participate in the ROTC unit there. A
program that formerly earned four total credits toward graduation now
provides none. Instead, it comes with an additional three-hour-a-week
Meanwhile, as a staffer of the YCCC, I am baffled by the fact that
the Administration can remain so oblivious to the principles of quality
management that the YCCC supports. I am confused by a faculty that
ostensibly makes commitments to undergraduate teaching, yet as a body is so
opposed to helping an institution like the Course Critique. Those few
data that are collected are withheld from the YCCC, forcing us to
engage in surveying of our own. Finally, as if opposition from the
Administration and the faculty weren't enough, the YCCC faces an
apathetic student body that would rather complain about how few responses the
YCCC gets than fill out surveys, and that would rather criticize it
for poor editing than volunteer to assist the tiny, under-funded staff that
puts it together each semester. What is an idealistic Yalie to do?
In this case, a few other YCCC editors and I have spent the last
two years in a state of war with Yale. Our position paper and various
proposals are posted on the YCCC website (www.yale.edu/critique)
and aim to avoid the current duplication of effort between the Dean's Office
and the YCCC while providing more effective course evaluations for
everyone. But even with the support of a few sympathetic faculty members, our
primary obstacle was simply to determine who had the authority to make
changes at Yale. We spent weeks tracking down deans and administrators,
trying to sort out conflicting stories and explanations. Finally, we
determined that the faculty itself was the only entity with authority to
change the University's position against supporting a course critique, and
that the only way to present our proposals to the faculty was through the
Teaching and Learning Committee. We spent months finding and confronting the
indifferent members of this committee, to no avail. In the end it seemed that
we had lost.
This apparent defeat only illustrates why circumventing the system is
sometimes necessary. Facing the prospect of again sending YCCC
staffers to survey ineffectually outside dining halls, we decided to do the
Administration's job ourselves. We e-mailed all teachers of non-seminar
classes and invited them to distribute our surveys along with the standard
Dean's Office evaluation form. To our surprise, over 50 professors agreed.
With just a few days left in the term, our small group distributed and
collected surveys directly from these professors. After more than two years
of trying to get the University to cooperate in creating a course evaluation
system, we finally achieved a large degree of success by doing the job
Bypassing the system is one way to win, but it is not always possible. For
a generation, cadets have fought with varying intensity to return the ROTC to
Yale, but have made no measurable progress. After trying myself for three
years to get credit for the burdensome program that cadets assume, I finally
figured out how to beat the system. I did it not by changing it, but by
exploiting the fact that senior ROTC courses are close enough to political
science courses that they can earn transfer credit through that department.
So, for the first time in 30 years, senior cadets can get Yale credit for
ROTC. It was just a matter of looking hard enough for a solution.
Don't wait for the system to help you. Don't protest or complain
passively, either. Declare war on the system. Fight it, screw it, or abuse
it. Just don't give up.
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