Yale watched Harvard's House system for almost two years before it got enough nerve to try a similar plan in New Haven. It dispatched a young professor to Cambridge to ask President Lowell how to build what Yale decided to call a College System. Lowell sent back the professor, Robert D. French, with the admonition: "Make 'em smaller. We built ours too big."
The Yale Administration listened, and so did Edward S. Harkness the Standard Oil millionaire. Harkness, who had financed Harvard's House system mainly to show Yale how to combat impersonalism in a large university, was even more generous with his alma mater. Yale was able to build 10 Colleges as against the seven Houses that Harvard had put up along the Charles for a larger student body.
Largely because of their compactness, Yale's Colleges have been more successful than the Houses in fulfilling the social objectives envisioned by Harkness and by others who had plugged for an Americanized Oxford or Cambridge residential system. The Yale colleges are far better than the Houses as substitutes for fraternities or clubs. There is a tighter bond between students and masters, greater participation in College activities, and a generally stronger esprit d' corps.
This social success has been achieved alongside a fraternity system that claims nine thriving units and 19 percent of Yale's undergraduates. Masters and students disagree on how much fraternities and Colleges compete for the loyalties of undergraduates. Fraternity men think there is a tension between the two. College masters confess there is some split loyalty, but consider it negligible and on the decline. They note that especially among the socially-conscious Yalies there is bound to be a "smart set" that will want some measure of exclusiveness.
An Intellectual Flop
Intellectually, the Colleges have flopped. Yale never mustered the money for a tutorial staff, and while young men called "fellows" are attached to the several Colleges, there are no resident tutors available to provide a steady faculty-student relationship of the sort that exists to some extent in the Houses. All the College masters agree resident tutors are a pretty fine thing. "We wish we had them," Calhoun's master, John O. Schroeder, said; "even if Harvard is going broke on the thing, we wish we had them." But tutors are little more than a hope. Yale went half a million dollars into the red last year and this year may be worse. The College's intellectual salvation can never be more than partial in the forseeable future. The masters know this and intend to energize the current "fellows" system, now generally restricted to an occasional lunch and discussion with crack students.
How to Hold Your Liquor
Yale's inability to equal the English college tutorial system, even in the limited way that Harvard has aped it with entry tutors, may be just the reason that the Colleges have functioned so well socially. Since the masters can't do much to make their College's training grounds for learning, they make them training grounds for community living. This resulted in a liberal attitude towards rules and residents' whims that would astound the Harvard undergraduate, who haggles nervously with a Yard cop when caught violating a room permission and thinks he has won a major triumph if a new drink-dispensing machine is installed in an entry basement.
College masters in New Haven use a rule of reason rather than legalistics towards women, alcohol, and student initiative. On a weekend night they let parties go well beyond the deadline for women, until the campus cop assigned to the College gets around to the rooms and breaks the parties up. The matters feel it is more important to educate the inmates of their Colleges socially than to keep the Colleges pure. They usually serve purchase at College functions that have a little more than the fruit juice combinations generally dispensed at House dances
"If a guy needs to learn how to hold his liquor," the master of Silliman College, Theodore M. Greene, said, "he might as well o it under home conditions. There's no use forcing him to go to a West Haven bar ... they've got to go awfully wild before I'll damp them." When damping is necessary, it usually takes the form of discreet removal from the scene of trouble and then gentle counsel--on first offense. If the wicked fail to learn, the Masters may ask them to resign from the College, or at worst, suspend or expel from the College, or at worst, suspend or expel them from Yale. This happens rarely. French, who has been master of Jonathan Edwards since the College masters started, has "fired" only two students. Discipline is more the problem of the College masters than the Dean's Office. No matter where the offense occurs, and even if the difficulty is purely academic, the master is called into consultation. His advice holds the most weight in disciplinary decisions, since it is assumed he knows the most about the student involved; and the master of a College must be able to appraise each man living in his unit. This is just another expression of Yale's "benevolent paternalism." Just how active the "paternalism" should be is left to the discretion of the individual masters, but even the most ardent "laissez faire" master spends much more time running his College than his Harvard equivalent. He had no tutors to help and yet he is expected to have close contact with individual problems. College activities, and College improvements. He is able to do this because he is hired as a master first, and teaches or writes purely on his own volition.
Greene most approaches the House tradition of letting things run until they run wrong. "These Colleges can be an experiments in community living and responsibility," he says. "I think this is very important. We're preparing for life in a democracy as well as for the life of the mind." Greene lets a College student council initiate and follow through most of Silliman's activities. Through that system, he thinks, Silliman men (Salamanders) will develop loyalties toward each other rather than toward the master or the tradition of the College, as in most of the other nine colleges. "What I'm trying to get," Greene explained, "is an antidote to the disinterest typical of suburban living. I think we've got it. If I tried to abolish this council now I think I'd have a riot on my hands, I hope so."
Other masters, notably French of Johnathan Edwards and Daniel Merriman of Davenport, like to make College administration a one man job. Both claimed that their small size--fewer than 250 men as against Silliman's 440--was the big influence on their approach. Some masters run their Colleges largely through force of personality, such as Calhoun's Schroeder, who has memorized the name, home town, grades, and major problem of every student in his College. With this equipment, he has managed to draw a particularly strong loyalty toward himself from the Calhoun men.
Despite the Yale undergraduate's quest for prestige, which he earns through participation in varsity sports or success with a respected organization, the response to College activities and athletics is mostly stronger than the enthusiasm for the same things in the Harvard Houses. College intramural sports have scarcely any trouble raising a full roster and occasionally draw good crowds. College dramatic efforts once or twice a year elicit vigorous interest. Several masters judged these activities particularly valuable because they introduced students to "work for work's sake" rather than work for the sake of being a big shot. French was particularly surprised that varsity athletes in their off seasons showed great zest for College sports.
Master: Psychiatrist and Landlord
The Yale, troubled or in trouble, is likely to go to his master rather than a dean or psychiatrist. If he imports a date and signs up early enough the master will put her up in a spare bedroom; each master's family usually handles about 15 girls during the course of a big football weekend.
Dining in the Colleges is scarcely better, perhaps inferior to the Houses. But Colleges, because of their size, manage to smokescreen gastronomic deficiencies with graciousness. The dining rooms are smaller and proportionately quieter. Students queue up for their stew and ice cream inside the separate College Kitchens and succeed in making the dining halls look like desirable men's clubs rather than cafeterias. In fact, in pre-war days when food was good and served on plates by waitresses, the resemblance of Colleges to good men' clubs was one of their chief attractions to undergraduates.
I'm Sorry About the Plates
On special occasions, the Colleges make a big bid for gentility. A week ago, Calhoun replaced its tin trays with crockery, dressed its cafeteria staff in elegant black uniforms, and spectacularly dished out unspectacular food while a string trio played dinner music. A lady dispensing coffee obsessed with her duty to maintain a polished atmosphere, apologized for serving coffee cups on plates rather than saucers to students who usually balanced their coffee on trays. Dress for meals at Yale is not so consistently formal as it is in the Houses. Ties and coats are required for the main meal of the day but are usually optional otherwise.
Complaints about the food filter to the masters with about the same regularity as the Student Council gets them at Harvard, and they dwindle into the same obscurity. The Yalies' case for improved fare is even less sound, since they pay only $11 for a 21-meal ration.
Live-music dances are held in the College dining halls only once a term, since the demand is mostly satisfied by the fraternities. The nine fraternities, all relics of pre-1940 Yale line a curved "fraternity row" near the Colleges. During the week, the fraternity houses are used in desultory fashion by members who drops in for a quick beer. On weekends they open their doors to the whole student body and throw punches, dances, drinking parties, and jazz concerts. During better football weekends they are usually jammed. Some, like the Fence Club, try to avoid too uncontrolled a stampede and limit entrants.
Like the Houses, Colleges have developed reputations. Davenport, Pierson, Branford, and Calhoun are ellegedly the homes of the socially prominent the "white shoe men," and hence the most desirable. Berkeley, Jonathan Edwards, and Timothy Dwight fit into a middle caste. Silliman is the home of vigorous but not big time extroverts, and Trumbull and Saybrook are shunned as "black shoe" choices. These dis- tinctions are pretty spurious since a Council of Masters carefully plants a balance of high school men, prep school men, and scholarship students in each College. Fraternities don't rush until the sophomore year, when students have been assigned to a College, so the distribution of aristocracy in a College becomes somewhat a matter of chance.
The actual differences between the colleges are: architecture, location, size, and the convictions of the master. Three of the Colleges are part Georgian, while the rest are a mixed design called "Standard Oil Gothic." Most students prefer Gothic because it has intimate courtyards and is collegiate. But many state on their College application blank that they don't want to live in the heavy lightless buildings. Location near fraternity row or labs is often an influential factor. Size is a matter of taste, and convictions of the master are quite important in a system whose success is dependent on masters' ability and interest.
Like the Houses, the Colleges still have several unapproached goals. But no one at Yale will deny that they have provided roots for men who might otherwise have gotten irrevocably lost in the bigness of the university