Dean Miller's Message to Parents

Winter 2011

Dear Yale College Parents,

Many of you will soon have your sons and daughters home for the winter break. Since I’m sure you will ask them “How’s school?” I thought I would write at the end of the semester with some updates and thoughts from the Dean’s Office to provide a little parental context for those conversations.

Let me start with academics. A Yale College faculty committee has recently completed a review of the Yale College curriculum that was launched in 2005. This scheduled review was designed to measure student learning outcomes and also the degree to which we have fulfilled the stated aims of the original Committee on Yale College Education to change both requirements and competencies.  You can read it—and I hope you will!—at http://yalecollege.yale.edu/content/cyce-steering-committee.

As one of the results of the work of the review committee, I am recommitting my office to undergraduate teaching, with especial attention to math, engineering, science, and quantitative reasoning courses. We have made great progress in many areas, but we know that there is still work to do. There are also several important new programs coming on line—some national, like the return of ROTC to campus starting in fall 2012—and others very local, including the new Global Health Fellows, which engages with the School of Public Health here.

Given the focus on our campus last spring regarding the federal Title IX investigation, I think you will also be interested in the report issued by the Advisory Committee on Campus Climate (also known as the “Marshall Committee,” after its chair, Margaret Marshall ‘76 JD, former Chief Justice of the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court), and President Levin’s response to the report. These documents, and other information, can be accessed on a new Sexual Misconduct Response website that we developed over the summer to address students’ – and others’ – concerns about how to find information and help. In addition to the Sexual Misconduct Response website, Yale College will launch in January of 2012 an educational program for freshmen on communication and consent. The website and training program are part of our effort to foster a safe campus environment that reflects our shared values of integrity, civility, and respect. We will also run an educational program for the leaders of student organizations and varsity teams on the values and skills of effective leadership; among other topics, we will discuss strategies for intervening behaviors such as hazing and sexual misconduct.  Yale has wonderful student leaders; with the right support, they can powerfully contribute to a positive campus climate.

But there is more that can be done – and more that parents can do. When I wrote last summer to parents of the incoming freshman class, I asked them to talk with their sons and daughters about their own values, especially regarding alcohol consumption and sexual intimacy. The two topics can be linked when the impaired judgment that comes with over-consumption of alcohol can lead to poor decision-making and increased vulnerability on the part of both men and women. I recognize that these are difficult conversations to have, but have them we must—both on campus and at home.  

I have also heard from many of you that you are concerned about security and safety on and around the Yale campus. It seems that New Haven has received more than its fair share of negative publicity lately, and I wanted to share with you some facts about the city that Yale calls home. Many of you have heard reports in the media – including our own Yale Daily News – that characterizes New Haven as the fourth most dangerous city in the United States, sharing that dubious honor with large municipalities like Detroit and St. Louis. This so-called “ranking” was the inaccurate analysis and posting of a finance blogger, which unfortunately was picked up by a variety of news outlets. The truth is much more nuanced, with New Haven’s “safety” level more comparable to Eugene, Oregon. You might be interested in an analysis of the facts that appeared in the New Haven Register. You also might be interested in the attached chart below, which compares crime statistics at Yale with other campuses around the country.

By my lights, New Haven is one of the most vibrant small cities in the country, with amazing arts and intellectual offerings, new and exciting retail (including an Apple store that beat the much-publicized opening of the Apple store in Grand Central by several months) and restaurants to satisfy any palate. Having lived in New Haven for many years and raised my family here, I know from personal experience that New Haven is a wonderful city.

But New Haven remains a city. I advise all Yale College students to practice street awareness, and I hope you’ll reinforce this with your daughters and sons. Please encourage them to avoid walking alone at night, to stay sharp and alert to their surroundings, and to take advantage of the safety and security offerings. Each month, Yale provides an average of 14,000 door-to-door night-time rides. The fixed-route shuttle bus is widely used day and night, with over 1 million passengers served by our daytime shuttle each year, and half a million passengers using the fixed-route shuttle during the evening. To learn more, please visit Yale’s Public Safety website. These services work, but only if students use them.

The new year will bring us new challenges and new opportunities. Now that the design plans for two new residential colleges are finalized, the Yale College Dean’s Office will work to develop the program that will accommodate our new students. My colleagues and I will be focusing on strategic planning in the coming semester, so that we can be ready when the new residential colleges open. Teaching and pedagogy are at the top of my list.

An end-of-term letter would not be complete without taking a moment to reflect on the exceptional students who make our campus proud. So far this year, we have a recently named Rhodes scholar, a Marshall Scholar, and the Norman Mailer College Writing Award winner.  These are simply some of the examples of astonishing excellence that characterizes every Yalie. We are proud of them all, of their ambition and creativity, and proud that they acknowledge their alma mater in their success.

Finally, a clerical matter.  Starting next fall, 2012, the academic calendar includes a fall recess, October 23 (starting at 5:30 pm) through October 28 (classes begin again on Monday, October 29).  We feel this break in the middle of the first semester will provide a welcome respite to what has been a long march toward Thanksgiving. This break is intentionally unstructured: we expect that some students will be working on national political campaigns; others will return home or head off to visit friends at other schools; others will stay here at Yale, to catch up on work or to pursue intellectual interests in libraries and labs. And, for those of you who wish to begin to make travel plans, Family Weekend 2012 will take place October 12 through the 14th.

I hope you are able to enjoy some of the winter recess with your Yalie, and bask a little in some astonishing excellence of your own.

On behalf of my colleagues in Yale College, I offer best wishes for the New Year.

Yours truly,

Mary Miller
Sterling Professor of History of Art
Dean of Yale College