Yale housing cleans up its act

Friday, December 8, 2006

For the first time in the university’s storied 304-year history, Yale University students have been able to open their bathroom doors and find a basic necessity: soap.

After a decade of unsuccessful student proposals from the Yale College Council and at least 11 articles in the Yale Daily News since 1996, the university’s Office of Facilities answered student concerns this January by starting a trial program that will install soap dispensers in three of the school’s 12 residential colleges.

Junior R. David Edelman, a YCC representative, said the council put together a proposal this year that, unlike previous proposals, included “a lot more research as well as cost projections.” Still, he said he was surprised when university administrators decided to accept the resolution.

Edelman said one of the biggest issues administrators faced when considering adding soap dispensers dealt with labor concerns. Specifically, Yale administrators were unsure if refilling soap fell under the contract of union custodians, Edelman said. In the end, the Office of Facilities chose a soap that takes longer to run out and is designed to create less spills, thereby reducing the work of custodians.

Another concern involved cost. The original cost of installing dispensers and keeping them stocked was projected at between $40,000 to $50,000 a year. However, the current projection has increased to about $100,000 per year, Edelman said, adding that part of the cost increase resulted from the soap brand chosen by the Office of Facilities.

“It seems silly for a school like Yale with a $15 billion endowment not to provide a basic necessity like handsoap,” wrote Zach Marks, issue committee chairman for Yale’s Freshman Class Council, in an e-mail to The Herald.

Efforts to bring soap to dormitory bathrooms started in the fall, when representatives from different soap companies toured the campus to discuss various options, Edelman said. “At one point I was carrying soap dispensers around campus,” he said.

Edelman said the trial program has been successful so far and that he “would be shocked if it wasn’t spread throughout the campus next year.” The Office of Facilities Management will make the decision at the end of the year after receiving input from a student survey, he said.

“My guess is 90 to 95 percent will say they want to” make the program permanent and widespread, Edelman said.

Student response to the addition was generally positive.

“I was happy to be greeted by soap dispensers when I arrived this semester. … It’s a welcome change,” said senior Shalini Uppu, who lives in one of the newly soaped residence halls.

Lizzie Fulton, a freshman, said she had not even realized other schools provided soap.

“It’s not really a big deal, but it’s always an inconvenience” to get soap from the convenience stores because they are so far away, she said. “The school has so much money; they might as well make students’ lives easier,” she added.

One alum seemed to consider the debate trivial.

“Of all the things I would want Yale to provide me as a student, soap isn’t something I’d consider caring about,” said Andrew Petro, who graduated in 2004. “I dutifully bought my soap and never gave it another thought.”

Edelman said he was surprised by the amount of press this issue has received – over 75 newspapers picked up an Associated Press story about the Yale soap opera. Edelman said he received a letter from a woman in Milford, Conn. who is writing a poem about “the soap crusades at Yale.”

“It’s heartening to hear how many people are affected by it,” Edelman said.

Over the past decade, in response to student feedback, the Office of Facilities has made several other improvements to residential college bathrooms. In 1999, Yale agreed to provide two-ply toilet paper in the bathrooms, and in 2001 the university changed a rule that barred students from leaving toiletries in the bathroom and began to provide students permanent storage bins.

Brown has offered soap in the dorms for at least the past 15 years, wrote Director of Physical Plant Carl Weaver in an e-mail to The Herald. The only dorms not to contain soap dispensers are the Young Orchard suites, Barbour Hall apartments, Grad Center A, B, C and D and Morris-Champlin. The suites are “not conducive to locating dispensers in the bathrooms,” said Weaver, who added that no dispensers exist in Morris-Champlin because of a lack of wall space.