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Inside the poster culture (Dec. 1994)

It was the beginning of September, but you’d think it was spring. Overnight, it seemed, the Yale campus had become a veritable greenhouse. Kiosks sprouted a leafy cover; iron gates grew fluttery tails; pastel colors bloomed on walkways and flagstones. Resistant to heat waves, cold spells, and torrential rains, thriving on student care and attention, the foliage grew more lush each day.

The perennial profusion of posters, signs, flyers, and table tents that bedeck the Yale campus has also resisted attempts by the Yale College Dean’s Office to prune it back. Calling the efflorescence “disgusting,” the office last year announced the imminent enforcement of the University’s long-ignored postering regulations:

1. Posters must be placed on a bulletin board or kiosk, and nowhere else.

2. They must be no larger than 11 by 17 inches.

3. They must be attached with thumbtacks.

4. They must not cover other posters.

5. There must not be more than one poster per bulletin board and four per kiosk belonging to any single organization.

The dean’s office hired four undergraduates part-time to remove illegal posters and to note down which groups were at fault. These records were entered into a computer data-base, which toted up the fines that soon followed.

Reaction to the measure was immediate and aggrieved. Students were quick to point out that the campus offers only a small number of legitimate places to advertise their events and activities. Many undergraduate organizations, such as the Political Union, depend on postering for their very existence. With more than 200 extracurricular activities, less space means more competition.

Some groups have skirted the issue by postering in unmonitored areas inside residential colleges and on lampposts belonging to the City of New Haven. Others pledged to continue postering in defiance of the rules, and some of the better-funded extracurriculars even incorporated the fines into their budgets so that they could continue postering in the style to which they were accustomed. “You will never stop us,” vowed the leader of one large campus organization in the Yale Daily News.

Majority opinion prevailed, and by summer the dean was conceding that the fines had been a mistake, a “half-baked idea” that required further scrutiny. Fines collected from erring organizations were reimbursed. Postering resumed with a vengeance, and once again the campus was lush with extracurricular foliage, growing and spreading uncontrollably like the kudzu vine.

This was not to be the end of the Great Poster Controversy, however. Recently, word went out from the College Dean’s Office that two new kiosks were to be built, and bulletin boards were to be put up in each residential college. Once the new facilities are in place, officials warned, fining will be resumed. Two full-time employees will be hired to rip down illegal posters. And this time, there’ll be no reimbursements.

It’s a jungle out there.

Filed under 1990s
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