Many universities face town-gown issues

For the past decade, Yale University and Yale-New Haven Hospital have taken their places as New Haven’s largest employers, a position that has created increasingly complex relationships with the surrounding community. But while Yale’s position is unique among New Haven institutions, the University shares many of the same challenges as its peers across the country.

In recent years, as manufacturing jobs have migrated out of urban areas, universities and their associated medical centers have grown to become the largest employers in several cities across the nation. In response to this growth, universities such as Yale, Harvard and Northwestern have to varying degrees established offices and programs in order to foster the commercial and community development of their host cities.

With a history of bad feelings and resentment between New Haven and Yale to overcome, University President Richard Levin set out to make Yale a model for university-community partnerships upon entering office. He has met with much success in establishing community outreach programs, but Yale still faces criticism in terms of its efforts toward public education, solving urban problems and labor relations.

Douglas Rae, a Yale political science professor and the author of “City,” a history of New Haven, said he thinks the period of Levin’s tenure has witnessed tremendous improvement.

“What Yale has done is basically wake up and discover that the business elites of New Haven are gone, and now it’s just up to them to be a good corporate citizen,” Rae said. “The past decade, Levin’s decade, has been pretty spectacular.”

By their nature, colleges and universities want to grow and expand, creating constant friction between a college and its neighboring community in terms of competing for space, Armand Carierre, associate deputy assistant secretary for the Office of University Partnerships said. The office was established in 1994 by the federal government to address the issue of how universities can best bring services and resources to their surrounding communities.

Carriere said although “town-gown tensions” will always exist, a nationwide movement in the past decade has helped colleges recognize that they have duties as a citizen to their communities.

“At places like Yale, the impact of its presence on the city is enormous because it is the biggest employer and purchaser of goods in New Haven,” Carriere said. “There’s no yard stick that says a school Yale’s size should put in X amount of dollars because colleges must look at what they give and take from the city.”

Voluntary contributions

As nontaxable institutions that occupy city real estate and use municipal services, urban universities across the country are faced with the task of measuring the financial impact they have on their host cities to determine whether to make voluntary financial contributions and how much those payments should be.

Although Yale is expected to top its previous annual payment of $2.3 million this year, increasing the largest university voluntary contribution in the nation to a single city, some community members argue that Yale should give more back to New Haven. Ward 1 aldermanic candidate Rebecca Livengood ’07 said she thinks Yale’s current contribution is insufficient given the amount of nontaxable property it occupies downtown.

“Given New Haven’s struggle with garnering revenue because it contains so much nontaxable property, $2.3 million does not do enough to compensate for those lost taxes,” Livengood said. “My hope is that the new voluntary contribution will be done in language that closely echoes taxes and follows Yale’s growth so that it is based on our responsibilities as a citizen of New Haven.”

Yale’s annual donation is calculated based on the previous year’s fire services budget, the single-largest municipal service the University uses that it does not provide itself. New Haven also receives revenue from the property taxes Yale pays on all of its nonacademic real estate, making it the single largest real estate property taxpayer in New Haven.

Connecticut and Rhode Island are the only two states in the nation to have a payment-in-lieu-of-taxes program, which demands that the state reimburse the city for the nontaxable property occupied by tax-exempt institutions such as universities. New Haven received $27.5 million from the state of Connecticut in 2004 in PILOT funds, only a portion of the total value of the nontaxable land Yale occupies.

Ward 2 Alderwoman Joyce Chen ’01 said she thinks one of the major problems New Haven faces is that the state does not fully reimburse the city in its PILOT payments for the potential taxes lost. She said Yale’s abundance of nontaxable property causes tremendous damage to New Haven’s revenue streams.

“Funding for public schools in Connecticut is largely dependent on taxes, and New Haven public schools suffer from limited tax revenue,” Chen said.

Although Massachusetts does not have a PILOT law like Connecticut and Rhode Island, Harvard University has made individual agreements with Boston, Cambridge and Watertown stating that whenever the University is able to utilize newly acquired property for tax-exempt purposes that had previously been revenue-generating, it will address that loss of revenue for the host city.

In fiscal year 2004, Harvard paid $1.7 million to Cambridge, $1.5 million to Boston, and $900,000 to Watertown, far greater than Yale’s $2.3 million in voluntary payments to New Haven. But the state of Massachusetts does not provide these cities with any additional reimbursements.

“Even when taking city size and population into account, Harvard’s donations are much greater than Yale’s contributions to New Haven,” Chen said.

Community outreach

Apart from Yale’s substantial financial contributions to its employees and the city, there has been a movement in the past decade to further integrate the University into its surrounding community. Soon after entering office, Levin established the Office of New Haven and State Affairs, to assess all community outreach activities in New Haven and encourage all University deans and directors to initiate new programs. The office focused on the development of the life sciences and research industry in New Haven and established the Yale Homebuyer Program, which has helped nearly 700 Yale employees purchase homes in Greater New Haven.

Associate Vice President of New Haven and State Affairs Michael Morand said the office has become one of the biggest in the nation devoted solely to university-community relations.

“We have been focused on community relations as an institution for a bit longer than many universities because of the greater opportunity and more acute challenges in New Haven,” Morand said.

The size of a university relative to its host city is another factor that weighs into the overall impact it has on the community. While Columbia’s 21,200 student enrollment or the University of Pennsylvania 21,700 are significantly greater than Yale’s 11,385, Yale may have a larger presence because of the size and nature of New Haven.

Levin said because New Haven is a relatively small city, Yale’s contributions are more far-reaching than they might be in a city such as New York or Philadelphia.

“New Haven’s size has made it possible for town-gown cooperation to have a much bigger impact here,” Levin said. “We need to be good neighbors. We are interdependent.”

Universities’ contributions are often tailored to the specific needs of their host cities and strengths of the institution. Mary Power, senior director of community relations at the Harvard Office of Community Affairs, said Harvard values its responsibility to the particular needs of its community, which in the case of Cambridge and Boston is affordable housing. Similarly, Morand said Yale’s focus on the biotech industry is an effort to encourage New Haven’s already existing research and development base.

“It’s all about understanding the unique situations of the host communities and responding to a particular goal rather than just following the practices of institutions that might exist in other parts of the country,” Power said.

But many institutions have worked to improve relations with their host cities by copying programs started at Yale. The University of Southern California and the University of Pennsylvania have established initiatives inspired by the Yale Homebuyer Program. Students at Northwestern picked up a program started by Yale undergraduates to get students involved in the community, called the National Student Partnership, and now they run the biggest sector in the nation.

Some community leaders think Yale could benefit from following the models of other schools as well. Greater New Haven Labor Council President Bob Proto, who also heads Yale’s Local 35, said for all the benefits it enjoys, the University should offer more to New Haven, particularly in public education. He said he thinks Yale should give a $2 million subsidy to the New Haven public school system to make up for the University’s lack of taxable property.

“There’s no reason that one of the major universities in the world should be smack in the middle of a school system with some of the lowest ratings in the state and in New England,” Proto said.

Rae called the University of Pennsylvania the only place that is “decidedly more ambitious” than Yale in terms of community outreach. Representatives from multiple universities said Penn has long made unparalleled contributions to Western Philadelphia, largely in education. In collaboration with the city, Penn runs one of the top public school in the area, devoting student and faculty resources to the creation of a curriculum that focuses on active learning, Harkavy said.

Penn, which does not make an annual voluntary payment to Philadelphia, embraces a philosophy of establishing a mutually respected partnership with its host community, Penn professor and director of the Center for University Partnerships Ira Harkavy said. Harkavy said he thinks a university’s contribution to its surrounding community should also enhance the academic progress of the university.

“A university’s future is intertwined with its surrounding environment,” Harkavy said. “Solving community problems is one of the most effective academic research tools.”

Commercial development

As a sector of the Office of New Haven and State Affairs, Levin created University Properties in 1997 focused entirely on commercial development around Yale. The office currently operates 80 businesses in New Haven, all but five of whom are independent and local retailers. Vice President of the Office of New Haven and State Affairs Bruce Alexander said this new office was vital to fill the development vacuum in New Haven.

“This is not a role the University would embrace if we thought there were private developers going in and doing what we think New Haven and Yale deserves,” Alexander said. “But it was important for us to raise the bar and give people a sense of what could occur.”

Two months ago, Case Western University created an office modeled from Yale’s Office of New Haven and State Affairs that focuses on community relations and commercial development in Cleveland. Case Western Vice President of Cleveland and Regional Affairs John Wheeler said his school has major plans for commercial development in Cleveland to create a college town similar to that surrounding Yale.

“Part of a university’s success is making sure the city in which it resides is healthy, vibrant and successful,” Wheeler said. “In the long run, the best way we can be of assistance to the greater Cleveland community is by achieving the University’s own vision.”

But commercial development is not always well-received by the entire urban community. While attracting big retailers and expanding business around universities generally benefits the university, it can have an adverse effect on smaller retailers.

When New Haven’s Broadway and Chapel areas underwent redevelopment, some local retailers expressed concern over their dislocation. With Yale recruiting national retailers such as Urban Outfitters and J. Crew, they feared there would no longer be a place for them.

Although each displaced retailer was offered alternatives spaces to move to, some stores, like Quality Wine and Liquor, went out of business altogether because they could not afford the new space. Former owner Elliot Brause said he was hurt by the way Yale treated him after contributing four generations of business to New Haven.

“The business and development people at Yale had a plan in their heads, and I just wasn’t a part of it,” Brause said. “They wanted big names on the block so New Haven would look more cosmopolitan, and now it does, for better or worse.”

The vast majority of tenants in New Haven are still local retailers, and Yale fully cultivates and supports local merchants, Alexander said. But he said University Property’s top priority is to find retailers who will be successful and serve their customers well.

Learning through service

Many universities agree that fulfilling a duty to their host cities is equally beneficial to the universities themselves. Carierre said schools across the nation are taking advantage of the recent movement toward “service-learning” by putting textbook knowledge into real-life practice.

In a speech at Case Western University about universities’ contributions to their host cities, Levin said Yale’s efforts toward the improvement of New Haven mirror the mission and purpose of the University toward the education of its students.

“Universities are uniquely poised to strengthen urban America, and as large employers seeking to attract students and faculty from afar, they have compelling practical reasons to do so,” Levin said. “On our campus we are devoted to the full development of human potential, and we provide extraordinary resources to facilitate such development in our students and faculty.”

Community Based Learning, a program designed to encourage Yale students to fulfill academic requirements while performing service-based research in New Haven and to encourage faculty to become involved by introducing the program in their classes, was launched in 2003. The program offers a few classes per semester that combine community service projects and credited class assignments. CBL coordinator Carolynn Molleur-Hinteregger ’07 said she thinks linking the classroom with the community is more effective to both sides than strict volunteer work.

“It is a way for students to step out of the bubble of intellectual learning and employ a real-word application,” she said. “This allows what were learning in class to have a positive application while also enhancing what were studying.”

Northwestern University has designed a course specifically to get students involved with economically underprivileged community members in the Evanston and greater Chicago areas. Northwestern also made a voluntary contribution of $700,000 to its surrounding community for the first time in 2004.

Northwestern human development and social policy professor Dan Lewis said in the past 10 years, he thinks there has been an increase in the kind of student at Northwestern who is concerned with the surrounding community, noting a heightened insistence that their educations immerse them rather than separate them from the outside world.

“We turn experience into a text so students can learn to strengthen their abilities in social science analysis at the same time as they are contributing to the world around them,” Lewis said.

Clark University executive assistant to the president Jack Foley said the University has a vested interest in helping the city of Worcester, Mass. prosper so that it will attract more high-quality students and faculty. Clark occupies only one of the 15 seats on Worcester’s Community Development Corporation board, which demonstrates how important the surrounding neighborhood is in planning development, Foley said.

“Long-term sustainable change can only happen if all members of the community are at the table making decisions, not just the university,” Foley said.

Although there has been much progress in recent years in universities’ “exemplification of civic values,” schools are still not as engaged with their communities as they could be, Penn’s Harkavy said. He said by further integrating the work of its students and faculty with its host city, a university can do more to improve the quality of life in its surrounding environment.

“Universities use a lot of rhetoric when they should be taking more action,” Harkavy said. “No university has yet done what it could and should in terms of partnering with its local community.”

New Haven Mayor John DeStefano Jr. and Yale President Richard Levin participate in the groundbreaking of the University’s new police station, which will include a community center and is currently under construction.
YDN
New Haven Mayor John DeStefano Jr. and Yale President Richard Levin participate in the groundbreaking of the University’s new police station, which will include a community center and is currently under construction.

Comments