Capital gains should be used at home, too

If there was ever any question that Yale President Richard Levin knows how to raise money, that question was answered Saturday night, when Levin announced that the University’s “quiet phase” of capital fundraising has netted $1.3 billion in the first two years of its five-year, $3 billion campaign. But the administration has yet to answer another question, one that is just as important: Where will the money go?

Of course, a fair chunk of that change has already been earmarked for specific purposes by its donors, including the $50 million dedicated to the University’s work in China and the $100 million that made the School of Music free last year. If this $1.3 billion looks anything like the rest of the gifts in Yale’s endowment, though, at least a quarter of those funds — $325 million — will be available for disbursement at the administration’s discretion. Mere slivers from such a pie could patch any of a thousand different problems, but this kind of gift should be used to reassert Yale’s stated priorities in a way that the statements made this weekend did not.

In his speech Saturday night, Levin dubbed this mammoth capital campaign the cornerstone of Yale’s evolution as “a truly global institution serving not only New Haven, but the world … building bridges of understanding in a way governments can’t.” This is a laudable goal, but before our university extends its reach farther east, it should also turn its gaze both inward and closer to home.

Even with Yale as wealthy as it is — and, evidently, getting much wealthier — its current financial aid budget rests at $59.7 million, as far below that of its peer institutions as its individual aid packages. The administration can never expect Yale to truly become a global university as long as it fails to accommodate qualified applicants who cannot bear the crushing debt promised by its tuition payments. Even a tiny fraction of these new funds could alleviate that pressure.

And while our top officials’ presence in China and elsewhere this past month has reinforced Yale’s push toward the model of a global university, that push is undermined by problems at the local level. No matter how many sister schools we partner with in other countries, New Haven is not getting any safer or economically stronger. International outreach is valuable, but such efforts should not dominate Yale’s focus at the expense of the city it calls home.

Particularly in light of confirmed expansion efforts, the University should also seek to use some of these new funds to ensure that with the extension of the Yale bubble comes the extension of Yale’s actions as a partner within the community. The Office of New Haven and State Affairs long ago tabled discussion about a Yale-sponsored magnet school, but this is one of many such options that should be reconsidered to extend the benefits of Yale’s greatest resource — education — beyond the matriculant rolls.

Yale obviously knows how to raise money, but the application of those funds is just as important. The photo that ran on the News’ front page yesterday aptly reflected the opulence of Saturday’s celebration, and to be sure, that celebration was with good reason. But while the administration is distributing personal bottles of champagne to its wealthiest alumni, it should remember that the path to a global university starts on the bridges built right here in New Haven.

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