Yale Law School will acquire the Swing Space dormitory for student housing in 2012, fulfilling the Law School’s plan to reestablish on-campus living for more of its students.
Swing Space — which currently houses displaced students during Yale’s undergraduate residential college renovations — will provide housing for Yale Law students following the renovation of Silliman, Jonathan Edwards, Calhoun, Morse and Ezra Stiles Colleges over the next five years. On-campus housing for Yale Law students is presently limited to approximately 20 single dorms located within the Sterling Law Building. Most law students said they are pleased with the decision, though some expressed reservations about the desirability of dormitory-style housing for graduate students.
Koh, who discussed the plan at an alumni dinner on Friday night, said in a subsequent interview that Swing Space provides an ideal solution to the law school’s space deficit.
“We have an irreducible demand for on-campus housing that we want to respond to,” Koh said. “President [Richard] Levin and other officers of the University agreed to commit the [Swing] Space to us. It’s a very good fit with our needs.”
Koh said the Law School is currently involved in high-level discussions with the University to negotiate how the Law School will compensate the University for the use of Swing Space, which is located at 100 Tower Parkway, less than a block away from the Sterling Law Buildings. Koh said these discussions were not contentious in nature, but have proceeded smoothly and focused primarily on questions of timing.
At one time, as many as 140 law students resided in the Sterling Law Buildings, but dramatic growth in the number of faculty and student groups at the law school have put increased pressure on the building’s facilities. Following major renovations to the space completed between 1994 and 2000, only 56 dorm rooms remained in the building, and that number has since dwindled to 23 rooms. The law school also makes 16 beds in the University-owned Mansfield Street Apartments available to law school students each year.
Law School Public Affairs Director Jan Conroy said the law school was grateful to both the University and Law School alumni for their support.
“We’re so fortunate that the University recognized and was quick to assist us with our needs,” Conroy said. “You can see in talking to alumni that they had such a sense of community living together [in the Law School building], and having that meant a lot to them and their experience at Yale.”
Koh said his predecessor, former Law School Dean Anthony Kronman, was among the first to identify limited dorm space as a serious long-term problem. When Koh stepped in as dean in 2003, he raised the issue of residential housing with Levin and University officials. Koh said in many ways Swing Space is more suitable for graduate students than for the undergraduates who currently reside there: Each suite includes cooking facilities and full bathrooms, and would house only two law students as opposed to four undergraduates, as is currently the case.
Justin Shubow LAW ’08 said he had not previously been aware of the school’s plans, but was not surprised by the development.
“[Koh] might be doing this to create more of a community at the law school,” Shubow said. “There are a substantial number of students who would like to live at the school but can’t, so from that perspective I’m pretty happy to hear it.”
Yale Law School’s current on-campus housing consists of single dormitory rooms of various sizes contained in three entryways of the Sterling Law Buildings. Interested students apply to a lottery system that randomly allocates the available dorms, but due to space constraints, only a very limited number of applicants are granted rooms. While some students are assigned to additional on-campus housing through the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences room draw, many law students live off-campus in apartment buildings such as the Eli, the Taft and Crown Towers, which is reported to be the Law School’s “de facto dorm” with the highest number of law student inhabitants, students said.
Brittan Heller LAW ’08 — who lived in the Law School last year but has since moved off campus — said the residential dormitory promoted a sense of community among law students.
“I made a lot of good friends living there, and hopefully when they get Swing Space they can build that kind of vibrant community again on a larger scale,” Heller said. “Of course, one really nice major benefit is being able to roll out of bed and literally be in class in two minutes.”
But the Law School’s move drew criticism from some students, who said they felt that both the location and the quality of dorms in Swing Space make it unsuitable for law students.
“It’s pulling people out of the center of the city,” said Ravi Gupta LAW ’08, who has lived off campus in Crown Towers for the past two years. “It seems now that a lot of people live within the Chapel and Crown street area. If students are up by Swing Space, they’re likely to spend a majority of their time up there and not come into the town.”
Students also questioned whether dormitory-style housing is preferable for law students when New Haven provides such a broad spectrum of off-campus alternatives, ranging from shared houses to luxury apartments.
“I don’t know that it’s really necessary,” Gupta said. “Students don’t have problems finding housing, and grad students generally enjoy living in their own apartments. I think they typically want more space than they had in dorms when they were undergrads.”
Yale Law School Associate Dean Mark Templeton confirmed that Swing Space will likely receive “light renovations” — including extra coats of paint, examination of heating and air conditioning units, and replacement of carpeting and hardware — prior to student move-in, but said it would be “nothing fancy.”