LEVIN BACKS EXPANSION

University President Richard Levin endorsed the proposal to build two new residential colleges Monday and announced he would recommend that the Yale Corporation proceed with planning for the project.

In a statement e-mailed to the Yale community, which included the release of a long-awaited report examining the viability of expanding Yale College, Levin said he will ask the Provost’s Office to develop estimated capital and operating budgets for the construction and operation of the new colleges and for the Development Office to prepare a fundraising plan for those expenditures.

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“I believe that it is time to use our augmented resources to prepare a larger number of the most talented and promising students of all backgrounds for leadership and service,” Levin wrote.

Levin’s announcement follows months of speculation on campus about whether the expansion was inevitable. Members of the Yale Corporation and other Yale officials spoke often of the “strong momentum” in favor of expanding, and Levin occasionally veered out of the subjunctive mood when talking with the News about the possibility of building new colleges.

But in recent months, the president emphasized that no decision had been made regarding the new colleges and that he was very much interested in student opinion on the proposal.

Levin’s statement — which clocked in at 4,345 words — marked a distinct departure from that message. Levin said he would present the report to the Corporation with his “enthusiastic endorsement,” and would ask its members to formally approve the expansion at their June meeting.

When Levin last sent a campuswide e-mail last February on the issue of whether the University should expand, he trod carefully, promising a “year of exploration” regarding the issue.

On Monday, he acknowledged that students remain concerned regarding the proposed expansion. But then — for the first time — he flatly rejected their concerns.

“By creating two new communities of roughly 400 students, intimacy can be preserved,” Levin said. “By responding aggressively to the issues of adequate staffing, amenities in proximity to the new colleges, transportation, security, activity space and support for student activities as outlined by the study group, I believe that the quality of education and extracurricular life will not only be undiminished but truly strengthened.”

Although Levin did not explicitly say so in his message to the community, when asked by a reporter late Monday if his message was meant to be a sign of public support for expansion, Levin replied in an e-mail: “Yes.”

He was unavailable for further comment Monday because of a family emergency.

The Yale Corporation, the University’s highest governing body, will convene Friday and is expected to vote to proceed, in principle, on planning for the new colleges. That vote — long thought to be a formality — is now virtually guaranteed to be one after Levin’s public recommendation.

“This wasn’t anything new,” said one member of the committees, who spoke on the condition of anonymity so as to preserve relations with other committee members. “We’ve known all along, I think, that President Levin was in favor of the colleges being built. I’m not surprised — he put thought into it beforehand and isn’t changing his opinion now that [the reports] came out.”

That much did not come as a surprise, as students — and University officials — had increasingly concluded in recent weeks that the question of whether Yale was going to expand did not seem like much of a question anymore.

Another committee member called it a “done deal.” And said one senior University official involved in campus planning in a recent interview, referring to the new colleges: “They will be built.”

The next step will be to develop two budgets regarding the expansion: a capital budget covering both the construction of the colleges and related facilities in support of expansion, as well as an operating budget that details the increases in operating expenditures — ranging from new faculty positions to facilities maintenance — that would come with the new colleges.

Preliminary projections in University budget documents obtained by the News this fall placed the construction cost of the two colleges, not to mention the proposed third building to be erected at the site, at close to $600 million. That cost would make them the most expensive residence halls ever erected on the campus of an American university.

Now, the Provost’s Office will formulate a more detailed assessment of the costs, said Lloyd Suttle, the deputy provost for undergraduate and graduate programs. The early cost estimates that contributed to the $600 million figure were merely “placeholders,” Yale officials have emphasized.

“We really don’t have a sense of how realistic those are,” Suttle said Monday night. “That’s what we’ve got to figure out.”

The colleges, Yale officials said, are estimated to be about 235,000 square feet, about 10 percent smaller than Yale’s largest residential college, Silliman College, and about twice the size of Yale’s smallest college, Calhoun College, according to data from the Office of Institutional Research.

The new colleges would be located behind the Grove Street Cemetery along Prospect Street. If the Corporation were to approve their construction this spring, the University would break ground on the colleges by early 2011 en route to opening them to students in the fall of 2013, Levin said.

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