New college names are not for sale

Suppose, over champagne at a white-tablecloth fundraising affair, a rich Yale College alumnus — a CEO, a hedge-fund manager, a man of unlimited personal wealth — turns to Roland Betts ’68, the senior fellow of the Yale Corporation, the University’s highest governing body.

“A billion dollars is yours,” he offers. “Just one condition: Christen one of the two new residential colleges with my surname.”

The proposal — seemingly a dream to any university — is a hypothetical one, but Betts already has a response prepared. “The answer is, ‘No,’ ” he confided in a recent interview. “We’re not going to do it.”

The Corporation, according to Betts and other senior University officials, has unanimously decided that the two new residential colleges, if built, will absolutely not be named for living donors. The decision marks a stark contrast with the case of the newly constructed Whitman College at Princeton University, which was named for eBay CEO Meg Whitman after she donated $30 million toward the nine-figure project.

“That’s not been our tradition,” Betts said. And, he added, the University has no plans to change that.

Last Saturday, the Corporation agreed to continue planning for what would amount to Yale College’s largest expansion in decades. With that decision, the two new colleges appear even more of a certainty — and the constant debate about whether they should be built, even more of a fruitless question.

But the question of what they will be named remains anyone’s guess. At a meeting last April with some 150 of Yale’s most generous benefactors, University President Richard Levin discussed the possibility of naming the colleges after their donors, although one alumnus in attendance said many donors present expressed great consternation at the prospect of abandoning Yale’s tradition of naming colleges after historical figures instead of deep-pocketed benefactors.

At the time, Levin told the News that for a college to be named after a donor, he or she would need to contribute at least half the cost of the colleges. That seemed to put the bidding at no less than $100 million, according to cost projections at the time.

But after what Levin described as a “very long and thorough discussion” by the Corporation, it is safe to cross “Bass College” off the list of possibilities for Yale’s future 14-college world — even if that famous Yale family, armed with a war chest that Forbes Magazine placed at no less than $14 billion, offered to bankroll the entire project, University officials promised.

“It’s a great hypothetical question,” Betts said. “That’s always the question around the table: ‘Well, do you have a price?’ ”

But be it $100 million or $1 billion, he said, the naming rights are not for sale.

“We’re not going to do that,” Betts said.

In interviews over the past few months, students have generally indicated that they are opposed to naming the new colleges after living donors, arguing that doing so would amount to the University’s selling out. Alumni have indicated they feel the same way, said Vice President for Development Inge Reichenbach.

“There is so much consensus,” she said. “From what I hear from alumni … I think it would hurt us if we went the other way.”

Still, a quick glance at the University’s projected capital budget might suggest otherwise. The new colleges, according to preliminary budget estimates, will come with a price tag of around $600 million, making them the most expensive residence halls ever constructed on an American college campus.

At $136 million, Princeton’s 500-student Whitman College was relatively inexpensive, but administrators still offered up its naming rights. Whitman donated $30 million to help fund the new college, which bore her surname when it opened its doors this fall.

Princeton, however, has a history of naming its colleges after donors. Forbes College, for instance, was named in 1984 for the son of the benefactor who helped finance its renovation. In all, five of Princeton’s six colleges bear the names of generous 20th-century donors.

At Yale, on the other hand, among the names assigned to Yale’s colleges are those of several past Yale presidents, the early locations of the Yale campus and a handful of historic local figures. Nary a single residential college has been named after a living donor.

“Certainly that has been the rule,” said Gaddis Smith ’54 GRD ’61, an emeritus professor of history and author of a forthcoming epic biography of the University. “I’m glad they’re going to stick to that.”

The naming of the original residential colleges, Smith said, was subject to little fanfare. The official who oversaw the creation of the college system, Provost and eventual University President Charles Seymour, developed the names himself from the obvious choices — such as Abraham Pierson, Yale’s first rector — and presented them to the Yale Corporation for approval.

“There wasn’t much public debate over them,” Smith said. “They were pretty much just announced.”

Other buildings, not to mention individual components of the new colleges, like their libraries and dining halls, are certainly available for naming, Reichenbach said.

As part of their approval last week of further planning for the colleges, which would be built behind the Grove Street Cemetery on Prospect Street, Corporation members directed University administrators to develop an estimated budget for the colleges as well as a strategy to solicit gifts to pay for them.

Those two studies are expected to be completed by the Corporation’s meeting in April, and the board will take a final vote on whether to authorize the expansion either in April or at the Corporation’s next meeting, scheduled for June.

While the question of whether the colleges will be named for donors is now decided, the debate over which famous Yalie deserves his or her name on a college will not be settled anytime soon. University officials said it is far too soon even to consider that issue. But Levin vowed that students and faculty would have input into the process and that suggestions would likely be solicited from members of the Yale community.

Comments

  • DJP

    It would be great to name one of the colleges after Edward Bouchet, the first African American PhD.

  • alum

    Gibbs College is long overdue.

  • Anonymous

    Gibbs and Ives Colleges sound good to me.

  • Anonymous

    Amistad College and Brewster College

  • Anonymous

    GIAMATTI COLLEGE!

  • Anonymous

    bet on this: one of the two new colleges will be named after one of these four: bouchet, mellon, brewster, or sloane-coffin

  • Anonymous

    There have been great benefactors who sought to honor others through their gifts, rather than themselves. Edward Harkness, who endowed the residential college systems at both Yale and Harvard, was one such: he insisted that a college *not* be named for him. <a href="http://collegiateway.org/news/2007-donald-bren">Few benefactors today are of that caliber</a>.

  • alum

    Gibbs College and Bouchet College.

  • Anonymous

    I really don't see why this is a big deal. Who gives a s--t if it's named after a loyal Yale alumnus/a who decides to give his/her money to the University?

    Have we forgotten that Yale itself is named after a major donor with no academic background?

  • It matters.

    I would rather my school honor great and unique accomplishments by its alumni, in naming a residential college. While succeeding in business can be an impressive accomplishment, it's hardly unique, and there's plenty of wealth that's ill-gotten or simply inherited. In selecting to honor someone by naming a college after him/her, Yale makes an unmistakable statement of its values and priorities. It says to current students, "We value this kind of accomplishment."

  • Ken McKenna (TD, '75)

    What a lot of silliness. Look, if someone offered me a billion dollars I'd change my OWN name to pretty much whatever they wanted … and change a lot more to boot, if they asked for it. What the hell? That which we call a residential college by almost any name at all would be as cozy.

    Of course, if it's going to tick off some other well-heeled potential donor, that's another story, but only for the same reason a billion should buy a college name: A big enough check should buy a heckler's veto as well as a college name (donor's choice). In fact, it looks like that's exactly what may have happened here.

  • Ross

    It would be wrong to not name one of the colleges after the reverend william sloane coffin

  • Matt

    YALE IS NAMED AFTER A DONOR!!!

  • Maybe

    I esteem Wm Sloane Coffin (and think his name would be perfect for a college with a panoramic view of the cemetary) but it seems to me there are other Yale figures who would displace him from the "top two" who receive residential colleges. Maybe the name of "Coffin College" is enough to merit an exception.

  • historical context

    Yale is a much different place than it was in the time of Elihu Yale. It didn't have the renown or preeminence that it now does, and it especially did not have the financial wherewithal that it now does. Any argument that Yale should name a college for a donor because "Yale needs the money" is pretty weak. Sure, Yale values contributions, but the mission of Yale College is educational. The naming of its significant buildings should reflect its core directives.

  • JT

    J.W. Gibbs and Aldo Leopold or
    Noah Webster and Cassius Marcellus Clay or
    C. Montgomery Burns and Flash Gordon

  • Anonymous

    Coffin College--overlooking a cemetery…

  • Anonymous

    Caroline Leffingwell Street and Augustus Russell Street

  • alum

    Can we start an online betting pool?

  • Anonymous

    Brewster is an especially good choice given that the new colleges will displace Brewster Hall. (And really, Kingman Brewster deserved more than the poli sci department in the first place.)

    Bouchet College should be the new name for Calhoun.

  • Anonymous

    Calabresi College!

  • Anonymous

    If not for sale, how about for rent?

  • Anonymous

    Bouchet and Gibbs

  • Anonymous

    For the corporation or the administration to turn down an unsolicited offer of a billion dollars SOLELY on the grounds that naming colleges after living donors has not been Yale's custom would be a serious breach of moral and fiduciary duties owed to the Unversity. Anyone who thinks that Yale doesn't "need the money" just doesn't value and understand Yale. I cannot believe Mr. Betts or any member of the corporation is among them. Yale needs lots of money, and deserves lots of money. Yale does what it does better than almost anyone else does it, and almost everything Yale does is almost inconceiveably expensive. As but one example, a single graduate student costs over $50K a year. I recently gave Yale $1 Million for exactly that purpose - and although I would never condition a gift on naming rights I would not be one bit pleased to see those in charge for the moment turn down a large offer on self-indulgent grounds such as "it is not our custom." Yale could easily apply an endowment and income twice what it has now to excellent effect. More science? More art? More medical research? More professors? More undergraduates? They all cost large fortunes.

    For what it's worth on another topic: I knew Willam Sloane Coffin. Yale is far better than William Sloane Coffin - and has many better names and people to choose from. I also knew Kingman Brewster. He was a fine person. But it would be barking mad to resurrect the harsh partisan controversies of the early 1970's with names like Coffin or Brewster.

    Now, Cole Porter on the other hand …

  • Anonymous

    For the corporation or the administration to turn down an unsolicited offer of a billion dollars SOLELY on the grounds that naming colleges after living donors has not been Yale's custom would be a serious breach of moral and fiduciary duties owed to the Unversity. Anyone who thinks that Yale doesn't "need the money" just doesn't value and understand Yale. I cannot believe Mr. Betts or any member of the corporation is among them. Yale needs lots of money, and deserves lots of money. Yale does what it does better than almost anyone else does it, and almost everything Yale does is almost inconceiveably expensive. As but one example, a single graduate student costs over $50K a year. I recently gave Yale $1 Million for exactly that purpose - and although I would never condition a gift on naming rights I would not be one bit pleased to see those in charge for the moment turn down a large offer on self-indulgent grounds such as "it is not our custom." Yale could easily apply an endowment and income twice what it has now to excellent effect. More science? More art? More medical research? More professors? More undergraduates? They all cost large fortunes.

    For what it's worth on another topic: I knew Willam Sloane Coffin. Yale is far better than William Sloane Coffin - and has many better names and people to choose from. I also knew Kingman Brewster. He was a fine person. But it would be barking mad to resurrect the harsh partisan controversies of the early 1970's with names like Coffin or Brewster.

    Now, Cole Porter on the other hand …

  • Anonymous

    Why not a sibling college to an existing college?

    Saybrook could have a Say What College; JE could get Sux College.

  • James

    How about a 'Harvard College', building it from cardboard and plywood?

  • Jonathon

    Science Hill is the new Eeyore……..

  • PauliePundit

    500-1 odds on them being named after the most popular politcally correct individuals the Corporation has forced down thier throat. Perhaps Chavez and Soros Colleges? MLK and Che? The naming will have nothing to do with achievement or inspiration. It will simply rely on politcal pandering to whatever special interest group whines the loudest about thier treatment at the hands of white europeans. Lay your bets down now.

  • Brilliant

    J. W. Gibbs College, and Jennifer Connelly College/Gallery.

    No, I don't care that she transfered.

  • call me crazy

    New Haven College…Elm City College…Levin's Yale, after all, is "Contributing to a Stronger New Haven."

  • Old Blue '73

    I am stunned no one else has made the obvious suggestions:

    Gilmore College

    Buckley Coffin College (or maybe forget Gilmore and name the one on the left Coffin and the one on the right Buckley)

    Seriously, Gibbs as a name makes sense because it can encompass both the noted scientist and his father, who was beneficially involved in the Amistad case.

  • GroveLawnclub

    Props to the original suggestor for " Coffin College". The humor potential alone makes that a must.

  • Dwight College '79

    Yale should continue the tradition of naming residential colleges after its long-dead presidents, not only because each contributed to what the school is today, but because they generally have distinctive but neutral, easy to remember surnames. In my opinion, any two of the following three choices would not seem out of place with the existing twelve residential college names:

    1. Griswold College
    2. Hadley College
    3. Seymour College

    I hesitate to include Clap College in the list for reasons unrelated to President Clap's considerable merits. And it seems a bit premature to suggest Brewster College or Giamatti College -- those should be reserved for the next expansion.

  • Jing Zhang 'GRD 98

    Yung Wing College