Endowments | With funds, not all colleges created equal

That Yale has hundreds of millions of dollars set aside for college renovations is no secret. But for tulips? Oranges? Broadway shows?

The answer: yes, yes and yes again. Yale, though, leaves those to the colleges — at least those that have “restricted endowments” set aside for specific items or activities.

As the only residential college to have established its own endowment, Jonathan Edwards College is notorious for being armed with endless funds. While the JE trust does give the college a financial leg up, much of that funding is actually tied down to specific stipulations.

Case in point: the Tulip Fund. Every fall, JE hosts an event during which students fill the courtyard with tulip bulbs paid for by a particular donor, students said. The event, which also includes pumpkin carving, both celebrates the fall and encourages students to look forward to spring, when the tulips will bloom. While one student interviewed said he thinks this is a strange use of college assets, Rahul Dalal ’11 called it a quintessential JE experience.

JE College Council President Simone Berkower ’09 said she thinks the tulip fund serves an important purpose in the college.

“The tulips just improve the community aspect of the college, and it’s something you can see every day,” she said.

Through Culture Draw, another JE tradition funded by a restricted endowment, students can win lotteries to attend events including Broadway plays, opera performances and New York Philharmonic concerts. Students pay their own train fare to the city, but once they arrive at Grand Central Station, everything else is on the college including a fancy pre-show dinner in the city.

While JE may have the largest number of restricted gifts, it is not the only residential college that sets aside funds for specific uses.

Branford College Master Steven Smith said although Branford does not have a fund quite as eccentric as the JE tulip fund, it does have the George Lincoln Henrickson Lectureship Fund, which is set aside to sponsor a lecture by a visiting classicist. The fund, he said, was established in 1961 in honor of Hendrickson, who was the Lampson Professor of Latin and Greek Literature.

In Davenport, a Sean Fenton Memorial Fellowship offers a group of Davenport students a chance for a $2,500 subsidy to travel in search of “a common goal or passion,” according to the fellowship brochure. A recent group of students used the money to see Bob Barker on “The Price is Right” before he retired in June 2007.

This fellowship, though, also has a bit of history. Every January, the college hosts the Sean Fenton ’04 Memorial Orange Juice Festival, during which the Davenport master’s office purchases ten large crates of oranges and sets out juicers for students to make their own orange juice.

The festival commemorates Fenton, a Davenport student who died in a car accident in 2003. Davenport Master’s assistant Barbara Munck said every year at school, Fenton would order a crate of fresh oranges to be delivered to his dorm room, which he and his friends would use to host a party to offset the cold, dark New England winter.

Events like the Orange Juice Festival, Munck said, helps strengthen the Davenport college community.

“We celebrate to remember who Sean was — a great friend,” she said. “It shows what is so important about the residential college system.”

Students said this spirit of camaraderie is a key part of a Yale education, and eccentric funds — whether for tulips or oranges — play a significant role in promoting a cohesive spirit on campus.

Although Holly Butler ’12 said she has yet to experience the Orange Juice Festival herself, she said the tradition intrigued her as one of many quirky “Wow, I’m at Yale” moments to which she is looking forward.

But some students question whether restricting funds prevents them from being used where they are most needed.

Erica Schild ’12 said she thinks it makes sense for donors to personalize their gifts to strengthen aspects of campus life with which they personally identify.

“For instance, if that person likes science, they can invest in a science building,” she said. “It is good for the donor to reflect what he or she did while at Yale is their gift.”

But Schild added, “I don’t get why they would want to spend money on tulips, though.”

Schild and other students said they think overly eccentric gifts can be avoided if masters work closely with donors in gift planning.

“Instead being donated to random or strange things, the money can go to books or something,” said Laure Flapan ’12, who added that monetary gifts should have practical effect on the University.

Some colleges, though, simply don’t have the luxury of restricted funds.

Morse College, for example, has a smaller range of their funds that the college’s Master Frank Keil said makes the college grateful for the money that they do have. Keil said in an e-mail that Morse does have money for general-purpose fellowships for summer study and travel.

“We would of course be delighted to receive funds that would enable us to have fresh squeezed orange juice or dramatic flower beds as well,” Master Keil wrote in an e-mail.

Although initially surprised by some of the strange gifts, Flapan, a Piersonite, said she has realized they help make the Yale experience so unique.

“It is sort of a respect for the quirky and at times the weird elements,” she said. “We may not understand why a particular donor does the things he does, but we respect [his wishes].”


  • Hieronymus

    Makes total sense to me. "Yale" has, I believe it safe to say, "sufficient" funds. I, for one, fully intend to fund something at my college, and it will likely be something quirky…

    My fear is that Yale, especially with two new colleges on the way, will seek somehow to "normalize" the various colleges' individual funding levels (all it would take is publishing of the available funds and, believe me, the "Wah! Wah!" crowd would start their crying--unfair to me! Patriarchal oppression from the old & dead! And so on.)

    I think I may endow a chauffered limo to UConn for ROTC participants…

    Or maybe a Western Civ lecturer…

    Or fresh, small-batch, organic, artisanal pudding at every meal. Yeah, THAT's the ticket!

  • yes

    this is what fundamentally undermines yales college system. the fact that legacies can select into their parents college and that some colleges have much more money than others. all yalies are not created equal. yale should follow harvards lead on this and equalize the system.

  • Mike

    Doesn't Silliman have a donut endowment?

  • JE 10

    don't be hatin. If you cut me, I bleed just like every other Yalie.

  • Anonymous

    @#2: but what about legacies who specifically choose not to be in their parent's college or choose to admit the fact that they are a legacy on their housing form (and there are quite a few who do both of these, at least from my experience)

  • no

    it doesn't work like that unfortunately. if you prevent people from donating to their own colleges, they just wont donate. those making the major donations already give to yale.

    so stop the whining. its grotesque. to paraphrase a famous yale: we have here the haves, and the have-mores.

    there isn't a single college at yale that isnt filthy rich. some are jsut more filthy richer than others.

    i agree with almost nothing hieronymous ever says, but on this one, he's right. he should go ahead and endow his limo. and i'll endow pitchforks for SDS. and JE sux and can keep updating its wine cellar. and silliman can joke about its silver chandiliers and it monstrous theatre. and wah wah wah legacies wah wah wah….

    with legacies making up only 15 % of the university, there is really no argument that they distort much of anything. if anything, the renovation will help, simply because the newest colleges (without alumni) will also be the plushest in history … and morse and stiles, you too are about to be renovated.

    the fact that they are all different, yet all the same, is what makes yale great.

    gryffindors should stop whining about slytherin having a dungeon …

  • Huh?

    Because the DIAMOND studded experience is so radically different from the EMERALD one?

    Geez: get OVER the WHINING, will you??? It matters not a WHIT what college you are in: opportunity--and FUNDS--abound.

    Are some of you ppl just BRED to cry?

  • Anonymous

    Wow, 1 person posts a mildly negative comment and 5 others jump on that one for "whining"? (And take that one as representative of numerous "ppl"?)

  • SY '00

    I never cease to be astounded (and, frankly, ashamed) at the audacity of of some Yalies. Really? Complaining because some people on campus have tulip plantings while others have to do without, or at Yalies believing they should be able to dictate the terms of *gifts* to the school? Those concerned about inequality, disparity and fairness really ought to take a walk on Chapel Street, three or four blocks past Starbucks.