Architectural controversy nearly caused Scully to leave Yale in ’99

Vincent Scully spent an entire lifetime at Yale: first as a student, then as a professor for over six decades. But a debate over the partial demolition of the Yale Divinity School in the late 1990s almost caused Scully to sever ties with the University.

In 1996, when Yale made public plans to demolish four structures at the back of the Sterling Divinity Quadrangle as part of the Divinity School’s renovation, Scully sent an impassioned letter that October to University President Richard Levin.

In the letter, Scully said the demolition of the buildings was “beneath Yale.” The Sterling Divinity Quadrangle, completed in 1932 by the firm of Delano & Aldrich, was not a “poor copy of [Thomas] Jefferson’s University of Virginia,” Scully insisted, but was unique on its own merits.

When the University forged ahead with its plans, Scully issued a public ultimatum to Levin, who was to speak after him at an April 1999 symposium sponsored by the School of Architecture.

“If the Divinity School were rebuilt according to the present plan, I’d have to rethink my future in this institution,” Scully said at the symposium. “Loyalty can only be stretched so far.”

Levin later said he was taken aback by Scully’s comments; the two talked at Woodbridge Hall soon after. Five months after Scully’s threat, the University announced in September 1999 that it would instead leave three of the buildings intact and convert the fourth into the Divinity School’s library.

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