Student prizes capped at $1k

When Arden Rogow-Bales ’10 entered the Classics Department’s annual Latin translation competition in the spring of his sophomore year, he thought he had a chance at winning — but he had no idea he would earn several thousand dollars for a few hours of Ovid.

The department had awarded Rogow-Bales the Samuel Henry Galpin Latin Prize, which Galpin’s son Samuel A. Galpin, class of 1870, established more than a century ago with a $1,000 donation. Because Galpin’s $1,000 has grown with Yale’s endowment, Rogow-Bales received considerably more than the $50 Latin prizewinners won at the turn of the century. It was an “embarrassingly large” amount, he said — so large that when Rogow-Bales arrived at the classics offices to receive his prize, he said, the secretary would not say the amount out loud. Instead, she showed it to him on a slip of paper. Rogow-Bales, who declined to state the exact amount of the Galpin prize, also tied for the Winthrop Prize in Latin as a junior, he said, winning half of an approximately $10,000 total prize.

No caption.
No caption.

But when Rogow-Bales competes again next month for the Winthrop, the prize money he hopes to win may be just a fraction of his previous windfalls because of a new University policy that will cap most Yale prizes at $1,000.

Over Yale’s three-century history, donors have established hundreds of prizes to reward student work, from the best senior essay about New Haven to the winning oration in a speaking contest. As University administrators attempt to squeeze excess funds out of the endowment to close Yale’s budget shortfall, they hope to limit what they say have become unreasonably large prizes and spend the rest of the income from these endowments on financial aid for prizewinners. But some students and professors said they are concerned the new cap will violate donors’ intentions and take some of the awards away from deserving students.

Vice President and Secretary Linda Lorimer announced the new policy — which applies to the Graduate School and the professional schools, as well as to Yale College — in an e-mail last week to deans, department chairs and faculty involved in administering prizes. Oversized prizes that have mushroomed in tandem with the endowment are an inefficient use of funds, Lorimer said in the e-mail. (In an interview, Lorimer said the cap for prizes in the Graduate School and professional schools would be set at an undetermined amount higher than $1,000.)

“A scholarship is just a more appropriate use of a single prize fund than to give one student a huge windfall, just because a particular department happened to get a big gift which has grown,” Deputy Provost Charles Long said, adding that administrators have seen oversized prizes as a matter of serious concern for years.


The offices of the Provost and General Counsel will review the terms of every prize fund donation to see whether excess income can be siphoned off for scholarships, Lorimer said.

Many prizes, such as all eight of the prizes awarded by the History of Art Department, already fall under the $1,000 cap, History of Art chair Alexander Nemerov said. In other cases, the language of other prize donations may not allow the University to use the gifts for any other purpose than what was originally stipulated.

But the income on larger prizes — such as the English department’s Elmore A. Willets Prize for Fiction, which has awarded a total income of $15,000 a year recently — should go toward financial aid for the award recipients, administrators said.

This time around, administrators are carefully reviewing indentures — the legal agreements that accompany all donations — and may even ask donors or their heirs to determine if another use might be appropriate.

One donor established a prize 30 years ago but told development officials that if he had been able to give more money, he would have liked to establish a scholarship instead. Now that his prize has grown, Vice President for Development Inge Reichenbach said last month, students will receive financial aid in his name instead of prizes. (Reichenbach declined to name the donor or the prize.)


Though department chairs have long tried to wrangle other uses out of prize funds and other gifts that were donated with explicit instructions for use, Long said, the effort has intensified as Yale faces a budget shortfall.

Departments that award large sums try to be discreet about the thousands of dollars they give out, three department chairs said. The amounts do not appear on department Web sites, and many students do not realize how much they have won until they collect the prizes.

“I have occasionally run into a stunned-looking undergrad on Class Day,” said Provost Peter Salovey, formerly dean of Yale College.

To offset the size of the prizes, many departments already split the income from gifts into multiple prizes or use extra income to fund student research. The English Department’s Willets Prize for Fiction, for example, is already split among 10 recipients, with a first prize of $3,500 and a 10th prize of $250, said Leslie Brisman, who chairs the department’s prize committee.

Prizes in the Economics Department are also divided among several students, depending on how many prize-worthy senior essays are submitted, economics chair Benjamin Polak said. Some money also goes to fund research for senior essays, he added.

“I think most students would take the view that we want to make it possible to not only reward students but make it possible to do the work,” Polak said.

Salovey said more prizes may be split this year so departments can award more reasonable sums to a greater number of deserving students. Brisman said he expects to be able to award a top Willets prize of $1,000 and reduce the number of other winners.


Though students and professors agreed that financial aid is a cause worth supporting, they questioned the decision to impose a blanket limit of $1,000 across all prizes whose terms allow it.

Brisman said he was shocked and disappointed by what he called the “emasculation” of prize endowments. English essay prizes given to freshmen and sophomores may have been overinflated, but the cuts to some upperclassmen prizes may break the terms of the original donations, he said — no matter how flexible the actual language is.

The Sholom and Marcia Herson Scholarship, which the English department awards to senior English majors who intend to pursue graduate degrees, is worth more than $10,000 total each year, he said.

“If that is reduced to $1,000, nobody can go to graduate school feeling that even a significant dent has been made in the expenses of graduate school,” Brisman said. “So I think there, the intentions of the prize-givers have been violated.”

Last year’s Herson winners, Eamon Murphy ’09 and Andrew Williamson ’09, said that while they support the goal of increasing financial aid, the Herson prize reduced the cost of their graduate study. Now studying at Cambridge University in England, Murphy said his $5,000 was essential for buying books over the summer. And Rogow-Bales said his classics prize money allowed him to avoid taking a job over the past two summers.

“Capping them all at $1,000 is rather stingy,” Murphy said. “Maybe they should have reined in the most extravagant prizes instead of applying some blanket rule.”

There will be some exceptions to the $1,000 cap, administrators said. Salovey said individual prizes may be pegged higher if departments can make a good case for raising the amount.

Meanwhile, the Snow, Sudler, Chittenden, Warren, and Hadley prizes, which are traditionally awarded during Commencement to a small cadre of seniors who have shown academic and personal excellence, may be adjusted but will be kept larger than $1,000, Lorimer said.

“I think the question is, what would be a meaningful prize that would delight the recipient and is probably what the donor had in mind?” Salovey said. “The donors were probably not thinking about the miracle of compounded investment returns.”


  • Grab; Absorb; Run!

    Donors’ intentions?

    Take a look at the will of the late Hope Conklin Macintosh leaving every penny she and her late husband, Yale Professor Douglas Clyde Macintosh, had (about $70,000 in 1958 )for the Douglas Clyde Macintosh Fellowship in Systematic Theology to be awarded at graduation each year to a qualified and deserving student.

    By your article’s $1000 example, it should have grown considerably since then.

    Where is it?

    Where did the money go? (it has been absorbed and “lost” in the general fund).

    I and the executor of the Macintosh estate, Professor Juilian N. Hartt of the University of Virginia, fought this out with Yale in the 1970’s and 80’s. The Fellowship was “restored’ for two or three years.

    Where is it now?

    “Take the money and run” (or absorb) is Yale’s behavior with the donor in this matter.

    The Anti-Yale

  • Anon.

    Using merit awards for financial aid strikes me effectively denying students’ their just award. If I understand this correctly, what the university will do with large awards is decrease your financial aid award and fill the gap with the prize you earned. In effect, the student sees no financial benefit (or only a considerably reduced one) beyond what they would have already received through financial aid. At that point, why even bother competing for the prize. If I were a donor who intended to give a prize for merit rather than for need, I would be really annoyed by this.

  • Bi

    I share the concerns of the first poster. This is troubling and could make many donors think twice before donating funds for a prize.

    I hope the administrators go back and carefully review the terms of these agreements. Speaking as a donor for a prize awarded by another organization in Hew Haven, we expected our prize funds to make an impact in environmental science. A growing prize accomplishes that goal.

    Donors must be very specific about their intentions.

  • Yale ’10

    Yes, it seems they are trying to raid funds where ever they can find them. A similar special fund that I am a beneficiary of was raided a few years back—it had grown much like the endowment, and Yale decided the general fund needed x percent.

  • Wow

    This is ridiculous. Stop being greedy, Yale. We live in an expensive world and the students who earn these prizes can use every cent and more of what they’re winning, be it for travel, research, grad school, paying bills after college, paying off loans, etc. Who cares if the donors thought about how big the prizes were going to get? They wanted hard working, talented students to see a generous reward for their efforts, and given inflation and the rise in the cost of living, $1000 is a pittance.

  • ’13

    So what happens when those students who aren’t on financial aid win a prize? Do they get the full amount of money? Seems extremely unfair that they should get the full prize because their parents make more money than mine.

  • y11

    This article is a little confusing. Are the prizes being cut in order to make more money available for general financial aid, or is the prize money just being converted from “cash” to financial aid specifically for the recipients? It states the latter will be the case for the English prize, but what about the others?

    Either way, this seems like a bad thing. Before people jump on Bales for simply saying that his prize money saved him two summer jobs, there is a legitimate point there. Many humanities students rely on prize money to support a summer of unpaid, independent writing–particularly those who do fiction.

    Converting prize money to financial aid is impractical, and giving it away entirely is unfair.

  • JJ

    This is ridiculous. A university with an endowment of billions of dollars cries over losing pennies because they go to students who achieve things. Using the money for financial aid is just another way for Yale to avoid spending its own money because they will reduce the financial aid awards given from Yale accordingly.

    Absolutely pathetic.

  • Breach of Fiduciary Duty?

    Reappropriating funds against the intent of the donor? A “pat on the back” bonus for the consultant who put forth this “semi-repeating one-off” budget fix that fails to address underlying issues.

  • bad faith

    If I were an outstanding student if Latin or Ancient who had chosen Yale over competing offers from similar schools, based in part on the availability of prize income to offset the need to seek additional income over the summer, I would regard this as a betrayal, and not just a betrayal of the donors’ intentions, which were to encourage students to study a classically non-lucrative field of study. Talk about bait and switch!

  • Rudy ’73

    Sounds like theft to me, or at least a severe breach of fiduciary duty for a totally self-serving purpose. Someone might want to alert the Connecticut Attorney General. Where funds have been given to the University with a specified purpose, the University is a fiduciary for the donor or his/her estate. To siphon off the “excess” because the University, in it’s infinite wisdom (and need) determines the donor would have wanted it that way is grossly irresponsible and outrageous.

    Should I ever leave anything to benefit Yalies I will certainly NOT entrust the University to look after it.

  • Rudy ’73

    Perhaps the cap should be 20% of Yale’s annual fees for tuition, room and board. Back in my day that would have maxed out an award at $900.

    This new policy is not only borderline criminal, it is arrogant in the extreme.

  • skeptic

    Prizes are invidious things, important only to insecure individuals who need outside validation of their self-worth. And are they actually “earned”, as in payment for work performed, anyway?

  • priorities wrong

    Why don’t we take away something like Spring Fling that has no relationship to our educations but costs tens of thousands of dollars? That money doesn’t seem to be tied up on donors wishes either.

  • What. The. Hell.

    This is ridiculous!!!! Does Yale even have a right to absorb the funds of these prize endowments? What is the legality of this??? Can someone comment?

  • ’08

    I have somewhat mixed opinions on this. I don’t think that undergrads should feel like they are “entitled” to these prizes; the meaningful part should be the recognition of one’s accomplishments, and in that sense, the size of the monetary award should be unimportant.

    At the same time, I was a recipient of a few-thousand-dollar prize from my department at graduation, and I have to say that that money was /incredibly/ useful when it came to moving to graduate school and furnishing my apartment and things. Money would have been quite a lot tighter without that award, and I feel like recognizing excellent students for their accomplishments and giving them a leg up post-yale is a really nice thing to do. A $1000 prize would still have been useful, but wouldn’t have made the same impact.

  • @#14

    Agreed. I’ve always thought that Yale should throw a carnival with maybe a couple rides and student live music rather than bringing in costly acts that people are just going to complain about. It would still be expensive, but I doubt it would cost nearly as much, and people would have more fun.

  • @16

    I don’t think people in general feel entitled. I doubt I’m going to be winning any prizes, because while my work is good, it’s not of the truly spectacular quality of some of my peers. I’m not crying that I won’t get a prize because of that.

    I do, however, feel that those who have done work of a quality that earns them the recognition of one of these prizes ARE entitled to whatever amount the donor saw fit to give them. People who do exceptional work in non-lucrative fields can really use it, and they worked hard, so it’s not like they don’t deserve a reward. It’s like if you work hard at your job and get a bonus: you earned it. And, like you said, anything helps when you’re in your early 20s and trying to get started in life.

  • le_aviateur021

    Simply despicable and shameful.

  • ’02

    Do we know how much the Snow, Sudler, Chittenden, Warren, and Hadley prizes will be? Many of these are based purely on GPA alone; is there an explanation why they are worth much more than other prizes?

  • adam t

    look out: travel fellowships are next

  • lmc

    Teachers chewed up and spit out in their pursuit for tenure. Graduate students not receiving accurate wages for being teachers. Silent tuition upticks. Prize money made invisible in order to be “used for financial aid.”

    Hurray for the bottom line.

  • anon

    travel fellowships are already being cut.

  • appalled 2010

    This is really terrible, especially in the case of things like that English dept. prize for graduate study. When will arts and humanities majors ever get such “bonuses” again?

  • ’11

    this is a disgusting breach of a probably now dead donor’s will – it’s like cremating someone when they wanted a burial.

  • Recent Alum

    Even aside from the ethical considerations, I’m struggling to see how violating donors’ intent is a good business decision for Yale in the long run. Why would today’s alums be inclined to donate where the university is so nonchalant about honoring former donors?

  • 2010

    Well, priorities wrong, Spring Fling IS largely “tied up on donors wishes”–it’s largely funded by student activities fees, and I believe gets some money from people who donate to the University for “student life.”

    If you want to take money that students have paid and specifically earmarked for social activities and instead use it to give a prize to that DS tool who decided to read Iliad in the original greek “because something might be lost in translation,” maybe you should put in an application to transfer to Harvard, or better yet, Chicago–where fun goes to die.

    I’m not really sure that I agree with the tack that a lot of commenters are taking on here. I think that if the university were gutting need-based aid to cover its bottom line, it would be a travesty. However, what seems to be happening here is we’re taking from a pot of money that is guaranteed to go to someone in a fairly monochrome and well-off field of study (seriously, look at the Yale facebook pics of Classics majors, then check out the average home prices in their zip codes–a rough proxy, but about the best I can come up with), and giving the money to people with less money, regardless of what major they choose to study. I think that’s probably a good thing for society–given the choice between giving an upper middle class Classics major spending money and preventing a kid from the soundview projects from having to take on a crippling debt load, I think the latter represents a better allocation of resources.

    Now, this isn’t to say that Classics majors shouldnt’ get any money. What I am saying is that in distributing money to students, regardless of major, Yale should hold true to what it told us when we were applying and distribute money on the basis of need.