Residential college budgets to be equalized

The notion of inequalities among the residential colleges has long been a point of contention for students. Now, while they may still argue about which college has the prettiest courtyard or the nicest gym, as far as money goes, the debate is being settled.

In the second year of a University-wide financial overhaul, members of the Provost’s Office, along with other administrators, have redistributed funds and alumni gifts in order to equalize the budgets of the 12 residential colleges. Three of the wealthiest colleges’ budgets have been reduced to match the others’, while the rest will receive funding that equals or exceeds their past budgets.

“We did what students have been clamoring for for years,” University President Richard Levin said. “We made funding more equitable.”

All of the colleges have given up some of their discretionary funds — money that comes from donations and endowments — to pay for their students’ financial aid and other general expenses, rather than study breaks and social events. Though administrators said students would largely not notice the effects of the recent financial “reshaping,” the changes are part of a larger administrative movement to control the Yale College budget more closely.

Council of Masters Chair Jonathan Holloway said the rapid growth of Yale’s endowment in the past decade magnified previously insignificant differences among the colleges’ finances, as large, college-specific alumni gifts appreciated exponentially.

“Things became so exaggerated during a decade of incredible endowment growth,” he said. “That was leading to a difference in opportunities for students.”

The new era of tighter budgets and more centralized control marks a shift from the historical model of residential colleges with their own distinct personnel, personalities and, sometimes, finances. Though the colleges’ funding is becoming more uniform, administrators say the colleges will retain the distinctive characters that are central to the undergraduate experience.

SEPARATE BUT EQUAL

Yale administrators said financial equality among the residential colleges does not mean students will lose coveted perks or college pride, especially since masters still have some freedom to direct funding according to their individual college’s needs. The amount of funding the colleges receive is tied to the number of students in each, Provost Peter Salovey said.

“Financial equity between the colleges is very important, as long as masters and college councils are free to use their budget in creative ways that make each residential college unique and special,” Berkeley Master Marvin Chun said in an e-mail.

Jonathan Edwards Master Penelope Laurans said this year’s budget reorganization gives all Yale College students comparable opportunities, but that those opportunities may not always be the same.

But one former master said he believes financial leveling may affect the uniqueness of each residential college, a quality most students covet about their on-campus communities.

“They’ll lose a lot of motivation from alumni for giving for special purposes. And I think it’ll undermine a lot of the creativity and uniqueness and colleges,” said Yale historian Gaddis Smith ’54 GRD ’61, who was master of Pierson College from 1972 to 1981. “I don’t think the colleges should all be exactly the same and have to go to the Yale College Dean’s Office for everything they do.”

Holloway said residential college masters will not truly understand the cuts’ repercussions until the end of the year. Until then, however, he said students will not notice a major difference in their quality of life. Calhoun, for example, will still hold its annual Trolley Night, though Holloway said he is working with the student activities committee to find a way to pare down the event’s budget.

“In Calhoun, we’ve still ordered our gear for freshmen, we’re still doing trips to New York City, holding study breaks,” he said. “It remains to be seen how the colleges are really going to roll out activities and events across the board. I wager you’re still going to see a lot of really neat stuff.”

FUND-HUNTING

Starting last summer, administrators from the offices of the Provost, General Counsel and Development began reviewing the University’s donations to see whether any indentures — legal documents in which donors specify how their money must be used — allowed Yale to use the money for broader purposes than before, Vice President for Development Inge Reichenbach said.

Among the endowed funds affected were student academic prizes, which administrators decided to cap at $1,000 last year. The rest of the money in these sometimes-enormous funds went toward financial aid and other general Yale expenses, administrators told the News.

Now the same process has come to residential college donations, sparking a debate over whether administrators are violating the spirit, if not the letter, of donors’ intent. Money taken from a specific college will not necessarily still benefit that college’s students, Saybrook College Master Paul Hudak said.

“I can see both sides,” Hudak said. “If an alum wants something specifically earmarked for Branford, say, there seems like there should be some way for them to do that. But I understand Yale’s point of view also — we’re really one large community, we’re not just individual colleges.”

Many of Saybrook’s fellows and alumni think that gifts made to Saybrook should stay under Saybrook’s control, Hudak said. But in a time of budget troubles, he said, the colleges should do their part in giving up some funds.

After learning of Yale’s decision to systematically reappropriate endowed funds, Connecticut Attorney General Richard Blumenthal LAW ’73 opened a review of the process last spring to make sure Yale does not violate the terms of any indentures. The investigation is ongoing, according to Blumenthal’s office.

MORE CENTRALIZED BUDGETING

The colleges are ceding some control of their budgets to the administration in other ways, too.

Administrators spent last spring shifting departments to a so-called “all-funds budgeting” approach, asking department heads to specify what every dollar will be used for in advance, instead of treating their discretionary funds as a pool of ready money.

And over the past two years, eight “operations managers” have begun working with residential college masters to help with financial and regulatory oversight. These managers report to both the college master as well as the business office of the Yale College Dean’s Office.

Though the initial plan was to hire one for every residential college, recent hiring freezes have kept Timothy Dwight, Branford, Morse, and Stiles without them.

Holloway said masters with operations managers do not miss managing the college’s budget and handling liability issues, which he described as “grueling” for academics who are trying to teach and conduct their own research.

“Masters didn’t get into the job to manage paperwork,” he said.

Residential college masters pay for study breaks, master’s teas, college trips and other social events with a combination of University-supplied funding and donations, Deputy Provost Lloyd Suttle said. Like all other departments, the colleges have had to cut back to help fill Yale’s budget gap. And like the other departments, they, too, are starting with their own income and filling the holes with Yale funding.

In short, residential college masters will need to have their spending approved by the Yale College Dean’s Office or the Provost’s Office to a greater degree than in the past.

The move to even out residential college budgets and take more administrative control over how those budgets are spent is just part of a larger shift toward a more corporate Yale, said Smith, the Yale historian.

“This is an example of a trend through almost every aspect of the University,” Smith said. “We’re becoming a highly administrative place, sort of like the federal government.”

Yet this is not the first time Yale’s central administration has pushed the colleges to become more alike, Smith said.

Before the early 1960s, Yale students were not placed into residential colleges until the end of their freshman years, similar to the house system now in place at Harvard, Smith said. Masters admitted students into their colleges based on applications and legacy status, Smith said.

The process created colleges that were known for certain types of students — Calhoun was full of “jocks,” Davenport housed many upper-class students and Timothy Dwight and Silliman, because of their closeness to Science Hill, attracted science majors, Smith said.

By 1963, the administration had instituted the residential college placement system Yale uses today. Masters and students opposed the policy shift at first, Smith said, adding that most now see the random placement system as a positive change.

“The experience of Yale College students should not be identical, but comparable, and not vary widely,” Deputy Provost Suttle said.

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