At a panel discussion on town-gown relations Saturday, University President Richard Levin made quite an offer: for $5 million each, audience members would be allowed to tase him.
Levin’s joke referred to the recent raid at Elevate, just one of the topics discussed by Levin, Mayor John DeStefano Jr., Yale historian Gaddis Smith ’54 GRD ’61 and former Editor in Chief of the News Paul Needham ’11 during a conversation that traced the history and future of town-gown relations. They also touched on West Campus and the role of the News in New Haven. The panel, titled “Yale and New Haven,” was sponsored by the News as part of its two-day celebration of the Briton Hadden Memoral Building’s rededication this weekend. Michael Barbaro ’02, a former editor in chief of the News, moderated discussion in the art gallery auditorium.
In the wake of the Elevate raid, allegations of police brutality are testing the relationship between the University and the city. Both Levin and DeStefano were out of town the night of the raid — Levin in New Mexico, DeStefano in Amsterdam. Once he returned the Tuesday after the raid, DeStefano said, he met with Yale College Dean Mary Miller and concerned students to discuss the events at the Lounge. Levin commended DeStefano for demanding an investigation and directly engaging with students.
At the panel, DeStefano downplayed the most controversial parts of the raid, including student allegations that police used excessive force in what should have been a routine check.
“I get lots of people Tasered in the city,” DeStefano said. “This wasn’t a raid on the Stiles-Morse screw. It was a raid on a club.”
Levin and DeStefano also joked about bringing in a Taser to use as a fundraising tool for the University; the two could both be Tasered as a show of “togetherness” for the city, DeStefano suggested. Levin added that he might be willing to permit people to use a Taser on him for $5 million each.
The panel also discussed Yale’s acquisition of West Campus, a hurdle for town-gown relations. When Levin first told DeStefano about the University’s acquisition of West Campus, a move Levin called his “Louisiana Purchase,” DeStefano said he was “furious” and demanded that the two “do the meeting over again.”
DeStefano called the sale of West Campus a huge mistake for the city, but Levin defended the University’s decision to purchase the land for Yale. He said Vice President for New Haven and State Affairs Bruce Alexander worked for six months to find a pharmaceutical company to purchase the facilities before the University stepped in.
“There just weren’t any takers,” he said.
The relationship between New Haven and the University reached a low point in 1991, Smith said, when a New Haven resident was accused of murdering Christian Prince ’93 on the steps of St. Mary’s Church on Hillhouse Avenue. Since DeStefano was elected and Levin became president, both in 1993, relations have improved considerably, Smith said.
Levin attributed this change to a shared understanding of what he called “enlightened self-interest.”
“Yale is better if New Haven is stronger. New Haven is better if Yale is stronger,” Levin said. The panelists ended the discussion with a celebration of the News’ role in the development of both Yale and New Haven. Though DeStefano said he often has to be “very patient” with Newsies, he called it an “important institution” in the city, one whose manpower is particularly valuable now that the crisis in print media has reduced the size of the New Haven Register, the city’s traditional daily paper.
“Pound for pound, YDN’s got a lot of muscle,” DeStefano said.
Levin, for his part, said that while the News can at times be “infuriating,” his overall view is “very positive.”
“The YDN has done a fabulous job in sustaining high quality reporting,” Levin said. “I don’t think any campus has any reporting of the quality and depth and interest of what the YDN does. I’ve looked at other campus papers — they just aren’t as good.”
The weekend’s festivities culminated Saturday afternoon when Needham cut a blue ribbon outside the News’ building.