Prizes still under review

Academic departments will soon award their end-of-year prizes to selected students, but many chairmen are still waiting for the final say from the administration on how much money they can grant.

The University is nearing completion of the comprehensive review of nearly 100 prize funds in academic and athletic departments and professional schools that it began last spring. Though most prizes have already been capped at $1,000, the full hit these funds have taken since March 2010 remains to be tallied.

Administrators decided last March to cap most prizes and reallocate the excess funds to scholarships for prizewinners, alleviating pressure on the financial aid that comes out of Yale’s endowment and general funds and trying to overcome the University’s budget gap. But many professors contend that prizes should give enough money to help highly deserving students afford further study or other pursuits after graduation, and that limiting the awards program to address the overall deficit does more harm than good.

“Obviously, financial aid is more important than prizes — I will grant that, in that sense, the University is right,” said Leslie Brisman, an English professor and former chairman of the department’s prize committee. “But to think that prizes are just the icing on the cake that can be skimmed off is just not right.”

Last spring, Vice President and Secretary Linda Lorimer notified deans, department chairmen and faculty involved in administering prizes Universitywide that the offices of the Provost and General Counsel would review every prize fund to see if any excess could be skimmed off for financial aid. The offices are aiming to conclude the review by the end of this semester, Provost Peter Salovey said Tuesday.

Members of the Yale community voiced concerns about the University review, prompting Connecticut Attorney General Richard Blumenthal LAW ’73 to open a review of Yale’s practices in April 2010 to make sure the University was complying with the intentions of those who had originally donated the prize money, Assistant Attorney General Karen Gano said in an email statement Thursday. The attorney general’s review was concluded in May 2010, and, according to the statement, Yale was found in compliance with donor intent and charitable trust law.

Though the attorney general’s review has ended, Yale’s is ongoing, and continues to spark dissent among professors and students.

The review has impacted 17 of 18 prizes within the English Department, according to a March 16 memo that Emily Bakemeier, deputy provost for the arts and humanities, sent to English Department chairman Michael Warner. These prize funds have all either been reallocated entirely for financial aid, or limited to $1,000 with the rest put into scholarships.

“What’s going on is that they are trying to squeeze even more money out of the prizes,” Brisman said. “I call it shameless gobbling.” He referred to the excess funds as money left for the University’s “ravening maw.”

Other professors agreed that the money the University will recover from scaling back prizes is negligible in comparison to the overall deficit, while the cuts to awards may make it difficult for individual students to pursue their academic interests after graduation.

“If one presupposes all Yale students are wealthy and the money is a token then it doesn’t matter how much is given,” English and comparative literature professor Katie Trumpener said. “But if one presupposes that some of the winners will be going on, whether in the summer or in their life after Yale, to do altruistic underfunded things, then in those cases at least, the full amount of money as given by the donors could be highly significant.”

In a March 22 email obtained by the News, Warner wrote Bakemeier with concerns about the imposed prize caps. The English Department’s prizes budget for the coming year has been scaled back from $16,000 to $2,000, he said, and the $14,000 in savings for Yale is “tiny, when weighed against the pedagogic loss that will result.”

The English Department is not the only one to have suffered from cuts to prize funds. Roger Howe, director of undergraduate studies for the Department of Mathematics, said prizes in his department were reduced by 80 to 90 percent. Howe said he could not recall the University providing a reason for restrictions on prize funding, and said he has yet to hear from the Provost’s Office about how much money his department can award this year.

Some prizes have been capped, while others have been cut altogether. Brisman pointed to the elimination of the portion of the James A. Veech Prize, awarded for imaginative writing and that traditionally went to graduate students, as one of the University’s most egregious decisions. The prize was abolished despite an appeal by the English Department, Brisman said.

Another major cap was imposed on the Sholom and Marcia Herson Scholarship — an accolade given to students intending to complete graduate work in English. The Herson prize had nearly $9,600 of available prize money in 2010, but was restricted to two $1,000 awards, with the rest absorbed for financial aid, Brisman said.

Andrew Rejan ’10, who won the Herson Prize shortly after it was capped last year, said he is attending Teachers College at Columbia University and could have used the additional money to lessen his student loans.

“I of course support Yale’s commitment to need-based financial aid, but I don’t think Yale should be in the position of choosing between financial aid and academic prizes,” Rejan said. “I think to strip the English Department of its prize funds takes away from the feeling that studying literature and the humanities is really valued at Yale.”

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