With $25 million gift, dorms to return to Yale Law School

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Photo by William Freedberg.

After years of planning, the Yale Law School’s long-awaited project to reinstall residential housing for law students will finally come to life.

On Thursday morning, Yale Law School Dean Robert Post LAW ’77 announced that a $25 million donation to the law school — given by Robert C. Baker ’56 LAW ’59 and his wife, Christina — will enable YLS to renovate the building at 100 Tower Parkway., which is currently used as Swing Space for annexed undergraduates. In addition to housing small seminars and certain Yale offices, the four-story building will be used to house law students year-round in furnished two-bedroom suites, complete with en suite bathrooms, kitchens and shared community areas. YLS has not offered residential housing to law students since 2007, when dorms inside of the Sterling Law Building at 127 Wall St. were converted entirely into academic and administrative spaces.

Post said that construction work on 100 Tower Parkway. will begin in 2018, with law students potentially moving into their new dorms the following year. He added that every other major law school in the country offers residential housing to law students. Though living in the building will be optional for law students, Post said, the dorms will likely prove popular amongst first-year students because they offer the opportunity to immediately integrate into the school community, and also amongst students who come from abroad because the dorms will be open year-round.

“Dormitory living is very important for students to be able to associate [with] their peers,” he said.

Post also said that because a dorm environment enables students to “bring their classes home” for exchange and discussion, the new residential building will serve as a space for students to socialize and collaborate after their academic work during the day. YLS Professor Peter Schuck said he believes dorms are a place where intellectual life flourishes.

Other faculty members also listed benefits to restoring dormitory space for law students. YLS lecturer Joshua Galperin said he believes the new dorms will be important for the school’s image.

“The law school brings in the world’s best students — but it has not been able to offer them equally impressive accommodations,” Galperin said.

The project to return dormitory living to YLS has been in the works for several years, and YLS was originally slated to acquire the 100 Tower Parkway. building from the University in 2012 — but the plans were set back due to the effect of the financial crisis on the University.

Baker said in a Thursday morning press release that he hopes his gift will inspire other alumni to support the project as well. Baker is the founder, chairman and CEO of National Realty and Development Corp, as well as the owner of a private equity group that purchased several department store chains.

“This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for Yale Law School to acquire from the University a facility which is only one block away from the Sterling Law Building,” Baker said in the release.

Douglas Kysar, another YLS professor, said that the $25 million gift not only reflects the generosity of the Bakers, but also the commitment of Post and University President Peter Salovey to the project.

In the release, Salovey said he believes the restoration of residential housing will allow future generations of students to experience the benefits of a community in which living and learning are closely connected.

Of 10 students interviewed, all said they are in support of having optional dormitory space for students.

Elie Friedman LAW ’15 — who called Thursday’s announcement “very exciting news” — said that he thinks the dorm construction could be a very positive development for school.

But seven of the 10 said that they would not have chosen to live in a dorm, had they been given the option this year.

For Whitney Leonard LAW ’15, dormitory space could potentially create separation within the larger law school community.

“I think it could create sort of a divide between those who live on-campus and those who live off,” Leonard said.

Swapna Reddy LAW ’16 said that though she sees how the concept of residential housing could have a certain appeal for some students, she does not personally see many significant advantages.

The former dormitory inside the Sterling Law Building held 219 beds when it opened in 1931 — and only 23 beds when it closed in 2007.

Correction: Nov.8
A previous version of this article incorrectly stated that plans to renew the building at 100 Tower Parkway were set back due to financial deficits, rather than the effect of the recession on the University. It also mistakenly stated that the donation will allow the Yale Law School to renovate the building without borrowing or raising additional money. Finally, it misidentified Joshua Galperin as a professor; he is in fact a lecturer.

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