Alumni calls for pool unanswered

The Kiphuth Exhibition Pool has seen better times. While swimming pool technology and technical requirements have developed over the years, the University’s swimming and diving teams have been using the same pool since 1932. Alumni and current swimmers interviewed said the pool’s deficiencies have prevented the University from hosting a championship meet and hampered the school’s recruiting efforts.

Although the pool’s current infrastructure has rendered renovating the pool a very costly enterprise, alumni of the men’s swimming and diving team began a fundraising effort last spring in order to raise the funds necessary to build a brand-new natatorium on unused land near the Yale Bowl. But members of this fundraising initiative said that, to their surprise and dismay, the University not only rejected their offer — one in which the University would not pay any money in construction costs — but allegedly treated them with disrespect.

 

ALUMNI APPROACH WITH FUNDRAISING PLAN

Three and a half years ago, recognizing that the University’s swimming facilities placed the team at a competitive disadvantage compared to Ivy League rivals Harvard and Princeton, a group of about 150 graduates, all former Yale swimmers, began discussing how the alumni could lobby the University to build or revamp the school’s swimming facilities and “restore the program’s glory.”

“People no longer want to swim at Yale because the [Kiphuth] Pool is so far past its prime [that] it is no longer competitive,” said former swimmer Timothy Garton ’64, adding that the men’s team had not defeated archrival Harvard in 20 years. Garton said that he and a group of alumni formed a Steering Committee, led by five individuals, which would lead fundraising initiatives and coordinate alumni initiatives with the University.

The Steering Committee began official discussions with Yale Facilities in January 2013 after two years of soliciting pledges for donations from alumni and researching the costs and requirements of a new natatorium.

Acting as a liaison on behalf of the Steering Committee, the Facilities Office presented University administrators in September with two options: expand the current Kiphuth Exhibition Pool or build a new facility in the vicinity of the Yale Bowl. The alumni were willing to contribute $20 million to fund the construction of a new facility in the vicinity of the Yale Bowl.

But according to a letter obtained by the News from Steering Committee member Steve Clark ’65 to the rest of the Alumni Group, Yale rejected Steering Committee suggestions to consider alternative downtown locations other than at Payne Whitney Gymnasium, even though the University would not have to contribute any funds towards building the new center.

In the same letter, Clark, a three-time Olympic gold medalist who spearheaded the alumni fundraising campaign, reported that University Vice-President for New Haven and State Affairs and Campus Development Bruce Alexander and other Yale officers had decided a new aquatic center would not be University priority for at least 10 to 20 years.

“While we are disturbed that the offer from a group of alums to raise and donate $15-20 million remains ignored, our goal remains simply a new, first class aquatic facility which will allow the Yale teams to train and compete on an equal footing with Harvard and Princeton,” wrote Clark in the letter, adding that neither the members of the Alumni Group nor the University’s Development Office believed the alumni could not fully raise the $45 million necessary for expanding the Kiphuth Pool.

In an email to the News, University Vice President for Development Joan O’Neill said all athletic facility projects at the moment must be funded through gifts rather than University contributions.

Greg Lawler ’69, another member of the Steering Committee, said that the University administrators repeatedly evaded and ignored phone calls and emails by the alumni, many of whom were hoping to persuade the University to reverse its position and allow them to build a new facility. He added that the Steering Committee wrote a letter to University President Peter Salovey on Nov. 6, requesting the opportunity to meet with him about the status of the project. As of now, the group has yet to receive a response from the President’s Office.

In their letter to the President, the Committee wrote that the pool has been “an embarrassment for an institution like Yale for at least thirty years.”

According to Lawler and Garton, Yale’s unresponsiveness and lack of communication has alienated many alumni, thereby hurting both the natatorium project and alumni’s willingness to give to the University more broadly. Both members of the Steering Committee said that numerous alumni who had originally committed seven-figure donations to the project have since written letters to the committee stating their disinterest in donating to Yale.

Garton said he found the University’s unresponsiveness confounding. O’Neill said Yale traditionally assigns a gift officer to each unit of the University, such as the professional schools or athletics, according to O’Neill. The gift officers do not raise all of the money, but instead coordinate with key donors to raise as much as they can for projects deemed to be of the highest priority by the University Provost and President. O’Neill added that these staff members’ goal is to help the donors give in a way that will make them want to pledge a future gift.

When Yale took on Harvard at Madison Square Garden for the first annual Rivalry On Ice, Athletic Director Tom Beckett met with the Yale Sports Federation, a relatively new group of alumni that lobbies on behalf of Yale Athletics. At the meeting, one member of the Sports Federation, who wished to remain anonymous out of concern about retribution from his employer, told the News that Beckett said he supported the plan for the natatorium located by the Yale Bowl. Beckett added, however, that discussions regarding the plans were in a difficult place. According to the same anonymous member, Beckett did not list any specific reasons why the University was steadfast in refusing to consider new locations for the aquatic center.

Nevertheless, Salovey told the News on Thursday that he plans on responding to the Steering Committee’s concerns.

“Mr. Beckett and I do plan on responding to the concerns of the swimming alumni,” Salovey said. “I think there’s a lot of room for a constructive conversation and planning process with a group who is passionate about their support and love Yale.”

All sixteen students interviewed said they were confused by the treatment the alumni have received.

“I’m shocked not just that the University turned down the money, but [at] how the alumni were treated,” said Andrew Sobotka ’15, a supporter of Yale athletics who has consistently called for Yale to develop more athletics-friendly policies. He added that the University should always treat its alumni with the utmost respect and gratitude. Although he does not know why the University rejected the alumni’s initial offer, Sobotka said that it was possible to interpret this decision as the latest in a string of policies that the University has pursued to the detriment of athletic excellence, citing the University’s relatively stringent recruiting policies as one such example.

Beau Palin ’14, former captain of the football team, said that administrators who decline donations to advance Yale’s facilities in any department or activity are doing the University a great disservice.

 

COMPETITIVE DISADVANTAGE

Current swimmers appreciate the Kiphuth Pool and find something special about swimming in a venue as historic as Yale’s pool, which was built in 1932.

“While a new facility would be great, I think Yale has the best pool in the Ivy League,” said swimmer Danny Clarke ’14. “The Kiphuth Pool is arguably the most historic swimming venue in the world. It has been a privilege to swim in the same pool that so many Yale swimming legends swam in.”

The feeling of being a part of history that swimmers describe does not come without a cost, however.

According to Garton, before Princeton comes to compete at Yale, Princeton swimmers run a special pool exercise. While those that are swimming remain in the pool, the other members of the team sit around the sides of the pool and dip their feet in the water, kicking as hard as they can in an effort to mimic the turbulence they will experience while swimming in Yale’s Kiphuth Pool.

Swimmer Milan Sandhu ’16 said that the superior facilities of rivals such as Princeton give Yale a disadvantage when the University tries to attract top recruits. He added that recruits can easily be impressed by the flashy facilities at other schools.

The men’s swim team has not won an Ivy League championship since 1993.

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