In 1958, then-University President A. Whitney Griswold wrote a proposal for two new residential colleges.
At the time, Yale’s residential college system was only 25 years old but, as Griswold noted, it was already cramped. When Ezra Stiles and Morse College opened three years later, however, alumni interviewed said the new colleges were not immediately accepted by the Yale community. It took a while for Morse and Stiles — with their modern, Tuscan-inspired architecture — to become fully integrated into the University.
Now, 51 years later, the University is again planning for the addition of two new residential colleges — and an eventual 800 student increase in the size of the Yale College.
“The idea of having more Yale College students is just a very appealing idea to everybody,” Provost Benjamin Polak said. “Everyone is excited about the idea — it’s clearly infectious.”
In preparation for the opening of the new colleges in 2017, Polak said a faculty committee will make recommendations on how to integrate students in new colleges into Yale College, both academically and socially. In considering these issues, administrators have the trials and tribulations of the first years of Morse and Stiles to look back on.
“The committee that made the 2008 report [on the proposed new colleges] did spend a lot of time looking at how Morse and Stiles had been populated and interviewed people who had been part of that move to Morse and Stiles,” Yale College Dean Mary Miller said.
Miller said the current committee is prioritizing instituting fellowships for the new colleges so that their students will have the same opportunities as students in colleges that have been around since the 1930’s. She added that the committee also wants to find two residential colleges masters who can build strong cultures within the new residential colleges and help create new traditions.
In the 1960’s, Morse and Stiles also struggled with developing traditions and culture, but alumni interviewed said the colleges’ architecture presented an additional challenge. Unlike Morse and Stiles, the two new residential colleges will reflect the gothic style of most of the University.
Alumni said the “Stonehenge”-like architecture of Morse and Stiles did not fit with the image of Yale at the time — predominantly white, northeastern and preppy.
“We were headed to what we thought was a god-awful looking creation out on the fringes of campus,” said Malcolm Douglas ’65. “But we got over it pretty quickly.”
Morse and Stiles were also built at a time when freshmen were not placed into a residential college. Instead, freshmen boys — there were no female Yale undergraduates yet — lived on Old Campus without a residential college affiliation and then entered a lottery before their sophomore year.
Marshall Bell ’65, a member of Stiles, said no sophomores wanted to be placed in Morse and Stiles because the colleges felt like inauthentic additions to Yale.
James Danly ’65, whose father was a member of the Calhoun College class of 1939, said when he first found out he was to be placed in Morse, his heart sank.
In both an architectural and geographic departure from Old Yale, Morse and Stiles lacked the tradition of the other residential colleges, alumni said.
Thomas Campbell ’65, who lived in Morse, said students worried about Morse and Stiles lacking the traditions of the established colleges, which included “long line of illustrious alumni, the pictures on the walls and carvings in the wood.”
Alumni also recalled that Morse and Stiles were noticeably unpolished when students first stepped on campus.
“The first thing I remember was the aroma on the first day,” Danly said. “There were piles of manure. That was my first impression of Morse College. But time passed; flowers came up.”
Still, alumni said they quickly warmed to Morse and Stiles, and Campbell said he found the “new college smell” preferable to that of mold and dust in older colleges.
Bell said he came to appreciate the new colleges, in part because Yale made them more attractive by peopling them with “hotshot” faculty members.
“They had all these legendary people there as fellows and masters,” Bell said. “The cafeteria area is small and intimate, and you’re sitting there with Robert Penn Warren.”
Soon, new traditions arose, including a “Strawberry Shortcake Fund” for Morse, after a generous alumnus gave money for the dining hall to provide cake to its students.
Over 50 years later, alumni recall the addition of Morse and Stiles as a relatively easy process, and of the seven alumni interviewed, none said their status as the inaugural class of the new colleges negatively impacted their experiences.
“The fact is, I walk there with a great deal of fondness,” Bell said. “Now that I look back on it, we did fine with Stiles.”
Yale’s latest new colleges are slated to open in 2017.