After years of negotiations, Yale may finally secure a substantial gift from Larry Kramer ’57, a prominent gay alumnus whose gift the University turned down just four years ago, said Provost Alison Richard, Yale’s chief academic and financial officer.
Kramer’s donation will likely be directed toward expanding gay and lesbian studies at Yale, but is not likely to include an endowed professorship or a new gay and lesbian student center, said Marianne LaFrance, chair of the Funds for Lesbian and Gay Studies committee.
In July 1997, the University turned down Kramer’s offer to endow a professorship in gay and lesbian studies and to build a gay student center. The national media seized on the story and widely decried Yale’s lack of progressiveness in academia.
But negotiations did not completely disintegrate, and despite tense relations between Kramer and top administrators, Kramer never eliminated the option of giving money to Yale.
As recently as two weeks ago, sources said the disagreement between Kramer and the University was so tense that Kramer had decided not to make any gift to his alma mater. But tensions quickly cooled, and now LaFrance said negotiations are “nearing closure” and that Kramer is soon to hand over money to Yale.
“We hit a bump in the road, but we drove on past,” said Richard, referring to the recent clash. She added the details of Kramer’s gift will soon be finalized.
Kramer declined to comment for this story.
A New York-based author and playwright, Kramer is a founding father of the gay rights and AIDS movements. Sources close to Kramer said he is in the advanced stages of AIDS. Sources also said the University’s prolonged deliberations about his gift were the driving source of his recent contempt for the University. Kramer was diagnosed with HIV in 1988.
“[Kramer] was not pleased with the glacial response of Yale,” said LaFrance, whose committee is charged with creating lecture and film series, bringing in guest speakers, supporting libraries and museums, and funding undergraduate and graduate research. “Now the University, from the top, has unequivocally endorsed an initiative in gay and lesbian studies.”
Nearly four years ago, the University rejected Kramer’s offer on the grounds that gay and lesbian studies was too new an academic discipline to establish a permanent chair for the subject.
Kramer told the Yale Daily News in 1997 that the isolation he felt as a gay undergraduate at Yale drove him to attempt suicide. At the time, Kramer launched vicious attacks on University administrators, claiming the institution was homophobic and calling Yale President Richard Levin “spineless” and Richard “that termagent woman.”
But now it seems Kramer and University officials are beginning to see eye-to-eye.
“This is the first time that there’s been a real commitment on the part of the University to work something out,” LaFrance said. She added that it took a lot of phone calls and e-mails to smooth out recent tensions.
LaFrance said a professorship is not the only way to expand gay and lesbian studies. She cited adding courses, fellowships, undergraduate research support and bringing conventions to campus as additional ways to promote the academic field.
The Kramer affair is not the first time the University has fumbled a major gift from a prominent alumnus. In 1995, the University returned a $20 million gift from Texas billionaire Lee Bass ’79 that was earmarked to start a program in Western Civilization. Bass said he rescinded his offer because Yale did not act quickly enough on his request to create the program, but the University said Bass had attached too many conditions for the gift’s use.