Yale passes on new financial aid reform — for now

In the wake of Princeton University’s blockbuster announcement that it would adopt a “no-loan” policy for undergraduates and use additional grant money instead to match students’ financial need, Yale administrators were faced with a key decision this winter.

Princeton’s move to boost undergraduate financial aid applied pressure to Yale and other elite institutions to do likewise. When Harvard University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology followed with new financial aid policies of their own, increasing aid without eliminating loans entirely, Yale officials really started to feel the heat.

Despite the pressure, Yale decided — much to the disappointment of undergraduates — that the several million dollars necessary to enact a policy similar to Princeton’s or Harvard’s could not be squeezed out of the University’s operating budget this year.

It was not the first time Yale has been forced to consider reacting to Princeton financial aid initiatives. In 1998, Yale boosted its aid after Princeton announced its intentions to do so. But this time around, Yale administrators simply did not feel Princeton had made a wise decision, noting the move marked a “philosophical shift” with which they did not agree.

Although Yale initially appeared to be indifferent, a University response to the Princeton, Harvard and MIT policy changes is expected this fall. It remains to be seen what form Yale’s financial aid changes will take. Administrators have said they favor the Harvard and MIT responses over Princeton’s initiative.

Mayoral and Ward 1 races heat up

City politics in New Haven heated up this year, as Democratic Mayor John DeStefano Jr. faced his most competitive challenger, and several Yale students vied for an aldermanic nomination.

Last November DeStefano announced his intention to seek a fifth term, just days after State Senator Martin Looney and former mayoral candidate James Newton announced they were considering entering September’s Democratic primary.

In May Newton decided not to run, but Looney has mounted a major challenge to the incumbent. Both men have amassed substantial war chests, although DeStefano has raised considerably more money.

The winner of the Democratic primary will likely face Republican real estate developer Joel Schiavone ’58, who won a court challenge against a city charter residency requirement.

On campus, the announcement by Ward 1 Alderman Julio Gonzalez ’99 last September that he would not seek a third term marked the beginning of a long process to find his successor.

Several students expressed interest in the position, traditionally held by a Yalie. In a seven-hour February nominating convention, the Democratic Ward Committee, made up mostly of students, chose to endorse Ben Healey ’04 over Michael Montano ’03 and Lex Paulson ’02.

Healey has been working with several politicians and students in preparation for the election. Other candidates may still force a primary, but so far nobody has indicated a desire to do so.

Aramark food quality called in to question

An investigation by the Yale Daily News this February revealed that food-services giant Aramark Corp. is lowering the amount it spends on meal production and cutting key foods from the menu while charging Yale more for its services. Many in Yale’s dining services have felt that Aramark, which has an agreement with worldwide food provider Sysco Corp., has reduced food quality and selection to make a profit.

The investigation was prompted by a Feb. 14 press conference at which more than 15 of Yale’s chefs said the company is sacrificing the quality of dining hall food. More expensive items such as shrimp, tenderloin steak and white meat chicken breast have been eliminated, as Aramark planned to cut the average cost of meal production per student from $2.50 to $2.20.

A comparison of similar produce products from Sysco and Fowler-Huntting Co., a local produce provider that formerly serviced all Yale College dining halls, revealed Sysco produce was on average 20 percent more expensive than Fowler-Huntting produce.

Yale hired Philadelphia-based Aramark in 1998 because the company provided the best management and employee training available. But administrators and cooks said privately that Yale hired Aramark so it could get out of the food management business and devote more resources to academic development.

Yale works with Bristol-Myers to make AIDS drug more affordable

Setting a major precedent in bringing drugs to fight the AIDS epidemic in Africa, Yale and drug maker Bristol-Myers Squibb Co. agreed to relax the patent on the Yale-invented AIDS drug d4T in South Africa, allowing other companies to import and produce generic versions of d4T.

With the announcement March 14, Bristol-Meyers became the first pharmaceutical company to allow other companies to produce generic versions of an AIDS drug for which it has exclusive production rights.

In countries like South Africa, the prices charged by pharmaceutical companies have generally been too high to make drugs affordable for most AIDS victims. But now many hope that competition between Bristol-Myers and other generic producers of d4T will drive down the price of the drug to more affordable levels. Bristol-Myers itself also agreed to cut the prices of its South African AIDS drugs.

Yale holds the South African patent for d4T, invented by Yale pharmacologist William Prusoff in the late 1980s. Under South African law, it has the right to grant voluntary licenses to other companies looking to produce generic versions of the drug. But the licensing agreement which Yale and Bristol-Myers had signed prevented either party from unilaterally issuing such a license without potentially being slapped with a lawsuit from the other party.

Yale administrators started discussions about relaxing the patent rights with Bristol-Myers after receiving a mid-February letter from the humanitarian group Doctors Without Borders. After several weeks of negotiation, both parties agreed that relaxing the patent would be the best solution to the Doctors Without Borders request.

Kramer gift ends battle between administration and gay rights activist

After years of contentious negotiation, gay activist Larry Kramer ’57 donated his papers and manuscripts to the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library, and his brother, Arthur Kramer ’49, gave $1 million to the University to fund the Kramer Initiative for Lesbian and Gay Studies at Yale.

The April 2 announcement put an end to a four-year tug-of-war between Larry Kramer and Yale administrators over the details of the potential gift. Talks between Kramer and the University had hit several snags since 1997, but the parties were eventually able to overcome existing problems.

Kramer co-founded the Gay Men’s Health Crisis in 1982 and the AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power, known as ACT UP, in 1987. He was diagnosed as HIV positive in 1989, but does not have AIDS. He is currently suffering from advanced liver disease.

As an undergraduate at Yale in the 1950s, Kramer said he felt rejected because of his sexual orientation and even attempted suicide. He wanted to ensure that others will not have to endure the same situation.

In 1997, when Yale first spurned Kramer’s offer to endow a gay studies chair, he launched vicious attacks on University administrators, calling Yale President Richard Levin “spineless” and Provost Alison Richard “that termagant woman.”

As recently as February, negotiations between Larry Kramer and Yale nearly disintegrated, but Kramer said that former Yale trustee Calvin Trillin ’57 and his brother Arthur “reawakened” his enthusiasm for the gift.

Unions rally around GESO and Yale-New Haven hospital workers

As Yale’s two recognized unions, Local 34 and 35, move ever closer to the expiration of their contracts in January 2002, labor activity has been increasing. An April 20 rally on New Haven Green that more than 1,000 Yale employees attended was the most visible show of union force to date. The gathering coincided with the organizing drives of the Graduate Employees and Students Organization and Yale-New Haven Hospital service and maintenance employees.

The rally called upon Yale and Yale-New Haven Hospital to agree on card-check neutrality for the unionizing drives of teaching assistants and hospital workers.

A neutrality agreement would involve administrators at the University or the hospital saying that they would not speak against unionization and agreeing to recognize a union if a majority of a potential bargaining unit signed statements supporting unionization, called “cards.”

Unless the University or hospital changes its position and agrees to card-check neutrality, a National Labor Relations Board-sponsored secret-ballot election is the most likely way GESO or the hospital workers could gain recognition as a union.

The rally came on the heels of a vote of union support. On March 28, in their first joint meeting since 1996, members of Yale’s two recognized unions, Locals 34 and 35, voted overwhelmingly to support the other members of the Federation of Hospital and University Employees — GESO and the hospital workers — in their organization efforts.

The federation comprises GESO, the union seeking to organize service and maintenance employees at the hospital, and Locals 34 and 35.

With contract negotiations looming and the status of GESO unresolved, union leaders have repeatedly linked the well-being of recognized Yale unions with that of GESO and the hospital workers.

Lasaga finally gets the boot

It took more than one year for Yale to revoke the tenure of and fire former Saybrook Master Antonio Lasaga, who pleaded guilty to two federal pornography charges in February last year.

Despite pressure from the administration and the faculty, the former geology professor would not resign. Yale President Richard Levin convoked the University Tribunal last April, the University-wide disciplinary body that handles the most serious allegations of misconduct by a student or faculty member, and the only authority that could terminate Lasaga’s tenure.

Nine months after it was convoked, the Tribunal recommended to Levin that he fire Lasaga. Levin acted on their recommendation and revoked Lasaga’s tenure in April. Lasaga appealed this ruling to the Yale Corporation, the University’s highest governing body.

A special committee of trustees considered Lasaga’s appeal and announced on April 30 their decision to uphold Levin’s decision to fire Lasaga. He has no right of appeal.

Meanwhile, Lasaga’s criminal trial in federal court has continued despite his guilty pleas to charges of possessing and receiving child pornography in February 2000. In November, Lasaga’s lawyer argued that the possession plea should be invalidated on constitutional grounds.

Judge Alvin W. Thompson has put the motion on hold pending the resolution of a substantially similar case before the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals that could set a binding precedent.