At times, I have been severely critical of the University, particularly relating to its attitude toward this city’s architectural heritage. I also think Yale could follow the example of my alma mater, Smith College, and admit all city residents who qualify academically, tuition-free — both as a thank-you to their taxpaying parents and as a way to help the city by doing what Yale does best, which is educate.
But certainly none of us want to imagine what New Haven would be like without Yale. As a recent Hartford Courant editorial on Connecticut noted, “New Haven, benefiting from Yale University’s presence, has managed to keep its fiscal house in order, though city politicians acknowledge that it lives on the edge.”
The Yale unions recently financed some “research” — serious scholars have questioned its validity — that is being widely touted by a new organization called the Connecticut Center for a New Economy. I went to a neighborhood meeting last week, optimistically — and naively, as it turned but — expecting to participate in a dialogue about what Yale does and should contribute to this community. The meeting was held in a school where Yale students tutor all the third graders, and in an auditorium that a federal grant to Yale helped build. A good place for dialogue, I thought.
But what I experienced was an evening of unionist rallying and anti-Yale venom; as a middle-class white person, I felt palpable resentment and dislike such as I never had experienced at the many other meetings I’ve attended in that school. Something that fans the flame of racial, socio-economic and institutional divide as fiercely as the Center for a New Economy does has a lot to answer for, I fear.
These are the facts: Yale is a University that, like all the other colleges and universities, churches, schools, hospitals, and other qualifying non-profit institutions and organizations in this city and country, is exempt from taxation. For Yale, the exemption is on its educational-use property; the University is still the largest local contributor to the City budget and second largest overall, after only the State.
To claim that Yale “owes” New Haven the difference between what we receive in PILOT funds for lost real property taxes and what those tax receipts would be if Yale were not tax exempt, as the Center for a New Economy has suggested, is just plain foolish. It’s also dangerous, because when it can lead to situations in which people who live in this city turn to me and say, “I hate Yale,” — as one woman did to me Thursday night — feeling justified in her anger by this purported “research,” I am frightened.
Likewise, I am worried when the union Locals 34, 35 and 1199 call America’s centuries-honored tradition of closed ballot voting “an outmoded election process.” But that’s their rallying cry, and it was voiced loud and clear Thursday night as the anger in the room escalated. I can’t help but wonder why? What are they afraid of? I’ve voted for unions twice, both times by secret ballot. The unions won fair and square, both times.
Somehow, as leaders in this city, we have to build bridges, not create chasms, whether it’s between town and gown, or among races, ethnicities and socio-economic strata. We can do no less.
Nancy Ahern is the Ward 25 alderwoman and minority leader on the New Haven Board of Aldermen.