A friend of mine from the University of Michigan told me about an interesting innovation at that institution. In addition to the standard crop of freshmen looking forward to their careers each year, Michigan also has a new batch of students enjoying their retirement. A movement is afoot throughout the country to establish alumni villages. These retirement communities, which would offer high-end condominiums to alumni and emeritus faculty, would allow alumni to retire not only to the canasta tables of Fort Lauderdale, but to philosophy classes as well.
The idea, which has been successful at other universities, would be a winner for Yale and New Haven.
Alumni villages that are cropping up elsewhere (including a new one forming at Stanford) follow relatively standard models. Universities allot a plot of land, most often one near hiking grounds and other natural resources, to build a series of condominiums for alumni. Community activities take place near these homes and offer a chance for retirees to enjoy each other’s company in a standard retirement setting. However, the added benefit of being near the university allows alumni to benefit from and give to the academic community.
An alumni village would allow Yale graduates to return to the classroom and bring their expertise to current undergraduates. Faculty members might offer lectures at the village, and students could develop stronger bonds with the alumni world. Although downtown New Haven would not offer a particularly idyllic setting, a village could easily be built on Yale owned property a shuttle bus ride away. Additionally, emeritus faculty could maintain a strong campus presence and connection to the University while having the chance to enjoy a charming new environment.
Bringing in such revenue to Yale would also provide new revenue for the city and stimulate revitalization efforts in the city. Currently, New Haven is far from being an ideal retirement location. However, if a large number of retirees descended upon the city, it would most likely respond positively to the increased population. Such retirees would continue to strengthen Yale’s ties to the community by filling roles both of townies and of Yalies.
Finally, students would have contact with a strong network of alumni. Currently, the most contact that students receive with Old Blues comes from the occasional dinner at Mory’s. However, watching alums from the Class of ’45 drain a Mory’s cup does little to unite generations of Yalies. Furthermore, events such as reunions occur after undergraduates leave for the summer. If alumni were to become an active part of campus life, the bonds between different eras of Yalies would strengthen immensely.
Would such a plan work? Absolutely.
Precedent at other universities reflects national desire for alumni to return to their alma mater. More specifically, for Yale, the recent success of the online course alliance between Yale, Stanford and Oxford shows a growing interest in education after graduation. Alumni are reveling in the chance to enjoy courses that undergraduates quite often take for granted. AYA tours of the world are always filled with whole families who wish to travel the Mediterranean with Yale faculty. And the sight of weeping alumni singing “Bright College Years” at reunions is a testament to how much Yale means to so many.
I encourage Yale to take this step toward strengthening and expanding the active Yale community. By acting in this way, Yale will truly fulfill the oft-cited quotation by former Yale historian George Pierson that “Yale is at once a tradition, a company of scholars, a society of friends” — friendships which last not merely four years, but for a lifetime.
Justin Zaremby is a senior in Calhoun College. His column appears regularly on alternate Wednesdays.