When Alphonse “Buddy” Fletcher Jr. FES ’04 enrolled in Yale’s School of Forestry and Environmental Studies, he had what the school’s Director of Development Eugenie Gentry called “an unusual profile” for a graduate student.
He was 38 and already had an established career as the chairman of the Wall Street firm Fletcher Asset Management, which he founded. But his extensive experience investing in environmentally conscious start-up companies drew him to the school’s one-year midcareer master’s degree program.
Fletcher became even more unusual when, just before his graduation, he pledged $50 million to a variety of charitable and environmental causes.
Fletcher’s donations commemorated the 50th anniversary of Brown v. Board of Education, and the environment school has been one of the recipients of his largesse. At the time of his pledge, Fletcher said he wanted money to advance the spirit of the Brown decision, which declared segregation in schools to be illegal. His gifts to Yale have so far gone to support scholarships in the field of environmental justice, which deals with environmentally-based challenges faced by disadvantaged communities.
The full amount of Fletcher’s donation to the Environment School is not yet clear, as Fletcher has yet to allocate all the money among the different groups he has promised to support. For now, the school offers three annual partial scholarships to qualified “Fletcher Fellows,” who are minorities or come from communities underrepresented in the School.
Environment School Dean Gus Speth said Fletcher’s gift is significant because the school’s resources are more scarce than those of Yale College.
“We cannot say ‘If you get in, we will make sure you have the resources to come here,’” Speth said. “One of my priorities is to increase resources for scholarships, and Buddy’s gift has been important in doing that.”
With the help of Fletcher and others, funds for scholarships have more than quadrupled since 2000, with 71 percent of the student body currently receiving some form of aid.
Fletcher has also helped to recruit and mentor some minority students at the school. Fletcher Fellow Emily Enderle FES ’07 said she would not have been able to afford her tuition without the donor’s help. She thanks him in the foreword of her new book “Diversity and the Future of the U.S. Environmental Movement,” which she published with Fletcher’s academic and financial support.
“In the environmental movement we are often told that diversity is important, but no one tells you why,” Enderle said. “In order to save the environment, we need to engage all communities in things like climate control … diverse groups do better at creative problem solving.”
Fletcher’s support is one of a number of steps being taken by students, administrators and faculty to bolster diversity in the environment school. Over the past eight years, percentages of female and minority faculty both doubled, and Speth said further increasing diversity is one of his top priorities.
“Yale is a member of the Ivy League, a very traditional institution, that is being given an opportunity to prove that it really is able to serve all people, through research and programs in environmental justice,” Carson said.
The school hosted an inclusivity training workshop last year, a speaker series in 2006 called Shades of Green that brought a diverse group of prominent leaders to campus, and programs to encourage successful minority alumni to return to the school and share their experiences.
“The school is doing really interesting things in the diversity arena, and Buddy is part of the inspiration for that,” Gentry said.
Much of Fletcher’s aid to Yale has gone to students studying environmental justice. Emmett Carson, President and CEO of the Silicon Valley Community Foundation and an authority on charitable giving by African-Americans, said these conditions, including poor air and water quality and homes in low-lying areas, are often ignored by the environmental movement at large.
“[Environmental justice] combines a major issue of our time, the environment, with the issues of racial and social equality,” he said.
Carson said Fletcher’s giving is fairly anomalous in the world of black philanthropy.
“First, Buddy is not an athlete or an entertainer. He is not known in the public arena, though very successful in his field,” he said. “Second, he is giving at a very young age … and thirdly, he is identifying that there is still work to be done.”