Final plans for the renovation of Morse and Ezra Stiles colleges are not up for approval at this week’s meeting of the Yale Corporation, according to University President Richard Levin. The disclosure quells the concerns in both colleges that the University might finalize the scope of the overhaul before students or faculty have any say in the matter.
A week ago, architect Stephen Kieran ’73 stood in front of the Morse College fellows, ready to show faculty fellows preliminary plans for what promises to be the most difficult residential-college renovation undertaken thus far. But the fellows did not like everything they saw — “We nearly had a riot,” one professor said — and rumors quickly spread in Morse and Stiles that the University might approve plans for the renovations at this week’s Corporation meeting.
Students in both colleges said they have not yet had an opportunity to weigh in on the renovations. But administrators said students’ and fellows’ worries are unfounded.
“Final approvals for the project are more than a year away,” Levin told the News this week.
The renovation, Yale Associate Vice President for Construction and Renovation Jerry Warren said, is only “in the early stages of the design process.”
The project is of particular significance to students and faculty fellows in Morse and Stiles because the design of the colleges — the only two of Yale’s 12 to be built in modern style — has been a focus of complaints over the years, both from residents and from other Yalies who derided their architecture.
After initially deciding not to give the colleges a yearlong renovation, the University changed course in spring 2006 and budgeted $150 million for the job.
But several fellows, who asked not to be named because their meetings are private, said this money might not be entirely well spent, particularly because of a controversial decision to relocate the Morse dean’s apartment and faculty offices.
“[Professors] were somewhat frustrated that it seemed like the plans were pretty far along,” one fellow present at the meeting said. “It was very clear that he didn’t want any criticism,” another fellow added, referring to Kieran, who did not return a telephone message for comment.
Word appeared to spread to students about the renovations, and rumors that students would not be consulted before the Corporation’s vote began to circulate.
That perception had students up in arms.
“Students have the most intimate knowledge of how all of Morse fits together,” said Tom Schnitzer ’10, a Morse resident who e-mailed the News about the rumors last week. “Looking at plans or walking through the halls, you can’t get a sense of how it is to live there.”
“They haven’t been very forthcoming about the renovation,” added Anna Smith ’10, another Morse resident.
Council of Masters Chair Judith Krauss, the master of the newly renovated Silliman College, said student contributions led to substantive design changes over the course of her college’s renovation process.
Krauss pointed to the buttery as one example of student ideas’ leading directly to the final form a space took. She said the Silliman blueprints ran through hundreds of iterations even after the Yale Corporation voted to approve the renovation.
And just as the plans go through many stages because of their complexity, they are also presented to the corporation in many phases, Deputy Provost Charles Long said.
That is how the administration plans to address the Morse and Stiles renovations, Levin said.
Although the University does not typically reveal the agenda of a Corporation meeting in advance, Levin said the Corporation is not scheduled to vote on anything approaching final blueprints for the college renovation.
Instead, the Corporation will vote on a request to authorize additional funds to complete the development of the renovations’ design work over the next year, he said.
While the concerns in Morse and Stiles over the last week may have been a false alarm, Yale College Dean Peter Salovey told the News that administrators will actively seek out student feedback. The masters of the two colleges said they share that goal.
“I have been assured that input from students and fellows will be taken into account as part of the design process,” Morse Master Frank Keil said. “This is clearly a very important component of the larger program of creating the best possible renovation for our community.”
In Stiles, too, that will be the case.
“The hope here is to bring these plans to the students to get their input, because no one will know better how the college works than they will,” Stiles Master Stuart Schwartz said.
Even as students lobby for more input on the renovation process, few will actually enjoy the fruits of the renovation.
Because Morse will be renovated during the 2009-’10 academic year and Stiles during 2010-’11, only current Morse freshmen will get to experience life in a renovated college.
-Zachary Abrahamson and Martine Powers contributed reporting.