That Yale has hundreds of millions of dollars set aside for college renovations is no secret. But for tulips? Oranges? Broadway shows?
The answer: yes, yes and yes again. Yale, though, leaves those to the colleges — at least those that have “restricted endowments” set aside for specific items or activities.
As the only residential college to have established its own endowment, Jonathan Edwards College is notorious for being armed with endless funds. While the JE trust does give the college a financial leg up, much of that funding is actually tied down to specific stipulations.
Case in point: the Tulip Fund. Every fall, JE hosts an event during which students fill the courtyard with tulip bulbs paid for by a particular donor, students said. The event, which also includes pumpkin carving, both celebrates the fall and encourages students to look forward to spring, when the tulips will bloom. While one student interviewed said he thinks this is a strange use of college assets, Rahul Dalal ’11 called it a quintessential JE experience.
JE College Council President Simone Berkower ’09 said she thinks the tulip fund serves an important purpose in the college.
“The tulips just improve the community aspect of the college, and it’s something you can see every day,” she said.
Through Culture Draw, another JE tradition funded by a restricted endowment, students can win lotteries to attend events including Broadway plays, opera performances and New York Philharmonic concerts. Students pay their own train fare to the city, but once they arrive at Grand Central Station, everything else is on the college including a fancy pre-show dinner in the city.
While JE may have the largest number of restricted gifts, it is not the only residential college that sets aside funds for specific uses.
Branford College Master Steven Smith said although Branford does not have a fund quite as eccentric as the JE tulip fund, it does have the George Lincoln Henrickson Lectureship Fund, which is set aside to sponsor a lecture by a visiting classicist. The fund, he said, was established in 1961 in honor of Hendrickson, who was the Lampson Professor of Latin and Greek Literature.
In Davenport, a Sean Fenton Memorial Fellowship offers a group of Davenport students a chance for a $2,500 subsidy to travel in search of “a common goal or passion,” according to the fellowship brochure. A recent group of students used the money to see Bob Barker on “The Price is Right” before he retired in June 2007.
This fellowship, though, also has a bit of history. Every January, the college hosts the Sean Fenton ’04 Memorial Orange Juice Festival, during which the Davenport master’s office purchases ten large crates of oranges and sets out juicers for students to make their own orange juice.
The festival commemorates Fenton, a Davenport student who died in a car accident in 2003. Davenport Master’s assistant Barbara Munck said every year at school, Fenton would order a crate of fresh oranges to be delivered to his dorm room, which he and his friends would use to host a party to offset the cold, dark New England winter.
Events like the Orange Juice Festival, Munck said, helps strengthen the Davenport college community.
“We celebrate to remember who Sean was — a great friend,” she said. “It shows what is so important about the residential college system.”
Students said this spirit of camaraderie is a key part of a Yale education, and eccentric funds — whether for tulips or oranges — play a significant role in promoting a cohesive spirit on campus.
Although Holly Butler ’12 said she has yet to experience the Orange Juice Festival herself, she said the tradition intrigued her as one of many quirky “Wow, I’m at Yale” moments to which she is looking forward.
But some students question whether restricting funds prevents them from being used where they are most needed.
Erica Schild ’12 said she thinks it makes sense for donors to personalize their gifts to strengthen aspects of campus life with which they personally identify.
“For instance, if that person likes science, they can invest in a science building,” she said. “It is good for the donor to reflect what he or she did while at Yale is their gift.”
But Schild added, “I don’t get why they would want to spend money on tulips, though.”
Schild and other students said they think overly eccentric gifts can be avoided if masters work closely with donors in gift planning.
“Instead being donated to random or strange things, the money can go to books or something,” said Laure Flapan ’12, who added that monetary gifts should have practical effect on the University.
Some colleges, though, simply don’t have the luxury of restricted funds.
Morse College, for example, has a smaller range of their funds that the college’s Master Frank Keil said makes the college grateful for the money that they do have. Keil said in an e-mail that Morse does have money for general-purpose fellowships for summer study and travel.
“We would of course be delighted to receive funds that would enable us to have fresh squeezed orange juice or dramatic flower beds as well,” Master Keil wrote in an e-mail.
Although initially surprised by some of the strange gifts, Flapan, a Piersonite, said she has realized they help make the Yale experience so unique.
“It is sort of a respect for the quirky and at times the weird elements,” she said. “We may not understand why a particular donor does the things he does, but we respect [his wishes].”