Science Hill faculty grappling with budget cuts and deficits have turned their magnifying glasses towards a plot of land ten miles away: West Campus.
In 2000, under former University President Richard Levin, Yale made a $1 billion commitment to improving science teaching and upgrading its research facilities. The largest addition came in 2007, when Yale acquired West Campus from Bayer Pharmaceuticals for $109 million — a bargain for 136 acres in West Haven of fully furnished modern research and office facilities. Levin called the property Yale’s “Louisiana Purchase.”
When the endowment lost nearly a quarter of its value a year later, West Campus suffered with the rest of Yale. In the wake of the recession, the University’s faculty hiring and lab growth for West Campus was substantially reduced, said Scott Strobel, vice president of West Campus planning and program development.
But, he said the University has nevertheless remained committed to seeing the development of West Campus as a preeminent cross-disciplinary, cutting-edge scientific research facility play out at a manageable rate.
Indeed, over the last few years, progress has arrived. Last year, the campus filled its sixth and final institute directorship, played host to over 1,000 college students from across the country and Canada during the University’s first hackathon, Y-Hack, and became the new home of the Yale School of Nursing.
But some faculty in the chemistry and molecular, cellular and developmental biology departments say Yale’s interest in the campus is misdirected. Several faculty members have labeled West Campus a “budget sink,” and say the administration has not been transparent in developing West Campus.
DEALING WITH THE DEFICIT
West Campus has been under budget each year since its founding, Strobel said. The budget has also remained the same since it was presented to the University budget committee several years ago.
President Salovey said about $33 million in general appropriations supports all the activities on West Campus — considerably less than what is spent annually for science on either Science Hill or the School of Medicine.
Provost Benjamin Polak could not be reached for comment regarding West Campus’ finances.
Several faculty members argue that there is a similarity between the size of Yale’s central budget operating deficits and the operating costs of West Campus.
Chemistry professor Peter Moore ’61 said that there have been significant budget cuts on central campus to take care of the deficit, including salary freezes and cuts in faculty positions. At the same time, it has been “full steam ahead in West Haven.” He added that there is a “remarkable similarity” between the costs of operating West Campus and the magnitude of the deficits Yale has been running in recent years.
“It is hard not to draw the conclusion that resources are being transferred from New Haven to West Haven,” Moore said in an email.
According to Strobel, West Campus has experienced greater financial cuts than the rest of the University in the years after the recession. Last spring, he said, the campus’ reserves were cut by $3 million, its annual budget cut by $2.5 million and its continuing budget cut by $300,000.
The campus also receives funding through facilities and operations and the University’s general account, with additional funding from two gifts of $25 million each for the Institute for the Preservation of Cultural Heritage and Energy Sciences Institute.
“You have to think about it as an investment in the future,” said biophysics and biochemistry professor Julien Berro, who holds an appointment on West Campus. “They’re not pouring money down the drain.In the short term, you’re spending money, but in the long term the idea is that this money will be paid back.”
Chemistry professor Seth Herzon discouraged making assessments of the campus so early in its development. Until its researchers have produced a larger body of science and scholarship, judgment should be withheld, he said.
“World-class intellectual centers, whether institutions within a larger environment or discrete entities, are rarely built and established overnight, if ever,” he said in an email.
In the meantime, Herzon said that the Chemistry department has been able to hire three “outstanding” junior faculty to lab positions on West Campus.
Faculty members were quick to note that West Campus has encouraged the University to grow the sciences. Chemistry professor Gary Brudvig said that because there is little room for expansion on the main campus, West Campus serves as a mechanism to expand the sciences’ physical space.
“It is highly unlikely that we could have made the same number of appointments in the absence of the West Campus,” Herzon wrote. “The West Campus has catalyzed growth of the faculty.”
Andre Levchenko, biomedical engineering professor and director of West Campus’ Systems Biology Institute, said West Campus was among his primary motivations for coming to Yale from Johns Hopkins.
Most attractive to him and other prospective faculty are its resources, the genomics facility in particular, that are available to all of Yale, as well as ample opportunities for scientific collaboration across fields.
“It’s an intellectual refuge for people,” Levchenko said. “A sanctuary for research where people do interesting things that really benefits
FOR SOME, AN UNCERTAIN VISION
As their eyes turn to West Campus, some faculty, including MCDB professor Joel Rosenbaum, say their view of the campus’ prospects has been obscured by a lack of administrative transparency.
Rosenbaum said the administration has never shared the financial details of West Campus with faculty.
“As far as the West Campus goes, I would like to see its success, but not at the expense of the main home campus,” Rosenbaum said. “I think the faculty of Yale FAS deserves to see some detailed financial accounting for what has actually gone into the West Campus so far, and what is projected. Only then can we determine if the severe budget cutting of campus departments is being done for the sake of keeping the West Campus floating, let alone building it up.”
Still, beyond the resources consumed by West Campus, other faculty said they are aware of no clear strategy for its future development.
Moore said that several years elapsed between the time Yale purchased West Campus and when the University articulated a vision for the facility.
“We are stuck with it now, and one can only hope that in the long run it will prove to be an asset, rather than the liability it so clearly is today,” he said.
In Moore’s view, Yale’s fate as an institution of higher education will be determined by what happens within proximity of the New Haven Green. Resources that are diverted, no matter their use, from the main campus negatively impact the University, he said.
Rosenbaum added that because many of the new hires on West Campus are primarily motivated by the research work of the individual, the focus on undergraduate teaching of Yale College might suffer. That undermines one of the main missions of the faculty in Yale College, Rosenbaum said.
But West Campus is here to stay, faculty acknowledged.
“The distance between exits 41 and 48 will always be there,” Herzon said. “The key is to do everything we can to close the gap and make the interactions between the two campuses as functional and flawless as possible.”
The Yale Biology Building, the University’s next largest planned expansion of the sciences, is set to be completed in August 2019.