The 14-story tower of the Hall of Graduate Studies will be named in honor of Yale’s longtime Chief Investment Officer, David Swensen.
On Wednesday, the University announced that it had secured the first major donation for the Hall of Graduate Studies renovation and refurbishment, in which the building will likely be converted into a “new home for the humanities.” The $25 million donation, which was given by Lisbet Rausing and Peter Baldwin ’78, will be used to help cover the building expenses associated with the project, according to Provost Benjamin Polak, who first announced the refurbishment in January. Though Polak said there is still a lot of work to be done in planning and securing capital for the project, the gift marks a “big step” in both affirming the importance of the humanities at Yale and honoring the contributions of Swensen to the University.
“It is a very iconic tower — you can see it from everywhere — and I like the idea that it is named for [Swensen],” Polak said. “[Swensen] believes incredibly strongly in the mission of the University — it is why he does the job he does — and he deeply believes in the strength of the humanities as part of that core mission.”
Swensen said he is deeply humbled by the honor and that Rausing and Baldwin deserve the gratitude of all who care about the role of the humanities in higher education.
He added that the naming is particularly special for him since he lived in the Hall of Graduate Studies during his first year as a graduate student in 1975. Moreover, Swensen said it was in the Hall of Graduate Studies where he met with then-Provost Bill Brainard in 1984 to discuss his return to Yale as manager of the University endowment.
“At a time when too many measure the value of a degree in dollars and cents, [Rausing] and [Baldwin] remind us that Yale teaches much that may not lead directly to monetary gain, but enriches us nonetheless,” Swensen wrote in an email to the News. “I find it difficult to express the depth of my gratitude to [Rausing] and [Baldwin] for their support for the humanities at Yale and for their designation of this signal honor to me.”
This year marks the 30th anniversary of Swensen’s leadership of the Yale Investments Office, during which he has helped grow Yale’s endowment from $1.3 billion to its nominal high of $23.9 billion, as of June 30, 2014.
Polak said the conversion of HGS is a major undertaking for the University and may take seven to eight years to complete. Still, he said the timeline for the project ultimately depends on the completion of the new graduate and professional school housing complex on Elm Street, which is expected to open in 2017.
Polak added that work on the building will be completed in phases.
“[This project] is more than just a renovation because what were once bedrooms will have to be converted to offices — and that is not such a big deal — but we will [also] have to create spaces in there that are appropriate for colloquia, spaces that are going to make this work for the humanities, not just for faculty, but for the students as well,” Polak said.
As part of these plans, in January, Polak and Dean of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences Tamar Gendler appointed Amy Hungerford, professor of English and American studies and divisional director for the humanities, to lead a committee to explore “the feasibility and desirability” of this central home for the humanities.
Over the past months, Hungerford said the committee has visited with nearly half of the humanities departments to solicit ideas about how space and programming can be utilized in ways that can have “a transformative effect” on the humanities at Yale. She said the committee has upcoming consultations with humanities graduate students, and plans to reach out to staff and undergraduates as well.
“This generous gift helps makes it possible to go forward with the quality of renovation that would make HGS a place where faculty and students will want to gather, work and learn,” Hungerford wrote in an email. “Some of this thinking has been truly imaginative — including ways to teach across disciplines, gather faculty and students around collections and promote organic social networks between and within departments.”
Still, planning remains in the early stages of discussion and the committee has not yet asked any departments to commit to relocating to the new space, Hungerford said. She added that while some departments remain attached to their current spaces, others expressed eagerness to consider new possibilities with this move.
Polak said the next step will be to raise money not only for the costs associated with the building project, but to also help fund the programmatic elements of the new facility.
The plan to convert HGS into a “home for the humanities” comes after years of calls for major renovations to the building.
Huasha Zhang GRD ’18, who lives on the ninth floor of the tower, said she felt the condition of HGS was not too bad, and that living in the building fostered a community among graduate students. She added that the structure of the residential spaces in the tower — with dorm rooms connected by a common bathroom — may present difficulty in converting the space to offices.
The $25 million gift by Rausing and Baldwin is not their first major contribution to the University. The couple, who oversee a London charity called the Arcadia Fund, donated $25 million in 2011 to launch the Institute for the Preservation of Cultural Heritage, which is located at the Yale West Campus.
In addition to the HGS tower, the Berkeley College Master’s House was named in honor of Swensen in 2013.
This article has been updated to reflect the version published in print on March 26, 2015.