In 2006, the English Department awarded a total of $15,125 to students via the Elmore A. Willets Prize for Fiction. In 2009, that number climbed to $20,750. But by 2013, the Willets Prize awarded a mere $3,000.
Following the financial turmoil of the 2008 recession, the University began to review all of its indentures — legal documents in which donors specify how their money must be used — to see whether existing funds and prizes could be used for broader purposes than they previously had been specified. As part of this financial overhaul, academic prize funds were capped at $1,000 and all 12 residential college budgets were set at the same level. But years later, with the endowment at a nominal high of $23.9 billion as of June 30, 2014, some professors are wondering when, if ever, these funds will be returned.
Portuguese Director of Undergraduate Studies David Jackson explained that formerly, the department used the interest collected from the Malcolm C. Batchelor Fund for Portuguese to fund undergraduate and graduate student travel to Brazil and Portugal, the Lennie Morales Prize given each year to a graduate student, and other activities in the Portuguese program. This fund disappeared following the financial crisis, and Jackson said he is not sure exactly when it might become available again.
“In 2008, they sequestered the Batchelor Fund and also funds from [Jonathan Edwards], and it is unclear when all these funds will be restored,” said Jackson, who is a Jonathan Edwards College fellow.
But Jackson noted that his department was no special case — the Batchelor Fund was just one of many across campus that disappeared. Still, the lack of programmatic funds in the department makes it difficult to compete with peer institutions, he said.
Though Provost Benjamin Polak and Deputy Provost for Academic Resources Lloyd Suttle did not return requests for comment, Suttle said in 2011 that the University needed to find places to cut resources, and that using prizes to support financial aid was a “reasonable strategy.”
Classics Department chair Kirk Freudenburg said that after 2008, departmental prize funds were greatly reduced, adding that he is not aware of any efforts to return these sums to their formerly robust state. This year, he expects that the amounts available for prizes will be the same as those made available last year.
The English Department was impacted as well, with some prize values decreasing by thousands of dollars. But current English Department Prize Committee Chair Stefanie Markovits said English was able to retain more funds than many other departments, likely because the cap restricted the amount awarded per prize, but English awards more prizes than many other departments. English had well over $30,000 of prize money available last year, she said.
Still, she added that she is not aware of any current efforts to recover additional funds, though she plans to broach the subject with her department in the future.
History Department chair Naomi Lamoreaux said that while her department did not lose any prize money to the Provost’s Office, it did lose other funds.
Following Yale’s 2010 announcement that it would redistribute some funds, then-Attorney General Richard Blumenthal LAW ’73 opened a review later that year of the process to ensure Yale did not violate the terms of any indentures. According to Jaclyn Falkowski, spokesperson for the Office of the Attorney General, there is no longer an active investigation, and the office found no violation of donor intent or charitable trust law.
Some professors said that their departments’ prize funds were not cut simply because they already fell under the $1,000 limit prior to the cap. Applied Physics Department chair Douglas Stone said that since his department prizes do not exceed $1,000 and do not come from a specific endowment, there was no “pot of money” to be tapped for the University.
According to Katherine Dailinger, director for national fellowships at the Center for International and Professional Experience, the $1,000 caps apply only to prizes and not to competitive fellowships.
Others expressed less concern over the financial changes made years ago.
According to the 2014 report released by the Yale Investments Office, scholarships, fellowships, and prizes make up 17 percent of Yale’s endowment.