After a University decision to cut all its funding, Yale’s Climate & Energy Institute will close by the end of June.
The loss of the institute, which for the last eight years has conducted research related to issues of climate change, leaves a hole in climate and energy studies at Yale. Although the Energy Studies academic program will continue within Yale College, students in the YCEI said they were outraged by the budget cuts and subsequent closure of an institute that is one of the only research-focused climate change programs for undergraduates on campus. The announcement came in a Monday afternoon email to the YCEI community from institute co-directors and geology and geophysics professors David Bercovici and Jay Ague, and follows years of cuts to the institute’s funding, according to students involved in the organization.
“While not all good things have to come to an end, sometimes they just do,” Bercovici and Ague wrote. “The YCEI will stop activities and close up shop as of June 30, 2016.”
The YCEI was founded in 2008 with the backing of then-University President Richard Levin. Since then, the institute has hosted conferences, fostered collaborations across science departments and between universities outside of Yale, as well as supported scholarships and postdoctoral fellowships that address the changing climate. The institute also supplied undergraduates with a database of energy-related internships. Bercovici and Ague wrote that the YCEI was founded with “overwhelming enthusiasm from faculty and students across campus.” Bercovici and Ague declined to comment Monday night, citing time constraints.
Students interviewed said that while the YCEI was clearly a priority under Levin, administrative support has dwindled recently. They said they were infuriated by the announced closure and skeptical that it was closing because of insufficient funding.
“It can’t be a budget thing. It can’t be. I don’t want to say that Yale doesn’t support [the YCEI], but … I think it’s the administration’s lack of interest,” said YCEI New Haven Energy Scholar Intern Matthew Goldklang ’16. “I had no idea we were going to be completely cut. It’s really sad.”
He added that he has received emails from YCEI alumni who were furious with the announcement, and he said there are many undergraduates who are also upset.
The YCEI had an extensive budget under Levin’s administration, Goldklang said. Although Goldklang did not provide specific figures, he said the YCEI had enough money to pay its student fellows, fund research and create new classes in the Energy Studies Program.
The institute was one of the few groups on campus that regularly engaged with Yale administrators to solve issues of climate change, Goldklang said.
The announced closure left students in the institute with unanswered questions about why the formerly thriving group had its funding cut. University Provost Benjamin Polak — who is currently engaged in annual budget talks with every area of campus — did not respond Monday to questions about the reasons for the YCEI’s funding cuts. Salovey was also unavailable for comment Monday evening.
One possible explanation for the end of the YCEI is that the institute did not generate many alumni donations, Goldklang said. James Barile ’18, who is involved with the YCEI through a solar energy initiative, said the University appeared to be shifting away from undergraduate climate change research, which he said is not very public, toward climate change initiatives that are “more showy.”
YCEI conference organizer Jared Milfred ’16 speculated that the YCEI may have been viewed as redundant or doing research that overlapped with other science departments on campus. The School of Forestry & Environmental Studies and the Energy Sciences Institute at West Campus conduct similar climate studies to the YCEI, although they do not engage with undergraduates to the same extent as the YCEI, Milfred said.
Barile said the institute’s budget had been cut in half over the last three consecutive years.
“They eventually cut funding so much that it just became buying food,” Barile said.
Milfred also said he was aware of drops in the budget in the past few years, but said he had believed these cuts were in line with reductions at comparable institutes across the University.
“I never realized that the YCEI was being targeted specifically,” Milfred said.
Former YCEI New Haven Energy Scholar Intern Sandra Medrano ’15 also said the news completely surprised her, adding that she had no idea what caused the institute’s demise.
The budget cuts also follow a leadership transition in the YCEI administration: Current executive director and geology and geophysics research scientist Michael Oristaglio ’74 took over the position from Mark Pagani, his colleague in the department, last summer.
The YCEI’s closure leaves behind a hole for students who are interested in climate change issues academically, but are not interested in activist causes like Fossil Free Yale, Goldklang said.
“I really appreciated the resources, both financial and intellectual, that the YCEI had,” Milfred said. “I learned quite a lot from YCEI staff.”
Before the institute closes, the YCEI faculty advisory committee will help students in the senior class finish their requirements for the program, Oristaglio said in a Monday email to YCEI undergraduates.
The Energy Studies Program may fill some of the space left by the YCEI, and students will have a chance to think of ways that Energy Studies can evolve at a series of dinners through the rest of the semester, Oristaglio wrote. The first such dinner took place last week, and students generated ideas about how to bolster the Energy Studies curriculum and strengthen the sense of community between students in the program.
There are a number of University climate change initiatives that were instituted more recently than the YCEI. In December 2015, Yale became the first American university to establish a system of “carbon charges” on some of its buildings.
The Yale School of Forestry & Environmental Studies was founded in 1900.