Decades ago, preparations were already underway to expand Yale’s undergraduate community through the creation of two new residential colleges. In the years since, different plans have come and gone, but the vision, as first formed by former University President Richard Levin, has remained the same: expand the footprint of Yale College, thereby giving more students the opportunity to receive a Yale education.
With the opening of Pauli Murray and Benjamin Franklin colleges this fall, that goal has finally come to fruition. In August, the University welcomed its largest class of new undergraduates in Yale’s history. But the long and winding road to move-in day was strewn with unexpected setbacks, both on the local and global levels, and at several points, the success of the project was put in jeopardy.
“It was very clear that President Levin wanted to know what the faculty thought, and what we talked a lot about it, but at the same time, we’re practical and we realize that some of these things couldn’t be achieved,” said William Sledge, former head of Calhoun and chairman of the Council of Masters.
In 1998, former University President Richard Levin presented the Corporation with a list of goals for the school in the upcoming years, one of which was to build two new residential colleges. Two years later, in a report titled “A Framework for Campus Planning,” the University proposes that the region north of Grove Street Cemetery be used as a residential area. The report marks it as one of six initiatives that holds a “special significance” to Yale’s campus, but the project languished for more than half a decade.
Plans progressed in 2007, when Levin formed a committee on student life and academic resources to advise him and the Yale Corporation. The committee was to evaluate how the University could prevent an expansion of the college system from diminishing the quality of the undergraduate experience. The following year, the group released a report with a set of recommendations for the president and Corporation: eliminate the practice of junior and senior housing annexing, increase the faculty size and develop the Prospect Street area.
Sledge told the News that he trusted former President Levin to take their recommendations to heart.
Faced with the prospect of several hundred students one day residing so far away from the other colleges, Sledge — who was also chair of the student life committee — predicted that the new colleges would shift the heart of campus further north. To anticipate the surge in student traffic on Science Hill, Sledge and his committee colleagues immediately called for the creation of “appealing” routes north of Grove Street to the proposed new colleges by adding attractive “stepping-stone” locations along the way.
FACING THE CEMETERY
The quite literal path to the new colleges, however, soon faced roadblocks. The imposing presence of the centuries-old Grove Street Cemetery prevented a clear-cut route to the new college site.
Established in 1797, the cemetery has long been recognized as an important monument in New Haven and American history, and in 2000 was designated as a National Historic Landmark by the U.S. Department of the Interior. Prominent Yale affiliates, including 14 former University presidents, are buried in the cemetery. And when Sledge broached the idea of building a path through the cemetery to ease foot traffic, the cemetery’s board blocked the plan.
“I was very strongly interested in having people walk through the cemetery,” Sledge said, adding that many University officials were in favor of the option. “The cemetery board had a fit over that idea.”
According to cemetery board member and New Haven historian Judith Schiff, the board’s rationale for rejecting the pathway was about more than the fear of what Sledge called the potential for “desecration of some sort.”
Schiff, who also serves as the University’s chief research archivist, noted that the two key reasons the proposal was deemed unfeasible were the topography of any potential route and concerns regarding student safety.
“The topography inside the cemetery does not match the outside streets. You would have had to go up a very steep incline,” Schiff said. “The other problem is security. The longer any route in the cemetery would have been open, the more chance there would be for people to get locked in at night and to be in places where they shouldn’t be.”
In the face of these concerns about building a route through the cemetery, Sledge and his colleagues revised their initial plans, choosing to combat effects of increased traffic through the provision of increased Yale shuttle services.
Specifically, the report proposed Yale obtain 15-passenger vans to travel to and from Science Hill and develop a website that would allow students to track the locations of the shuttles. According to a News article from 2009, the shuttle service did add bus routes to and from Science Hill, although this may have been due to an increase in Yale employees living in the area. And students can now track the locations of the shuttles directly from their cell phones, a reality which may have been hard to conceive of in 2009.
Schiff said the University has helped improve the landscape near the cemetery and has made surrounding pathways in the area more accessible.
“It is great that we were able to work everything out,” Schiff said, adding that Yale’s collaborative attitude throughout the process, coupled with the University’s support for city residents through tuition and mortgage assistance, has put town-gown relations in very good shape.
CHALLENGES TO COME
Still, some of the committee’s initial goals have not yet been met.
In particular, the committee members stressed the importance of eliminating annexing of juniors and seniors to Old Campus and Swing Space. Because these changes depend on the percentage of students who live off campus each year, Yale administrators must work each year to determine whether the census of each residential college has changed.
But despite the opening of the new colleges this fall, 14 students remain annexed, according to Yale College Director of Strategic Communications Paul McKinley. Four Berkeley College students are annexed to Grace Hopper College and Lawrance Hall, while eight students from Jonathan Edwards College are living in Vanderbilt Hall in Old Campus. In addition, one student from Morse College was annexed to Saybrook College, and one Pierson College student was annexed to Pauli Murray College.
Sledge acknowledged that uncertainties and complexities still remain regarding the impact of the expansion of Yale College.
“It’s going to be hard to say how this is all going to work out, but it will be different. And how different, we’ll find out,” said Sledge.
Nevertheless, Sledge said the committee’s most important recommendation was to follow through with the building of the new colleges. And in this, he said, Yale succeeded.
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