When Benjamin Franklin and Pauli Murray colleges began welcoming hundreds of new student residents last month, the occasion marked the second additional major expansion of the residential college system in the University’s recent history.
Not only is this expansion larger than the growth caused by the addition of Ezra Stiles and Morse colleges, but its aims are also different. Prior to the Ezra Stiles-Morse construction, campus overcrowding was a major concern, while the most recent additions to the college system were built with the intention of creating opportunity for more students to study at Yale. And while the announcement of Yale College’s most recent expansion has been a source of excitement and anxiety for a University community anticipating an 800-strong increase in its student body over the next four years, the construction of Ezra Stiles and Morse colleges in the 1960s was greeted with a rather different emotion: relief.
“Overcrowding in the colleges has currently reached the stage where personal privacy, a precious necessity to any satisfactory intellectual development, is altogether impossible,” read a June 1958 editorial in the News in response to the confirmation of then-President Whitney Griswold that the University would be expanding with two new colleges. “The two new colleges will mean, inevitably, the easing of intolerable and unpardonable tensions which currently mar the University’s business. This will be nothing short of a godsend.”
Facilitating the expansion of the student body was seen as a critical goal when former University President Rick Levin announced the University’s intention to build two more colleges more than a decade ago, bringing the total tally to 14. But at least one of Levin’s predecessors in Woodbridge Hall did not view expansion in a wholly positive light, however.
In a number of addresses and reports prepared during his presidency, Griswold, who served as the University’s 16th president between 1951 and 1963, noted with some trepidation the burgeoning size of Yale College, as well as the challenges for universities across the country in keeping up with post-war American demand for higher education.
At Class Day in 1958, while announcing a gift from his classmate Paul Mellon ’29 that would enable the construction of two new residential colleges, Griswold stressed the importance of Mellon’s donation in maintaining a key aspect of the Yale College experience.
“This magnificent gift is to be reckoned with the Sterling and Harkness benefactions of a generation ago as one of the most important in Yale’s history and as vital to the success of our residential college system as the gifts that founded it,” Griswold told the graduating class of 1958, adding that the gift allowed Yale to address “the serious handicap of overcrowding caused by the 46 percent increase in our total undergraduate body since the war.”
Mellon pledged $15 million to Yale to enhance the University’s residential college system, with Griswold later noting that half of the funds were intended for the construction of two new colleges, and the other half for system-wide enhancements. Combined with the $2.5 million donated by John Hay Whitney ’26 in 1955 to purchase the land on which the colleges were to be built, Mellon’s donation had provided the University with slightly more than the modern-day equivalent of $81 million. By comparison, the current expansion — funded entirely by donations, unlike Ezra Stiles and Morse — was slated to have cost between $500 and $600 million, by the value of the dollar in 2013. Donations for Franklin and Murray colleges included a $250 million gift from Charles Johnson ’54, the largest single gift in Yale’s history.
Griswold said that Yale would only see a modest increase in the size of its student body as a result of the Ezra Stiles-Morse expansion. In his annual report to alumni published in November 1958, Griswold wrote that the new colleges would facilitate the housing of 400 Yalies who would have otherwise resided in one of the 10 original colleges. He added that the expansion would initially allow 100 more students to attend Yale College — eight times less than the increase planned with this year’s expansion, for less than a sixth of the cost.
“It was a pretty tight budget for those times — the University couldn’t really afford something more expensive anyway,” said University Chief Research Archivist and long-term New Haven resident Judith Schiff in reference to the construction cost for Ezra Stiles and Morse. “Yale is talked about so much now as a place with a great amount of capital at its disposal, but the school was living pretty close to the bone in the ’50s and ’60s.”
Schiff, who attended Hillhouse High School before the school’s original Broadway Street site was replaced two new residential colleges, said that the design for the colleges took many by surprise when the buildings opened in 1961.
Built in a pre-Gothic Tuscan style with a modern interpretation by Finnish architect Eero Saarinen ARC ’34, the buildings deviated significantly from the architectural style and living arrangements in the existing colleges. Schiff said that the design caused some consternation, especially among students.
However, she noted that there was at least one important community member who was quite satisfied with the results: Griswold himself.
“Griswold was a student when all these modern Gothic buildings were being constructed in the ’20s and he was very much against it,” Schiff said. “It was sort of his vow that as he got closer to thinking he might become president of Yale that he would never encourage that type of architecture.”
Even with the addition of two new residential colleges, the University continued to plan to build more colleges to comfortably house all Yale College students. John Hay Whitney ’26, who had bought the land needed to construct Stiles and Morse, pledged a further $15 million for two more residential colleges, but the University’s 1972 plan ran up against significant opposition from the New Haven city government.
Schiff noted that the city government was upset because of the increasing amount of taxable land that Yale was purchasing, reducing the city’s tax revenues and also contributing to the relocation of commercial businesses from New Haven.
Instead of approving plans for two new residential colleges at the intersection of Whitney Avenue and Grove Street, the city’s alders ultimately approved the construction of the eight story-high Whitney Grove Square, which now houses the office of the provost.
In the four decades after that clash, town-gown relations experienced a precipitous dip, but became much more amicable by the time the University revisited its plans to expand the residential college system in 2007, Schiff added.
“Eventually there was this feeling that we all have to work together because Yale and New Haven need each other to thrive,” she said. “With Yale’s support of the city and the city’s support for the new colleges on prospect street, things are looking up right now.