After a dinner at Mory’s, Christian Haley Prince — a fourth-generation Yalie — joined his friends in Sheffield-Sterling-Strathcona Hall for a party with the Aurelian Society. Prince, a sophomore at the time, headed home early that night while his friends grabbed a slice at Naples Pizza. In anticipation of lacrosse practice the next day, Prince walked a few blocks toward his Whitney Avenue off-campus apartment.
But Prince never made it home that February night in 1991. Rather, his body was found in front of St. Mary’s Church, which sits at the foot of Science Hill. Prince had been shot in the chest — his wallet scattered more than a hundred feet away. He was later pronounced dead at 2:05 a.m. after doctors attempted blood transfusion, administered various drugs and performed electroshock.
The murder sent the campus into shock. Dozens of Yale students joined the thousand mourners at Prince’s funeral a few miles from his home in the upper-class suburb of Chevy Chase, Maryland. Just behind the pallbearers of the church’s second row, then-University President Benno Schmidt Jr. cried to himself.
In the days that followed, students and parents decried the administration for its poor security in a city that was ridden with crime. Prince’s murder occurred as violent crime in New Haven reached a peak. And indeed, the tragedy spurred the Yale administration into action — but only after the violence burst the Ivy League bubble that Yale had constructed.
In a moment of change for both Yale and the Elm City, Richard Levin was appointed president in April 1993, and only months later, John DeStefano Jr. was elected mayor. In the years following Prince’s murder, the University, by way of Levin, and the city, by way of DeStefano, began to establish a symbiotic relationship in an earnest effort to remedy town-gown relations.
Fast forward 20 years to 2013 — Peter Salovey assumes the presidency in July, and New Haven elects Toni Harp as its first female mayor within just a few months. Today, Woodbridge and City halls have reached another stage in their relationship. What was once an active and ingenious pursuit to remedy and rebuild has become a more bureaucratic and institutionalized contact between City Hall and administrators at 433 Temple St. — Yale’s Office of New Haven and State Affairs. But now that Yale and New Haven have restored the reciprocity to town-gown relations, what’s next for Woodbridge and City halls?
A Turbulent History
Throughout the history of both institutions, Woodbridge Hall’s tumultuous relationship with City Hall has been no secret. Yale presidents and city mayors have openly squabbled over local taxes and insolent pranks by Yale students.
In 1943, Yale hired a young alderman named Richard C. Lee to lead its wartime news digest and later its public relations bureau. A little over a decade later, he would be elected the mayor of New Haven and spearhead the city’s urban redevelopment movement.
Shy of a college degree, Lee came from humble beginnings. His father worked in the Winchester Repeating Arms Company, and he grew up in a cold-water apartment with his working-class family in the neighborhood of Newhallville. In contrast, Alfred Whitney Griswold, University President at the time of Lee’s mayoralty, was a Yale-educated descendent of six Connecticut colonial governors and cotton gin–inventor Eli Whitney.
But the two became “fast friends” after their respective ascendancies, recalled longtime Yale administrator Henry Chauncey ’57. Lee was an insider at Yale, and Griswold was a prominent history professor — but the two still had a few spats throughout their tenures.
During the city’s 1959 Saint Patrick’s Day parade, several Yale students took to the streets for a snowball riot — a public disturbance that resulted in the arrest of 16 students and one instructor on various charges including breach of the peace and resisting a police officer. Students had pelted the parade band with snowballs. Just two days earlier, 25 students had been arrested for another snowball riot.
Lee and Griswold did not speak for two months, and a group of people close to the president and mayor — including Chauncey — sought to bring them back together again. Almost immediately after the incident, Lee formed a commission to study Yale–New Haven community relations. Among other revelations, the commission found that Yale students were often disrespectful and antagonistic toward the city and its police.
Griswold appointed a committee, chaired by then-University Secretary Reuben Holden, to study and act upon the 18 recommendations outlined in the report. He told the News in 1959 that “the plans and policies on which our University Committee will be working will benefit not Yale alone or the City alone, but both, as a single entity.”
But in the middle of Kingman Brewster’s Yale presidency, Lee fell ill and resigned. Bart Guida, who was president of the Board of Aldermen, succeeded him. Chauncey, who was University secretary at the time and became a “very good friend” of Guida, said that the mayor hated Yale — but for good reason. In that era, “Yale didn’t care about New Haven.”
In 1973, Democratic Town Chairman Arthur Barbieri — who built the town’s Democratic Party — and then-President of the Board of Alders Vincent Mauro Sr. ran a campaign to thwart Brewster’s effort to build two new residential colleges. The alders ultimately voted to reject Yale’s proposal unless the University paid taxes on the land.
Realizing the immediate need to develop a working relationship, Brewster commissioned Chauncey to establish a community relations office. At its inception, Chauncey asked his two-person staff to build relationships with city officials from the grassroots level. He said, the office sought to decentralize Yale–New Haven relations away from just the University president and the Elm City mayor. But the relationship between the University and its host city remained relatively distant.
A City and University Sinking
The Christian Prince murder continued to reverberate around campus throughout 1991. But for years, the Elm City had grappled with a rising incidence of crime. In 1990, New Haven ranked sixth in violent crime per capita among American cities with more than 100,000 residents. Prince’s death was New Haven’s fifth homicide in two weeks, most of which were the product of drug and gang violence. In addition, the city’s economy was struggling.
“Violent crime was peaking. The University was shaken from what was happening around it but didn’t have many answers,” recalled Douglas Rae, a political science professor who served as chief administrative officer for former New Haven mayor John Daniels. “Earlier presidents like [former University President] Bart Giamatti, who was a wonderful guy, but Bart had no idea what Yale should do to improve matters.”
Yale was in a similarly precarious situation during the early 1990s. The campus was replete with dilapidated buildings, and ongoing disputes between the University and labor unions remained contentious. Yale was running an 18-million-dollar deficit. And in the year that followed Prince’s murder, applications to the College dropped more than 9.5 percent for the 1991–92 school year. The New York Times published a long-form piece after the incident that detailed the stark inequalities in the Elm City as well as the racial tension between Yale students and local residents. Yale was already in the midst of legal battles with two parties claiming that the University had been negligent in its security measures. One of the victims alleged an incident of sexual assault in her dormitory while the other alleged a beating on Beinecke Plaza — just outside the University president’s office.
For the majority of his tenure, then-University President Benno Schmidt Jr. commuted to New Haven from his New York City residence. Rae recalled that relations were relatively cordial at the time, but that Schmidt was not deeply engaged with New Haven life. He said that Schmidt was “shocked and horrified” when the municipality chose to declare the Yale Golf Course a taxable property among other decisions that adversely affected the University.
At the time, then-Yale Secretary Sheila Wellington oversaw town-gown relations. In a series of monetary transactions, the University attempted to offer some aid to the struggling city. In exchange for New Haven to cease its efforts to change Yale’s tax exempt properties, Schmidt committed the University to an annual voluntary contribution to New Haven. At the beginning of his presidency in 1987, Schmidt promised an unspecified $50 million to invest in the city.
In a Lifeboat Together
“New Haven was a troubled place, and Yale was a troubled place,” said DeStefano, a New Haven native and insider to city politics who was elected just months after Levin became President. He served as a top official in former mayor Biagio DiLieto’s administration before his own term. “I think both places changed leadership because there was a sense that it wasn’t working well,” he said.
In an interview last fall, Levin said his two biggest priorities in his first five years were repairing and improving relations with New Haven and renovating the campus. But, he noted, these two priorities distinctly overlapped. Prior to Levin’s presidency, Yale had not engaged New Haven in its building plans. Integrating New Haven into its own facilities projects, Yale renovated over 70 percent of its buildings with the simultaneous goal of improving the quality of its campus and the aesthetic of New Haven.
“I think there was an element of being in a lifeboat together. And a situation of you eat each other or row together,” DeStefano recalled. “Rowing together meant emphasizing points of mutual interest rather than points of disagreement. Rowing together means the other guy may be a jerk but he’s my jerk — a quid pro quo relationship.”
For DeStefano, Yale’s expansion in the city was a plus: Healthy, growing employers ultimately drive the economy of their host city. He said he viewed every dollar that went to the medical school, for example, as an opportunity for employment and activities that could augment the city’s economy. DeStefano, who now operates a community development bank, stated that there are two types of businesses: wealth importers and wealth circulators. And Yale imports wealth.
Soon, Levin introduced the Yale Homebuyer Program that subsidized the purchase of New Haven homes for Yale faculty members and staff. In 20 years, the program — the geographically largest program of its kind in the country — facilitated the purchase of more than 1,000 homes in an effort to stabilize New Haven neighborhoods.
In 1995, the University founded the Office of New Haven and State Affairs under the direction of then-University Secretary Linda Lorimer. The office would formalize the link between Yale and its host city.
Levin recalled that in the mid- and late 1990s, as commercial properties came up for auction around Yale’s campus, DeStefano invited Yale to expand its campus and retail portfolio after the University had shown its commitment to the city.
Indeed, Levin said that mayor DeStefano invited Yale to expand behind the Grove Street Cemetery — land that would later become the new colleges. Among other properties, Yale helped renovate Ella B. Scantlebury Playground for neighborhood children.
“Over the years, DeStefano became an advocate for Yale’s improvement and advancement and even physical expansion,” Levin said. “He felt rightly as we felt that a strong Yale and a vibrant Yale was going to be a plus for the downtown and going to attract more people there.”
When they did disagree, they kept it quiet. DeStefano said he would pick up the phone and have “an emotional moment” with Levin.
And so, as DeStefano invited Yale to acquire more retail properties downtown, Levin hired Vice President Bruce Alexander to handle the real estate portfolio.
When Levin first brought Alexander to Yale, he asked the former President what he wanted. He said he wanted J. Crew, but Patagonia was next on his list, he chuckled, but that “took a little longer” — Patagonia opened in New Haven in 2017.
“Bruce dealt with the mayor on an almost daily basis,” Levin said. “For setting larger strategy questions I was involved. Bruce and I made a lot of trips over to City Hall together.”
433 Temple St.
“Both Rick Levin and John DeStefano understood how the city and the University could work together and what power there was for good in that partnership,” Vice President of New Haven and State Affairs Bruce Alexander ’65 reminisced. “So when I arrived, the stars were aligned for Yale to make a very positive impact on New Haven.”
When Levin approached Alexander in an effort to recruit him back to the University, Alexander was enjoying retirement from a career in commercial real estate development. He had chaired Schmidt’s urban advisory committee as the former president sought to address Yale’s place in a city with rising crime.
But in 1998, the former executive for Rouse Company — a Baltimore shopping mall and community developer — returned to New Haven to develop Yale’s real estate portfolio and serve as vice president and director of New Haven and State Affairs.
Shortly after Alexander’s arrival, his post would develop into “this bureaucracy that has now become the New Haven office,” DeStefano said.
Over time, he added, his communication with Levin decreased as Alexander usurped his role as a primary contact for city officials. But at the end of Levin’s tenure, urgencies or central partnerships were still fundamentally conversations between the mayor and president.
“From just a working relationship point of view, it was clear that Bruce was assigned to work with the city. I was sort of — sure, that’s fine,” DeStefano said.
Broadway and Chapel streets are now lined with name-brand shops such as Urban Outfitters and Apple and restaurants like Mario Batali’s Tarry Lodge. Now, two full-time employees work between New York and Boston to find tenants for Yale’s restaurant and retail portfolio. Lauren Zucker — who declined to comment for this story — serves as associate vice president for University Properties and New Haven Affairs. She works with Alexander to communicate with city officials and coordinate economic development initiatives as well as the University’s public school and educational initiatives. Claudia Merson directs the University’s partnerships with public schools. Yale has invested in New Haven Works — a joint venture with unions, Board of Alders and other local employers to hire more New Haven residents — and New Haven Promise — a program that grants scholarships to students from New Haven’s public schools that meet certain requirements and attend public in-state public colleges and universities. In recent years, Yale has also sought to support New Haven’s science and biotech businesses.
But, at their core, school reform and the New Haven Promise program are still “Rick Levin New Haven initiatives” with the city, DeStefano said.
In many ways, Yale has effectively repaired one of its longest institutional tribulations — tumult between Woodbridge and City halls. And President Salovey and mayor Toni Harp — who assumed their positions within months of each other — represent the next generation in the history of the University and its host city. By moving past the stage of rebuilding, the University can focus on strengthening and broadening its partnership.
But what is the role of the University president now?
105 Wall St. to 161 Church St.
Salovey said he and mayor Harp see each other at events and activities, where they often have conversations about issues on their agendas. But ongoing communication is largely between Alexander, Zucker and other Yale officials and the mayor, her chief of staff, department heads and other elected officials in the city.
“I think we both have a strong level of trust, and in our motives, we both want what’s best for the common good,” Salovey said. “But often when you’re working out details, those very in-depth conversations are happening at a different level.”
Until Yale’s Office of the Secretary opened the Office of New Haven and State Affairs, mayors and presidents had a “very close relationship,” said New Haven Economic Development Administrator Matthew Nemerson SOM ’94. But he added that, now, the University’s relationship with the city is with Alexander and his office.
“He’s a global executive, a top CEO who’s trying to raise 2, 3, 4 billion dollars a year, and run an institution with tens of thousands of employees,” Nemerson said. “There’s only so much time that the president of General Motors can hang out in any factory or any auto dealer.”
According to Rae, either a president or a mayor can make major policy decisions and expect results. These large-scale changes require the leaders to build consensus, build buy-in and form coalitions that can act.
But he noted since the 1960s, Yale presidents have become less visible. And with less visibility, the University has become more bureaucratic with an increasing number of regulations and administrative processes that slow University presidents in moving their institution quickly in any direction.
Nemerson agreed that changes in the city and at the University occur more slowly today, which curtail the need for macroscopic 10-year plans that presidents and mayors created decades ago.
“If what you want to do is smoothly execute a set of agreed projects, the bureaucratic story is a better one than the highly visible University president story,” Rae said. “If, on the other hand, what you want to do is change the direction of the University’s behavior, you need somebody with a great deal of visibility who can sell it inside the University and sell it outside through the mass media. And we have quite a lot less of that kind of leverage in the more bureaucratic version of the University.”
The projects Yale instituted in the 1990s, such as the homebuyer program, would be much more difficult to implement in 2017 with current state and federal government involvement in higher education, Rae suspected. In recent years, Rae said, the University has been “preoccupied with identity politics,” exemplified by the debate and subsequent renaming of Calhoun College. But this paramount institutional moment, he added, was “not much of an active force in the history of the city.”
DeStefano questioned whether the 90s-era homebuyer program was still relevant today. In 2006 and 2007 when the housing market was sufficiently strong, he saw the homebuyer program as subsidizing housing and artificially increasing values. But he suspected that the program became a defining and proud characteristic of Yale’s employee benefits.
Today, he said that, in 2017, a productive town-gown partnership could include creating an entrepreneurial platform for the city with access to capital and talent. Yale could offer mental health counseling through its Yale’s Child Studies Center to public school children with emotional and behavioral issues.
A lull or a loss?
Salovey and Harp most recently spoke two days ago at the New Haven Promise program’s quarterly board meeting. Harp estimated that they have one-on-one discussions three or four times a year, but she emphasized that further one-on-one meetings are largely unnecessary. Wednesday afternoon, Harp said she was planning to schedule a meeting with Salovey after discussing the city budget with Alexander.
“A topic of conversation with the mayor would be how do policies in the city and priorities on campus both support those kinds of things,” Salovey said. “There’s kind of an ongoing conversation about that going on at the Bruce level.”
Unlike DeStefano and Levin, Harp and Salovey lack the similar public image as “fast friends.” But Harp said that Salovey and his wife have invited her to his home — she said that scheduling a meeting with Salovey was always an available option, but she has not felt the need. Rather, much of the working relationship is between Alexander and Harp.
She emphasized that the Yale and New Haven police departments and administrators at Yale and City Hall consistently work together. For marches and storms, the communication at the lower levels largely stems the need for Salovey and Harp to speak.
“I haven’t really come up with anything that would require that I go over [Alexander’s] head,” Harp said. “I know that if I want to get something done, I know that Bruce and Lauren are the people who can actually get through the sort of — I wouldn’t call it red tape — but it’s a rather complicated organization to get the things done that I need to get done in the city.”
But still, Harp said that Alexander, Salovey and she fundamentally disagree on labor issues at the University. Harp is an active supporter of graduate student union Local 33. The University is currently challenging Local 33’s right to unionize in eight academic departments. She said she has advocated to administrators at Yale on behalf of the union, but Yale has made it clear that the administration will wait to recognize them until after completing the legal process.
But for now, Salovey and Alexander have appeared to pivot the focus of their partnership with Harp to help the state of Connecticut. Recently, they have discussed the state’s budgetary stress and how it affects New Haven, as well as what Yale can do to promote economic development within the state.
Salovey said he hopes to promote jobs in the region through the spinoff of Yale-affiliated research projects and entrepreneurial ventures or through building more structures on campus to aid Connecticut’s economy.
According to Nemerson, cities are trying to brand themselves as places of innovation. He thinks New Haven is now embracing the research at Yale that had been happening for decades.
When asked about Yale’s next step in its relationship with its host city, Salovey emphasized that the best way for Yale to help New Haven is to create a safe, welcoming environment for the city by promoting homeownership and schools. But though Yale has worked on the retail environment, the homeownership and schools for a couple of decades, he said that University can do more for New Haven’s economic development.
Last year, Yale gave New Haven $8.3 million in voluntary payments. But as New Haven’s largest employer and with an endowment of $27.2 billion, Yale should continue to reevaluate how to further its fundamental ties with the Elm City even as day-to-day collaborative operations run smoothly.
As DeStefano said, “Is Yale doing enough? The answer to that is always no. No, they’re never doing enough. We should always be reflecting.”
Hailey Fuchs | email@example.com .