Faculty, students question Yale’s fundraising priorities
Students and faculty have expressed their frustration with the University’s science-based campaign focus, as well as its dissonance with ongoing calls for Yale to invest more in New Haven.
Yale Daily News
Yale’s latest capital campaign, which launched on Oct. 2 and aims to raise $7 billion, has generated discussion among students and faculty about Yale’s rising emphasis on the sciences, as well as how Yale’s $31.2 billion endowment can be most effectively and ethically allocated.
The capital campaign occurs once during each President’s term. University President Peter Salovey’s campaign, which seeks to raise $7 billion to be directed towards various scientific and leadership initiatives, is titled “For Humanity.” Members of the Yale community have taken issue with the campaign’s concentration on the sciences — given Yale’s historic strength in the humanities — as well as the size of the University’s fundraising goal relative to its voluntary contribution to New Haven.
“This campaign is looking to raise $7 billion, and the annual contribution to New Haven from Yale is $13 million,” Logan Roberts ’23 said. “If they’re successful in this capital campaign, they will successfully raise 538 years’ worth of contributions to New Haven. It’s wonderful to want to serve humanity, but humanity starts here. It starts with listening to unions and to students.”
Roberts, who is the financial accessibility director of the Yale College Council and the president of the Yale First-Generation and/or Low Income Advocacy Movement, pointed out that Yale’s prior capital campaign, which ended in 2011, came on the heels of a recession. Since the current campaign is beginning amidst the COVID-19 pandemic, Roberts said, the University should proceed in its fundraising efforts with the interests of low income communities in mind.
Activists both on and off campus have advocated for Yale to allocate its endowment more equitably by increasing its investment in the city of New Haven. In the past, University officials have pointed out that Yale has increased its voluntary payment to the city during times of need — the figure grew to $13 million last year, a 50 percent increase from several years ago. But residents contend that the contribution remains a small fraction of the University’s endowment.
People also objected to where Yale allocated money within the University.
Philosophy professor Jason Stanley took issue with the campaign’s launch event in particular, noting that the event’s main faculty speakers came overwhelmingly from STEM fields. For Stanley, this erasure of the humanities in the opening speakers of the campaign was indicative of a broader “attack” on humanities fields in the United States that Yale is not doing its part to help prevent.
“The humanities at Yale are tough, are incredibly sterling,” Stanley said. “They’re just remarkable, and you can’t take that for granted. I think that science is expensive and you need a lot of money for science. We should actually raise money for science. Let’s bring sciences up to the level of the humanities. But constantly putting scientists as spokespeople for what humanists do is wrong. And Yale does that all the time.”
While Stanley acknowledged that scientific fields also deserved recognition in the capital campaign, he suggested that Yale was “hiding the humanities,” rather than sufficiently elevating them.
However, Josien van Wolfswinkel, assistant professor of molecular, cellular and developmental biology, pointed out that fundraising efforts geared towards the sciences were more immediately necessary because of the price of reagents, equipment and analysis services. In a January article by the News, Faculty of Arts and Sciences dean of humanities Kathryn Lofton said that Yale’s humanities programs already receive all the resources they need from central administration.
“Other institutes have long jumped in and started funding their science departments and graduate student programs from endowment,” van Wolfswinkel said. “Frequently, successful science faculty leave Yale because they find [a] better environment for science elsewhere. If Yale wants to retain sciences they have no option but to start spending money on this.”
Van Wolfswinkel added that a typical research lab spends about $50,000 each year on materials for each science student.
Associate professor of the history of science Bill Rankin proposed, however, that Yale could benefit from a conversation among the humanities faculty, as well as between the faculty and the administration, about the impact of financial support on the humanities.
“I have my own thoughts, mostly related to the issues that I see daily as a faculty member, but the point is to have the broader conversation, not just to fund my own ideas,” Rankin said. “My guess is that the University can put money into the sciences and the humanities, and that transformative support for the humanities will turn out to be pretty cheap in comparison.”
Rankin still emphasized the importance of funding Yale’s science programs, noting that funding the sciences often involves making decisions about immediate needs, such as equipment, lab space and research staff, as opposed to the more long-term nature of humanities funding.
In general, Rankin said, Yale’s fundraising mission is overall worthwhile, offering opportunities for more faculty and research, and a more substantive partnership with New Haven.
“If we think that Yale should devote more of its energy and resources to certain priorities over others, or should do more, say, to defend academic freedom, then I think that’s a good argument for working to influence Yale’s priorities, not an argument against fundraising,” Rankin said.
Students told the News that they had general issues with the size and allocation of the University’s endowment.
“Yale’s endowment is rooted in the displacement of Indigenous people and the Atlantic slave trade,” Josephine Steuer Ingall ’23 wrote in an email to the News. “At its current value of $31 billion dollars, it is worth more than the GDP of a hundred sovereign nations. Yet Yale refuses to pay its fair share in taxes.”
Ingall, an organizer with the Yale Endowment Justice Coalition, said that more than half of Yale’s real estate value is not subject to property taxes because it is owned either by the nonprofit University or by Yale New Haven Hospital, and therefore qualifies for an exemption.
University spokesperson Karen Peart told the News that Yale’s endowment was made up of donations made to the University over its lifetime, often accompanied by restrictions on how the earnings from invested donations can be spent.
“Yale’s endowment is restricted to support various aspects of the university’s core mission — from financial aid to faculty salaries, to research and scholarship, and student activities,” Peart wrote in an email to the News. “The endowment supports thousands of good jobs in New Haven – faculty and staff, union and non-union jobs.”
Peart added that the University spends about one quarter of its endowment every five years.
The Endowment Justice Coalition advocates for Yale to divest its endowment from the fossil fuel industry or from other industries that members see as unethical. According to Ingall, members of the coalition recently declined to pay their $100 student activities fees, redistributing $4,000 collectively to local organizations and mutual aid projects.
“Yale spends significantly below its projected ranges of returns on investment every year,” Ingall said. “If they wanted to contribute to city services and fund climate-resilient infrastructure in low-lying Black & brown neighborhoods at particular risk of warming-induced natural disaster, they could, and they could do it right now. If they wanted to invest in Yale’s academic mission, improve accessibility & health services, get rid of the student income contribution, even eliminate tuition, they could. If they wanted ‘to transform society, deepen human understanding and open doors to greater prosperity and well-being for millions,’ as Salovey said at the [campaign] launch, they could.”
Peart told the News that the University was already spending as much as it could on supporting the New Haven community “without unfairly taking from those who will come after us.”
Peart added that no city in America receives a larger voluntary payment from a university than New Haven does, and that the University continues to support the city through “various programs and volunteer efforts.”
But for EJC organizer Moses Goren ’23, the University’s continued investment in the fossil fuel industry is a problematic contradiction of the theme of the capital campaign, “For Humanity.” In September, Harvard University committed to divesting from the fossil fuel industry.
Salovey’s campaign is set to end in June 2026.
Isaac Yu contributed reporting.
Correction, October 11: A previous version of the article stated that Yale annually spends $50,000 on each science student. In fact, $50,000 is what a typical research lab spends on each student per year. This money comes not from Yale, but from the labs themselves, and must be obtained through grants.