Class of '54 Gives $70 Million Gift To Support Science, Other Yale Priorities--"54/50" Fund Reflects Innovative Financing, Growing from Initial $380,000 in the Early 1980s

Yale University announced today that the Yale College Class of 1954 is providing a $70 million gift to support new science buildings and other major University priorities, marking the largest class gift in Yale's 300-year history.

Yale University announced today that the Yale College Class of 1954 is providing a $70 million gift to support new science buildings and other major University priorities, marking the largest class gift in Yale’s 300-year history.

The gift is the outgrowth of an innovative financing technique, conceived by Richard Gilder, through which 71 class members contributed about $380,000 in the three or four years after their 25th reunion in 1979 to what became known as the “54/50 Fund” and invested the funds under the direction of Joe McNay ‘56.

Class members planned at that time to serve as stewards of the fund for 25 years and present the assets as a gift to Yale at their 50th reunion. The class, however, chose to present the gift several years earlier than anticipated, enabling them to support major Yale priorities, such as new science facilities, at a key moment in the University’s history.

“The Class of ‘54’s creative vision 20 years ago is bringing to Yale an extraordinary benefit at a critical time,” President Richard C. Levin said. “The support of the 54/50 Fund for our major science initiative will greatly enhance research and teaching for years to come.

“We could not be more grateful to the class for its foresight and its decision to advance science at Yale,” Levin continued. “I hope that this innovative approach to supporting Yale will be emulated by other classes.”

Of the $70 million, $25 million will support the interdisciplinary Environmental Science Center, under construction alongside the Peabody Museum of Natural History, and $25 million will support the new chemistry research building, which is in the planning stages for Science Hill. Both buildings will be named for the Class of ‘54.

The remaining $20 million of the gift will go to a matching fund to support other Yale priorities. Donations from Class of ‘54 members made before the class’ 50th reunion will be matched by resources from the gift. For example, if a donor from the class funds half the cost of endowing a Yale professorship, the gift from the 54/50 Fund will support the other half. The class hopes that its total gift will exceed $100 million.

Joel Smilow, the class secretary (presiding officer) of the Yale College Class of ‘54, said the 54/50 Fund has been a galvanizing initiative for the class.

“The 71 investors in the fund, who contributed varied amounts (only two of whom contributed more than $15,000), enjoyed following the growth in the value of their shares from inception,” Smilow said, “and they have enthusiastically responded to the unanimous recommendation of a nine-man search committee, which was also unanimously approved by the 48-man Yale ‘54 Class Council, with regard to how the funds are to be utilized. We are delighted that the announcement of this gift coincides with the onset of the Yale Tercentennial year.”

In a major announcement last January, Levin said that Yale would invest at least $500 million in the sciences and engineering, including five new buildings and upgraded laboratory space across Science Hill.

This huge investment is designed to ensure that Yale’s science and engineering offerings remain at the forefront among the nation’s programs, and that Yale remains among the world’s handful of top universities, as we enter a new century. Levin has said that, in an increasingly complex and technologically sophisticated world, excellence in the sciences will be a prerequisite for universities aspiring to be among the world’s finest.

The environmental science building, designed by David M. Schwartz Architectural Services Inc. of Washington, D.C., will be the site of teaching and research for faculty from several disciplines, and it also will house the most fragile collections of the Peabody. The new chemistry building, for which Bohlin Cywinski Jackson of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania will be the design architect, will include space for scientists whose research in organic and biochemistry requires the most elaborate systems of air handling and chemical safety.

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