$50 million gift to help fund humanities hub, create endowment

The anonymous gift will support the transformation of 320 York St. into a central home for the humanities and establish a permanent endowment to support humanities programming.
The main tower at 320 York St., future home of the humanities

The main tower at 320 York St., future home of the humanities, will be named in honor of chief investment officer David Swensen. (Photo by Michael Marsland)

Yale University has received an anonymous gift of $50 million toward the planned renovation of the Hall of Graduate Studies, a project that will transform the historic structure into a central home for humanities education and scholarship on Yale’s campus. In addition to supporting the facility’s restoration, the donation will establish a permanent endowment to support humanities programming, with an emphasis on teaching, intellectual life, and events that will attract visiting scholars from around the world.

This new gift is in addition to the $25 million contribution from Lisbet Rausing and Peter Baldwin ’78 announced in March 2015, which will name the building’s central tower for David Swensen, Yale’s chief investment officer. The full scope of the renovation project is still under development.

Yale has so many outstanding departments and programs in the humanities, and bringing a core group of them into one building at the heart of campus will make them even stronger,” said President Peter Salovey ’86 Ph.D. “I am so grateful that our donors had the foresight not only to support a world-class facility, but also to supply permanent funding for the innovative teaching, research, and collaboration that will happen within it. The impact of their contribution will be transformative and enduring.”

Building on Yale’s historic strength in the humanities

The donors were motivated in their giving by a deeply held belief in Yale’s longstanding commitment to excellence in the humanities. Their contribution will build on this historic strength, propelling forward scholarship and teaching and reinforcing the place of the humanistic disciplines as a signature strength of the university. A key feature is the establishment of an endowed fund that will underpin programming in the humanities. It will support high-profile lecture series, courses, workshops, and collaborative conferences designed to attract a steady stream of visitors. The aim is to ensure that these events are woven into the fabric of campus intellectual life. Visiting scholars, for example, might deliver lectures, engage in short-term mentoring and teaching, lead workshops, arrange colloquia, or hold open office hours.

We are very excited,” said Tamar Gendler, dean of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences, “to see what humanities scholarship can be realized and supported by this renovation and the addition of endowed program funding.”

Located at 320 York St., the massive Hall of Graduate Studies is an iconic Yale structure, designed by James Gamble Rogers in 1932. Provost Benjamin Polak and Gendler have convened a planning committee of faculty, students, and key administrators to imagine how the building can be repurposed to house humanities departments and resources now dispersed in facilities across the campus. Their recommendations will guide Yale’s planners and architects in developing the project.

President Salovey has challenged us to envision ‘a more unified Yale,’ and with this renovation, we have the opportunity to redefine the way faculty, graduate students, and undergraduates in the humanities work together,” Polak said. “A renewed 320 York St. will have all the virtues of a central location, proper scale, and architectural distinctiveness we need to anchor a vibrant humanities community.”

Committee chair Amy Hungerford explained that the planning committee is building a new vision for 320 York St. around four principles. The re-imagined facility will bring together shared resources in the humanities and serve as a destination for students, scholars, and the public. It will sustain an environment in which each department can retain its own identity and do its best work. At the same time, it will create new opportunities for the kinds of formal and informal interactions that lead to collaborative approaches in teaching, mentoring, and research. The committee is also focusing on the needs of graduate students in the humanities, and the ways in which the redesigned space can support their collaboration, research, and teaching.

Encouraging collaborations through thoughtful design

Polak observed that Yale has learned a lot about the ways thoughtful design can encourage new links among faculty members and students, even across departments. “Questions of adjacency and ‘collisional frequency’ — who has an office near you, and who do you see at the coffee shop — these have a big impact on whether or not colleagues get to know each other and share ideas,” he said. “We have made this an organizing principle in building projects from the Class of 1954 Chemistry Research Building to the School of Management’s Evans Hall. As we plan for 320 York St., we’re looking at not just seminar rooms and classrooms, but also attractive social spaces with good coffee and food so that faculty members and students have the frequent, unexpected encounters that lead to creative exchange.”

Yale’s humanities departments will also be well served by the proximity of 320 York St. to other campus resources, said Gendler. “Scholars in the humanities will be next door to both Sterling Memorial Library and the Beinecke, which have extraordinary collections. They will be steps away from the new Center for Teaching and Learning, and they will have ready access to the Schwarzman Center, which promises to support a steady stream of events, conferences, and performances.”

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