Honneus on Yale

"AYA Assembly 2004"

This Assembly had multiple themes. It was only moderately confusing and parts of it were truly interesting.

Day One opened with the obligatory welcome from the alumni chair and the usual logistical admonishments.

We had the choice of three "tracks" on Day One, "Construction and Renovation", "Yale & New Haven" and "Yale & The World". We could choose any two. I signed up for the "Construction & Renovation" and "Yale & New Haven".

First, University Planner Pamela Delphenich briefed us on the physical changes that have taken place on the campus over the last decade and offered a glimpse into the University's plan for continued renovation and new construction. Yes, there really is a very creative long-range plan.

We had, by lot, been placed in small groups to visit renovation sites: The Swing Dorm, Pierson College, Branford, etc. I was in the Swing Dorm group. It is the temporary Davenport College, complete with Davenport crest and flag. The heraldry didnít help much.

An extremely proud member of the construction management group took us to The Swing Dorm. (See photo). It was built because it was cheaper to build it than to renovate a college only in the summer months between terms. A College is renovated in the 15 months of two summers and one academic year. The Swing Dorm does not have a Dining Hall and the college members use Commons while living in The Swing Dorm.

Swing Dorm
Swing Dorm

It looks much better on the outside than on the inside. I was not the only member of my group to say that the interior looked like a Residence Suites type hotel. Everything new, without character, utilitarian, and bland. It is, however, air-conditioned. Each suite has the Yale sitting room, smaller than we knew, two bedrooms with huge closets, a private bathroom and an efficiency kitchen, with two burner stove, half fridge and sink. Yale supplies the motel furniture. The bedrooms can be used as either single or doubles. It looked and felt like an economy hotel.

I asked the guide what the planned-for life of the building was and got the answer of 25 years. But, he added, the roof is a 50-year roof!

The consensus was that the Swing Dorm would become graduate student housing after the Colleges have been completed. It felt like living off campus.

My afternoon track was "Yale & New Haven". The intro was from by Bruce Alexander, Vice President and Director, New Haven and State Affairs. It is obvious that "the plan" extends into New Haven. For those of you who have not seen it recently it is truly undergoing a Renaissance.

They loaded us onto mini-buses with a guide from the New Haven & State Affairs office and took us on a tour. First, to the Downtown area. Remember Downtown? Where we only went to go to the movies? Over the last decade, Yale has led a number of development efforts Downtown that have contributed to the conversion of many empty office buildings into rental apartments. Restaurants have sprung up and there are nine (count them, nine) night clubs on Crown Street!! Unbelievably, fully 10% of New Haven's population of 120,000 citizens live Downtown. There is a vibrant nightlife having little to do with Yale. There is a five screen cinema being built and the brutally ugly Coliseum is about to be razed and will become the new home for the Long Wharf Theatre, a community college and a second luxury hotel will be built on the site. Young professionals are flocking to Downtown New Haven! Who could have guessed? For example, Ben Lloyd '95, the son of my Dramat friend Lew Lloyd '60, has bought an old firehouse on Crown Street and has converted the second story into his dwelling and the ground floor into a performance space/recording studio. Yale singing groups will no longer have to go to Wallingford to record.

Next - on to Science Park, the new name of the old Winchester factories. Biotech company startups abound; many spun off from Yale's growing importance in the bioscience world. Most such companies in the state are in New Haven.

Residential areas have been reborn by Yale buying a few houses on a blighted street. which pulls other developers in and the whole block ends up being re-furbished. Yale's Homebuyer's Assistance Program has helped more than 600 employees to buy first homes in New Haven, thereby extending the Renaissance and re-birth of neighborhoods. We were given a large book with synopses of all Yale's activities in New Haven, too numerous to include here. Perhaps in a later edition. In the meantime, a video called "New Haven Today" can be found on the AYA web site. http://streaming.yale.edu:8080/ramgen/media/aya/nhtoday1104.rm

One does stand out and it shows the cleverness of Yale's program. The Yale police have long needed a new headquarters. A plot just beyond the Hockey Rink became available but Yale could not get the neighborhood's approval, Yale walked away. Then, a construction company decided to buy the land and store heavy machinery there. Immediately, the neighborhood came to Yale and begged them to buy the land! The police station is being built with community rooms for the neighbors to use.

The evening was unique. It was Veteran's Day and the Yale Concert Band gave a concert in Woolsey. The first part was patriotic music including the songs of the five armed forces. (Yes, five. Do not forget the Coast Guard.) Veterans were asked to stand when the song of their service branch was played. I was seated next to the Delegate of the Class of 1941 and he was a Work War II Army Air Forces vet. Since I am a Cold War Air Force Vet, we stood together when the band played "Off We Go Into The Wild Blue Yonder." More on him later.

The second part of the concert was a re-creation of an actual 1943 Glenn Miller radio broadcast from Woolsey. (Miller's Army Air Force Band was in residence at Yale in 1943.) For a Big Band fan like me, it was epic!!.. Six saxophones, four trumpets, four trombones, drums, guitar, piano and bass. Wonderful!! And, seated next to me was the guy from '41. I thought he would fall apart. This was his music and his time. He talked of his friends who had been killed in the war and whose names are on the wall in the Woolsey rotunda.

Friday was a bit of a let down with break out sessions on how to encourage and develop volunteers. One entertaining exception was Barry Nalebuff, Milton Steinbach Professor of Economics and Management at the Yale School of Management. He spoke about his book: "Why Not? How to use Everyday Ingenuity to Solve Problems Big and Small." Think outside the box; way outside the box! Lots of creative thinking. For instance, try peeling a banana from the end opposite to the stem. It is easier, it is the way monkeys and apes do it (and they should know) and it leaves you with a handle!

We broke into groups to brainstorm. I chose the Radical Thinker's Group. Sounded like fun. Some of our ideas: Cohort Reunions to bring classes contiguous to each other together, i.e. '60, '61, '62' and '63. We all had friends in adjacent classes. Also. Let the Alumni(ae) have Yale invest their tax deferred money co-mingled with Yale's investments. To take advantage of the 10-year average of over 15% compound growth. What a concept. And, since Yale cannot charge for giving investment advice, we suggested that a small percentage of the individual's appreciation be donated to the Alumni Fund.

I missed Rick Levin's presentation as I had a business meeting come up and a Dramat Alumni Board meeting with the new Dean of Yale College, Peter Salovey. Very interesting guy. He had spoken to us on Thursday with Linda Lorimer, the Secretary and Roland Betts '68, the Senior Fellow. Salovey is impressive. Linda is always impressive. Betts said that he had known both George Bush and John Kerry at Yale and both had wanted to be President way back then!

The Yale Medal Dinner on Friday night brought together Kirk Macdonald, me, Jim Litvak's daughter and her husband and a Yale Club of New York board member friend of Jim's daughter who turned out to live only two block from Kirk. Small world.

All in all, as usual a high value Assembly. The Swing Dorm lacks charm and character but the Swing music and the concert more than made up for it.

New Haven really has undergone a profound change and the Renaissance has been largely due to Yale's planning, money and creativity. We can be proud of Yale. And, there really is a lot to do in old New Haven.

David may be reached at david.honneus@bankofamerica.com.