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How the West (Campus) Was Won

Y: Yale’s campus acreage grew by almost half in May when it bought the Bayer research campus. You have acquired a significant amount of property in New Haven, but this is on a completely different scale.


No entity other than Yale expressed any interest in the science facilities.

L: The Bayer site presented us with an unprecedented opportunity. What we are now calling the West Campus has three state-of-the-art laboratory buildings designed for biological and chemical research, comprising 550,000 square feet. Bayer announced it was leaving in November 2006, and in the months that followed no entity other than Yale expressed any interest in the science facilities. Had another pharmaceutical company wanted the site, it is likely that we would have reluctantly stepped aside in the interest of the economic development of the region. But the real estate developers that were bidding on the property were interested only in big-box retail or commercial office space—they didn’t need the science labs.

If we were to build equivalent laboratory facilities on campus, they would cost us $600 to $700 per square foot, somewhere between $300 and $400 million in all. We got the whole site at a price that is a small fraction of that cost. And the site included another million square feet of office and warehouse buildings and 136 acres of land.

Y: What are your plans for the new campus?

L: I can give you a conceptual picture of what we’re thinking, without getting too specific at this point because we still have a lot of work to do. We see this as an opportunity not to shift things out from the central campus, but to build, very intentionally, great new scientific research programs. These may be in areas already present at Yale, or they may be in brand new areas. Most are likely to be interdisciplinary. This is going to take a lot of planning and consultation with our scientists, and we are going to seek some outside advice as well. The main motivation would be to use this opportunity to ratchet up the visibility of Yale science and the magnitude of its contribution.

Y: Will the expansion be mostly in the medical school?

L: I’d like to think of this as a broad-scale effort that will reach beyond the medical school. It would certainly incorporate the biological science departments, the chemistry department, and possibly the School of Forestry & Environmental Studies and the physical sciences. We would like to use the West Campus as a way of bringing scientists together across the university—to cut across disciplines, to cut across schools, to deliver on the vision that I tried to advance with our initial commitment to science facilities in New Haven seven years ago. The vision was not just to have better facilities, but to use the better facilities as leverage to hire outstanding new scientists.

Y: Expansion is a trend in the Ivies—Columbia is planning to add 17 acres, Penn 24 acres, and Harvard 200 acres. A lot of this space is for science. In sheer square footage for scientific research, how does Yale rank compared with other universities?


We now have a substantial amount of excellent warehouse space.

L: We would still be small compared to MIT or Stanford, or even Harvard. A lot of state universities have very big engineering schools, so I doubt we would rank very high in square footage. But we are 19th in total government funding of science, although almost all of the places above us in funding have significantly more space. Yale science is very high-quality, so we tend to rank higher than most of our peers in dollars per faculty member and dollars per square foot. Our medical school, for example, ranks 7th in total NIH funding, but 3rd in dollars per full-time faculty member.

Y: What are your plans for the rest of the space?

L: We were looking for property in a suburban area to consolidate offsite storage for our museums. We have extensive collections, and on the main campus priority needs to be given to public exhibitions and classrooms for the study of art objects and natural specimens. We need a place to store parts of our collections that can be accessible for study and when necessary can be transported back to campus. And by acquiring the Bayer facility, we now have a substantial amount of excellent warehouse space. We hope to make this not just a storage facility, but more of a destination—we would hope to create a collections campus, involving the Art Gallery, the Center for British Art, and the Peabody Museum.

Another asset of significance is that there is very good office space. We have not yet determined what use we want to make of that. And there are about 20 acres of beautiful wetlands, with a nature trail built by Bayer employees. [Peabody Museum director] Michael Donoghue is very excited about developing the natural beauty of these wetlands and using them for teaching purposes and as a public space. Finally, there’s plenty of room to build more buildings in the future without encroaching on the wetlands.

Y: [Medical school dean] Robert Alpern says that a hundred years from now Yale will look back on this move as a great decision. Have you tried to imagine how Yale might be using this space in a hundred years?

L: At the time of our tercentennial, I went back to what had been said at our 1901 bicentennial celebration. No one then could possibly imagine that in the next one hundred years the university would increase its physical size by a factor of ten, its faculty by a factor of eight, and its library holdings by a factor of thirty. The Yale of 2107 is beyond imagining. But it’s likely that the addition of the West Campus will have a profound impact on our future development.  the end


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