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Countdown to 300
There will be plenty of celebrating in Yale’s Tercentennial year, which begins in October 2000. But the planners also hope the occasion will prompt some serious reflection on Yale’s last century—and its next.

In October 1901, 5,000 graduates of Yale joined with students, faculty, and a number of distinguished guests to celebrate Yale’s bicentennial. The decorations—including Japanese lanterns festooned across University buildings and electric lights strung on the Green—were designed by Louis Comfort Tiffany. The guests—some 61 of whom received honorary degrees—included Theodore Roosevelt, Woodrow Wilson, and Mark Twain. A torchlight parade featured students dressed as Pequot Indians, Puritans, Revolutionary War soldiers, and Rough Riders. And visitors took note of three grand new buildings constructed in honor of the Bicentennial: Commons, Woolsey Hall, and Woodbridge Hall. All told, it was a Gilded Age celebration that ushered in the American Century with the swagger of a Walter Camp football team. But to today’s eye, it was all a bit much. Yale historian Gaddis Smith ’54, ’61PhD, (see “The Path to the Great Stage”) says the University’s Bicentennial was a “vacuous, backward-looking, and brainless” celebration that demonstrated “how conservative the place was.”

If such a celebration reveals much about Yale and America at the time, how will observers in 2101 interpret the upcoming Yale Tercentennial celebration, which will begin a year from this month and continue through October 7, 2001? Instead of a set of commemorative buildings, visitors will inspect the progress of a decade-long effort to restore and update Yale’s existing buildings. Much of the observance will be folded into existing programs. And while there will be plenty of pomp and fireworks, the Tercentennial will, according to the planners, be a time for self-assessment, not just self-congratulation. “I’d like to have a sense that we celebrated,” says Janet Lindner, who is organizing the event, “but also that we were thoughtful about who we are and where we’re going.”

There is little about Yale that will not be examined in symposia, books, and exhibitions between October 2000 and October 2001. Monthly reports from Lindner’s office (which was established in 1997 to coordinate the festivities) list dozens of initiatives currently in the works. Books are to be published on great Yale teachers, on Yale architecture, and on the history of the School of Medicine, among other subjects. Exhibits will focus on the role of Yale alumni in art and architecture and on the library’s collections since the initial gift of books by Yale’s founders. Symposia will ask questions about the place of faith in the University, the challenges of internationalization, and the future of the humanities. A postcard will be issued by the U.S. Postal Service. A hymn is being written by Episcopal bishop Jeffrey Rowthorn, and a poem by Sterling Professor of English John Hollander. The School of Music promises 300 musical events during the year.

With so much on the agenda, there is a danger that the Yale and New Haven communities could suffer a kind of “Tercentennial desensitization,” with the anniversary coming to seem less special as a result of so much exposure. To help focus the celebration, three major events—which will be sponsored by Colonel William Lanman '28S, who has funded several capital projects at Yale—are planned to mark the beginning, middle, and end of the Tercentennial year. The first, scheduled for October 14, 2000, is to be a University-wide open house intended primarily for the New Haven community. Building on the work that University Secretary Linda Koch Lorimer, Vice President Bruce Alexander, and others have done in recent years to strengthen Yale’s relationship with its host city, the open house will give residents an inside look at the Yale University Press, the robotics laboratory, the Art Gallery’s conservation department, the President’s office, Payne Whitney Gymnasium, and a number of other sites. “We put this event at the beginning so people in the city will become more familiar and comfortable with Yale, then come back for the other events,” says Lorimer. “We want more people in New Haven to feel there are parts of Yale that are theirs to take advantage of.” A symposium on Yale in New Haven will round out the day’s activities.

Six months later, on a long April weekend that coincides with the semiannual Association of Yale Alumni’s Assembly and the student body’s Spring Fling, the University will host a conference titled “300 Years of Creativity and Discovery.” The event will explore the many scientific, legal, artistic, and other innovations developed at Yale through a series of master classes, panels, and exhibits, culminating in a concert on Cross Campus featuring Yale choral groups, the Philharmonia, and the Symphony.

The “Charter Weekend” of October 5–7, 2001 will serve both as the commemoration of the University’s actual Tercentennial (although the Connecticut General Assembly probably passed the act granting the “Collegiate School” its charter on October 15 or 16) and as a finale for the year’s events. Lindner says she learned from researching similar events that “you have to make it stop. You have an end point with a big crescendo.”

The crescendo will be a weekend marked by a symposium on the future of higher education, an academic procession and convocation on the Old Campus (which will feature remarks from representatives of sister institutions and the presentation of the Tercentennial hymn and poem), and a Saturday night concert on Cross Campus featuring music and readings by Yale performers. The Cross Campus event will interpret events from Yale’s history in words and music. “It’ll be an evening with a lot of ‘wow,’” says School of Music dean Robert Blocker, who is chairing the Tercentennial events committee.

While all the hoopla goes on outside Sterling Memorial Library, a less dazzling but more lasting Tercentennial initiative will be under way inside. The other major project Yale is undertaking to mark its anniversary, at the urging of former Secretary Henry Chauncey, is an all-out effort to gather, catalog, and preserve the records of the University’s recent past. “We haven’t been systematically collecting our history as well as our predecessors did,” says Linda Lorimer. “We’re more likely to find neatly preserved records from 100 years ago than from 15.”

As a result, the Manuscripts and Archives division of the Library has launched Archives 300, a five-year program to track down the records that are stored in various departmental offices and determine which ones should be saved and which should be discarded. “We want to bring the archives program up to the level that Yale requires to preserve its heritage,” says University Archivist Richard Szary, who is leading the project. “Also, because of Yale’s position in higher education, the University and its programs are important subjects for scholarly research.”

A team of nine people has been working on Archives 300 since July 1997. The staff is working with departments across the University to teach administrative assistants and others how to manage potentially important records. “We want to put into place an understanding that there’s a shared responsibility for records,” says Szary. The staff is also working with student organizations to ensure that their publications and relevant records are deposited in the Archives.

The decision to devote a significant amount of Tercentennial resources to such a low-visibility (albeit important) project as archives maintenance reflects the serious-minded spirit of the University-wide group that shaped the Tercentennial. The planning committee, made up of 14 faculty members and administrators appointed by President Levin and chaired by Linda Lorimer and Yale College Dean Richard Brodhead, produced the blueprint for the Tercentennial: lists of official goals, planning principles, and questions the University might address in preparing for its 300th year. (A steering committee chaired by Levin and including professors, administrators, Corporation members, and alumni has since taken over the implementation.)

The ideas that emerged say a great deal about how Yale sees itself at the end of its third century. The Tercentennial has been envisioned as a frugal, efficient affair, making use of existing resources and concentrating on initiatives that will reinforce what are seen as Yale’s strengths.

One of those, for example, is the free exchange of ideas and resources among Yale’s different schools. “There is a greater interconnectivity between and among schools here than at other places,” says Lorimer, explaining that events like the University-wide open house are intended to foster such exchange. “We want to bring different parts of the University together to collaborate and converse,” she says. “Just as the Bicentennial buildings were an effort to build something that would unite the University, we’re trying to bring together the constituencies of Yale.”

As for using existing resources, Lorimer and the committee have been working to ensure that the University’s various regular conferences and lecture series are devoted to Tercentennial themes. Next year’s DeVane Lectures, for example, will be given by School of Architecture dean Robert A. M. Stern and will look at 20th-century architecture through Yale buildings and the work of Yale-trained architects.

While the Tercentennial Committee gave much thought to launching a building project to commemorate the 300th (a renovation of Commons was among the ideas discussed), it was decided that the University’s capital-improvements plate is sufficiently full with the current renovation projects. “This period is characterized by rebuilding Yale,” says Lorimer. “So for a Tercentennial project we could just say 'look around you.' The athletic facilities will have been renovated and expanded, the library will be done, and three residential colleges will have been renovated. All of this is reflective of Yale at the junction between its third and fourth centuries. We’re not just restoring Yale, but refitting it for the 21st century.”

Once the committee had established a framework for the Tercentennial, it was time to find someone who could make it happen. Lindner came to the position from a tour as chief administrative officer for the City of New Haven. Before that, she was assistant director of New York City Mayor Rudolph Giuliani’s office of operations, and she has retained the intensity one might expect from someone in that post. Lindner has the formidable task of sorting out all the Tercentennial initiatives and making sure they run smoothly together.

To that end, Lindner and others met with the people responsible for coordinating recent anniversaries at Yale’s peer institutions: Harvard’s 350th in 1986 and Princeton’s 250th in 1996. Lindner said she learned much from their experience. “Harvard’s was packed tightly in time, and Princeton’s was spread over 18 months. We hope to be somewhere in between.”

While a schematic plan of the Tercentennial is by now well in place, it’s the details that Lindner’s office must still work out. Various components of the College and the University are still developing their own plans, and Lindner and the Tercentennial committee will help them ensure that those plans are consistent with the celebration’s overall goals. And, Lindner adds, everyone must obey a simple but important three-word mandate: “Plan for rain.”  the end


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