Yale: A Short History

Recent Developments

After Angell had raised each of Yale's graduate and professional schools to the top level in American higher education, Charles Seymour (1937- 50) chose to strengthen Yale academically - only to have World War II and its aftermath put the accent instead on survival. The students were drafted; the campus, once again as in 1917-18, was turned over largely to the military; while the younger faculty were drawn into the armed services and many of the older scholars went off to serve the nation in Washington or other government undertakings, notably the O.S.S. With peace came the rush back to the understaffed college by G.I.'s and former students determined to make up for lost time - and in 1950 Yale conferred Bachelor degrees on 1,653 students: a record that still stands.
Despite the post-war inflation, under the courageous leadership of President Griswold (1950-63) Yale then rededicated itself to independent scholarship, responsible teaching, academic freedom and the championship of the liberal arts. Abetted by the Alumni Board, President Griswold also gathered in new resources both human and material, launched a building program distinguished for its architectural imagination, and embarked on a massive reconstruction of its science facilities to meet the challenge of the atomic age. Under the spur of the sharpened concern for both scholarship and good teaching, the Faculty of the Arts and Sciences raised its standards for tenure and began adding determinedly to its distinction and range - with a success that would be widely recognized by the 1970s.

"Yale, like Ulysses, is part of all that she has met, part of
all the scholars and students who have trod paths of
learning across her campus, of their ideals and
accomplishments, and of their lives and times, for over
two and a half centuries drawing strength and
inspiration and character from them all yet
transcending them all in her importance to society. Such
things, the environment they createandthe time it takes to
produce them, are irreplaceable. They must live or
perish. They cannot be duplicated. They have no

President A. Whitney Griswold, Report of 1961

When cancer took "Whit" Griswold at the height of his powers, the Provost he had chosen, Kingman Brewster, Jr., B.A. 1941, was entrusted with the leadership of a sparkling and energetic university, already beginning to be caught in the rising tensions of a critical period in our nation's history. Facing up to ever-deepening responsibilities, Brewster soon made himself a national spokesman for our universities and fought against both undue favors and invidious attacks: the conferral of educational privileges in the Vietnam draft no less than attempts at political interference. Admissions policies were redirected in favor of bright students, minorities and the underprivileged. For Yale undergraduates he encouraged a responsible political participation, and made available a year of leave from studies for those wishing to break the lockstep of their education. At the university level, he not only carried forward the rebuilding of the sciences but encouraged a new emphasis on the performing arts, brought the School of Drama about on a fresh tack, with a repertory theater soon added, and secured from Yale's benefactor, Paul Mellon, his collection of British books and art with a working museum to house it. Professional as well as amateur music flourished under his regime; and the Forestry School has broadened its mandate to ecological studies. Meanwhile the Graduate School, led by John Perry Miller (Dean 1961 -69), had begun expanding with great vigor and enterprise and was well on its way to achieving parity with the College when the nation-wide disturbances of the late 1960s - in New Haven the R.O.T.C. troubles, the Black Panthers and May Day - absorbed most of the planning energies of Yale's administrators not already focused on the change-over to coeducation. The conjunction of these same student troubles with the rising inflation and a shocking stock market decline seems also to have disillusioned the general public with higher education, arrested the growth of faculties everywhere, and so produced a glut in the market for trained Ph.D.s.

1963. The newly elected President

"The question is not whether Yale will survive. Of course
it will. The question is whether Yale will be able to
continue to do as well for our successors as it did for us;
not just for each of us personally, bur for the quality of
our country and the conservation and advancement of
learning for the benefit of all the world."

President Kingman Brewster, Jr., 1974

The story of how men like Professor Louis Pollak (Dean of the Law School, 1965 -70) had helped win in the courts a new freedom for the nation's blacks - or of how the University Chaplain, the Reverend William Sloane Coffin, Jr., B.A. 1949, B.D. 1956, went South with Yale's freedom riders - or of how students and faculty reacted against Vietnam and the draft - or of how the R.O.T.C. programs were attacked and withdrawn - or of how the Black Panthers and youthful sympathizers tried by threats of violence to stop a murder trial in the courthouse - and of how Yale survived the May Day 1970 invasion under Kingman Brewster's strong leadership - these and other happenings of the late '60s and early '70s cannot be detailed here. Suffice it to note that many of Yale's alumni found themselves troubled by what was said and done in New Haven. Yet by comparison with some major rivals the University came through its trials with honor and considerable success.

"This is an institution with an extraordinarily rich past, a
past it bears not only for itself but for our culture. And
one of the things about a great university is that it is a
national treasure in a very real sense. It holds our cul
ture's past, and it helps the culture to a future. Yale must
never lose this sense of itself, nor should it ever allow our
society to lose its view of Yale as one of the repositories
of national memory and a national sense of hope."

President-elect A. Bartlett Giamatti, January 1978

What has continued to hurt has been the financial crisis. Faced by ever-increasing deficits, the University cut its services and by stages reduced its faculty budgets about 20 percent - which inevitably blighted the hopes of many of the younger faculty. With the city of New Haven facing its own rising costs on the dwindling population base, the old proposals to tax Yale were forcefully revived, and further building was forbidden without aldermanic approval - which cost Yale two new colleges. No sooner was its academic budget back in balance than there came the energy crisis - and more staves dropped out of the barrel of Yale's resources.
Unquestionably, the confident expansive University of the early 1960s had begun to shrink. Meanwhile Yale's main base of support seemed threatened by the disaffection of some of the alumni, who felt offended by student dress or conduct, or put off by presidential declarations and policies, or angered by the activism of Yale's Chaplain, or distressed at the failure of children or grandchildren to gain admission. After careful studies the several independent alumni organizations were to a considerable degree replaced by or blended into a strong new Association of Yale Alumni, with frequent assemblies in New Haven. Happily, better communication generated better understanding; and the President and the newly strengthened Alumni organizations had the courage to embark on a great $370 million campaign to make sure that tomorrow Yale will continue in vigor and distinction.

As of 1976 this University comprises Yale College with its twelve residential colleges for undergraduates and no fewer than ten graduate or professional schools of international repute, plus the recently authorized School of Organization and Management which enlists experts both from the Faculty and from public life. These twelve schools draw their strength from some sixty departments of study, six flourishing international studies programs, and the extraordinary clusters of advanced laboratories at the Kline Science Center and the Medical School-Hospital complex.
Opportunities for advanced study and learning are also offered by the Peabody Museum of Natural History with its dinosaurs and archaeological treasures, its minerals and its fossils from the sea; by the astronomical observatories in Bethany and the high Andes; and by a lively Art Gallery noted for its teaching collections, its Italian Primitives, its American arts and crafts, and its contemporary sculptures. Research in the Social Sciences benefits from the new Institution for Social and Policy Studies, with its Center for Health Studies, and Programs for Comparative and Historical Studies of Higher Education and for the Study of Private and Non-profit Organizations. The University has also generated a surprising variety of special bureaus, offices, research centers and institutes, to say nothing of such a distinguished enterprise as the Yale University Press (1908 -), or of affiliated institutions such as the Yale-New Haven Hospital, or the recently absorbed Berkeley Divinity School, or the imaginative and legally independent National Humanities Institute of New Haven (the first of its kind in the country, 1974-).

Le Cafe de Nuit of Vincent Van Gogh in the University Art Gallery, gift of Stephen C. Clark, B.A. 1903  

All these are crowned by the extraordinary workshop and treasure house of learning, the Yale University Library. Well over six million books, not counting manuscripts, are housed in the magnificent Sterling Memorial, in the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library, in the Cross Campus Library, and in almost forty school, department, residential college or other collections, such as have been brought together for the History of Art, the History of Science and Medicine, the Economic Growth Center, the Labor and Management Center, or for Metallurgy, Ornithology, Music, Forestry or Transportation. It is an old saying that if all the buildings and all the scholars of Yale were destroyed overnight, but the Yale Library survived, New Haven would in short order rise once again to be one of the world's great centers of learning.

Back to Resources on Yale History

Contents | The Beginnings | Church and State | The Government of the Faculty | Teaching and Great Teachers | Course of Study
The College System | The Breed of Students | Residential Colleges-and Coeducation | The Making of the University | Recent Developments
Yale's Graduates and the Nation | Rectors and Presidents | Books about Yale | Factual and Statistical Data