From the Editor

“Shoulder to the wheel”

Bruce Alexander ’65 has had a remarkably busy second career at Yale.

Courtesy Yale University

Courtesy Yale University

Bruce Alexander ’65. View full image

Bruce Alexander’s Yale title is the kind we try to avoid in the Yale Alumni Magazine, because it’s unwieldy enough to make a reader yawn and turn the page: “Vice President for New Haven and State Affairs and Campus Development.” But it could have been worse. A more accurate title for Alexander ’65 would be: “Vice President for New Haven and State Affairs and Campus Development and Hospitality/Dining Services and Facilities and University Properties.”

All that responsibility doesn’t seem to be the reason he’s retiring on June 30. He’s not stressed; of all the overachieving professionals I’ve met, he’s the most relaxed. He looks like he could keep going for another decade or two. But when we spoke in late May, he said he had noticed that he’d been at Yale for 20 years and had turned 75. “The arithmetic was compelling,” he said.

This is Alexander’s second retirement. A brief bio: as an undergrad he was a “bursary boy” (working to help pay his tuition). He earned a JD at Duke, then worked at a real estate company, overseeing projects around the country. He retired at 52 and did pro bono work, some of it in New Haven—a city, he felt, that had a lot potential. His friend David Swensen ’80PhD, Yale’s investment guru, kept trying to persuade him to move up here. Then, “one day David called me and said, ‘[Yale president] Rick Levin wants you to come up full-time, and he’s going to set an appointment.’ And I walked into Rick’s office, and Rick said, ‘A little bird told me that you were very interested in coming up here full-time.’”

Swensen’s matchmaking worked. Alexander, taking up work begun by then-Secretary Linda Lorimer ’77JD, became the first Yale vice president dedicated to the surrounding community. His appointment, he says, was “an institutional commitment” by Yale “to put their shoulder to the wheel of the city and state.” In the 1980s and ’90s, many New Haven buildings were in poor repair or empty. Alexander was instrumental in projects that have changed the city: turning the streets near central campus into an upmarket shopping area. Bringing in so many quality restaurants that New Haven’s “robust culinary scene” (USA Today) is now celebrated. Forging a productive working relationship with Yale’s unions. Collaborating with New Haveners living near Yale’s police headquarters to make it a community resource. Helping to found the New Haven Promise, funded by Yale, to cover in-state public college tuition for all New Haven public school students with a B average and good attendance. He also negotiated Yale’s purchase of the West Campus—“the best real estate deal I ever made.”

Alexander has his critics. Some businesses leasing Yale properties have found his rules—such as staying open late six nights a week on Broadway to keep the street safe—hard to stomach. Many people resent the chain stores on Broadway. (Alexander says they’re a small fraction of Yale’s 119 retail spaces.) And as neighborhoods renovate and prices rise, inevitably some residents are unhappy.

But mostly, New Haveners are fans. In a May article, the New Haven Register called him “the guiding force behind initiatives that have aided residents of Greater New Haven financially and boosted the city’s economy.”

Alexander isn’t retiring completely. He’ll likely teach. President Peter Salovey ’86PhD has asked him to work part time at Yale to help Connecticut solve its debt and transportation infrastructure problems. And he’ll take on “some other special projects that [Salovey] has in mind.” His title will be Senior Advisor to the President. It’s brief, and it can handle whatever’s thrown at it.

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