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$250M gift for new residential colleges

Six years after they were first proposed, Yale's 13th and 14th residential colleges moved $250 million closer to reality today with the announcement that Charles B. Johnson ’54 will give that amount toward the college's construction. In an e-mail to faculty, staff, students, and alumni, President Peter Salovey ’86PhD said the donation—the largest single gift in Yale's history—puts the university within $80 million of the $500 million or so it needs to build the colleges.

The new colleges, which would be built on a triangle of land along Prospect Street between the Grove Street Cemetery and Ingalls Rink, would allow Yale to expand its undergraduate enrollment by about 15 percent, from 5,200 to 6,000. The plan was approved by the Yale Corporation in June 2008 but was put on hold after the university's endowment lost $5.9 billion in the economic collapse three months later.

Since then, the university has been trying to raise the money to build the colleges through donations, using some early contributions to pay for the design of the colleges by Robert A. M. Stern Architects, the demolition of several buildings on the site, and site preparation. All the buildings on the site have been demolished except for Seeley Mudd Library.

Johnson, who recently retired as chairman of Franklin Resources, a mutual-funds investment company founded by his father, has a net worth of $5.6 billion, according to the most recent Forbes 400 list. He is principal owner of the San Francisco Giants and a frequent donor to conservative political candidates and PACs. His previous gifts to Yale have helped fund the renovation of the Yale Bowl, the Brady-Johnson Program in Grand Strategy, and the Johnson Center for the Study of American Diplomacy.

One might think the new colleges are a remarkable "naming opportunity" for potential donors: the names of residential colleges, after all, are dear to the hearts of students, exchanged in the first two minutes of any conversation with another Yalie and shouted with pride at football games and intramural competition. But Yale has long insisted that the new colleges would follow the naming pattern of the old ones, which are all named for people and places from Yale's history and not for the people who paid for them.

So there won't likely be a Johnson College in Yale's future. But there are any number of naming opportunities within the colleges. Among the most prominent is a tower in the north college that will be nearly as tall as the iconic Harkness Tower. Johnson Tower, maybe?

Filed under residential colleges, Charles B. Johnson
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