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Political fight stalls cancer center

Nearly a year after it was submitted to the city for approval, a plan by Yale–New Haven Hospital (YNHH) to build a $430-million facility for cancer care and research remains stalled. The main sticking point? A dispute over unionization of the hospital’s workers. Mayor John DeStefano Jr. and members of the Board of Aldermen have indicated that the project will not be approved unless the hospital and the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) agree on ground rules for an employee vote on joining the union. 

From the perspective of YNHH and Yale’s School of Medicine, the building is an essential next step. The medical school is home to one of the nation’s 39 federally designated Comprehensive Cancer Centers, a status that brings more than $22 million a year in research grants. But for Yale to maintain that status, the hospital’s clinical care facilities must be expanded and upgraded. (The university and YNHH are separate organizations, but Yale doctors practice there, and the university has seats on YNHH’s board of directors.) Although Yale is known for important research into the causes and potential treatments of cancer, its reputation for clinical care has suffered because of its outdated and scattered facilities.

From the perspective of union organizers, YNHH’s pay and benefits are inadequate. SEIU says that union workers at Yale earn three to four dollars an hour more than YNHH workers in comparable jobs. A union-affiliated group called Community Organized for Responsible Development (CORD) issued 27 demands of YNHH in December, including increased wages, job training programs, more-affordable care, and debt relief for low-income patients. “This community subsidizes the hospital with a tax exemption, and they’re supposed to give something back in return,” says union spokesman William Meyerson.

But instead of negotiating with CORD, which YNHH spokesman Vin Petrini calls “nothing less than a front group for the union,” the hospital has proposed a community investment program valued at $1.9 million and created in collaboration with other local groups. The program would include money for home rehabilitation, day care slots, library books, scholarships, and other benefits.

YNHH and SEIU originally disagreed over procedures for a unionization vote, the hospital proposing a secret-ballot vote using the National Labor Relations Board’s process and the union calling for a process in which union organizers would collect signatures from workers. Each has waged a high-profile public relations campaign with television commercials, full-page newspaper ads, and competing rallies—pro-union workers for one side, white-coated doctors for the other. YNHH ads suggest that delays are costing lives: “The only thing worse than cancer is waiting too long to treat it.” The union’s raise concerns about the project’s size and environmental impact: “Let’s build the cancer center. But let’s do it together.”

Electoral politics complicate the picture. Mayor DeStefano, a Democrat, depends on union support. YNHH officials say that when they approached the city about the cancer center, DeStefano said the union question would have to be addressed before the city would discuss the project. Instead, the hospital took the unusual step of moving forward with the design without consulting the city, submitting it for approval last March. City officials and activists have problems with the plan, including design, traffic, parking, and environmental issues; YNHH says going back to the drawing board at this point would cost millions and result in unacceptable delays.

But the mayor is also running for governor this year. If a development project as substantial as the cancer center fails in New Haven, it could mar his effort to run on a record of successful economic revitalization. Political insiders say that the solution to the stalemate depends on DeStefano, and that he may be pushing for a compromise that will allow him to take credit or, at least, save face.

In fact, YNHH and SEIU have now moved closer on voting issues. The union has agreed to a secret-ballot vote, and the hospital says it will not file an appeal of the results if the vote is conducted under NLRB rules. And recently, Yale vice president Bruce Alexander '65 began holding meetings in hopes of helping the parties reach agreement.

Disagreements remain. The union, which says the hospital intimidates pro-union workers, wants YNHH to agree not to talk to workers about the union. “We want workers to have the right to choose in a fair secret-ballot election, without management interference and intimidation,” says Meyerson. Petrini denies the intimidation charges and says the hospital won’t agree to neutrality: “We think our employees have a right to cast an informed vote.”

Nearly everyone involved claims to favor the center—at least in some form. “We want the cancer center built,” says Meyerson. “There’s nobody I know on either side who hasn’t suffered because of this disease.”


Yale’s content enhanced by Brill

In the late 1890s, Joseph Pulitzer sought to endow a school to educate “an able, disinterested, public-spirited press, with trained intelligence to know the right and courage to do it.” Several years and $2 million later, Columbia finally accepted and remains the only Ivy with a professional school for journalists.

Media entrepreneur Steven Brill '72, '75JD, who founded The American Lawyer, Brill’s Content, and Court TV, hopes to make an impact on journalism, too. But he does not intend to follow Pulitzer’s lead. “We don’t want to create a major or a trade school. I have nothing against Columbia, but a lot of successful journalists didn’t go to journalism school,” says Brill, who has taught an advanced journalism course at Yale since 2001.

But operating under the belief that “we need a way to get qualified people in the field of journalism,” Brill and his wife Cynthia Brill '72 announced in January a gift of $1 million to endow the Yale Journalism Initiative, a program to cultivate interest in journalism and provide career guidance. “Yale has been a shining star in journalism,” says Anne Fadiman, a former editor of The American Scholar, who teaches writing at Yale. “But Steve Brill has put his finger on exactly what’s missing.” Fadiman says budding journalists need the kind of help in finding internships and jobs that Yale provides to students seeking, for instance, opportunities to study abroad.

The Yale College Writing Center will appoint 15 to 25 undergraduate and graduate students as Yale Journalism Scholars. These students will take a journalism seminar and an intensive writing course, participate in a summer internship, and write for publications at Yale or elsewhere. The Brills' grant will fund experienced journalists to teach the seminars and support students working in low-paying internships. It will also pay for events and speakers. “It’s great to put the prestige of Yale behind journalism,” says Alfred Guy, director of the writing center.

In his own course, Brill touches on topics that range from the grand (journalism’s role in a democracy) to the technical (the value of sourcing). He says he hopes to pass on “expertise and passion” along with the necessary skills of journalism.

“As the world gets more complicated,” Brill says, “people need honest surrogates telling us what’s going on.”


Can a Reagan fan love Strangelove?

The mood was anxious at the Whitney Humanities Center on the evening of January 13. The center was opening its film series with a screening of Stanley Kubrick’s 1964 nuclear-themed political satire, Dr. Strangelove, or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb, and the guest speaker was Yale’s acclaimed Cold War historian, John Lewis Gaddis. Some of the horde of hungry students attacking the catered reception beforehand expected Gaddis to shoot down Kubrick’s hysterical parable of world diplomacy gone horribly wrong. Gaddis is the scholar who has proclaimed Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush to be great war strategists; what was his take on Strangelove’s President Merkin Muffley?

Turns out that Gaddis was there to praise Strangelove, not to drop a bomb. The film’s subtitle, he said with a grin, should more accurately be “How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Let Movies Save the World.” He recalled the first anti-nuclear film he ever saw, the “wistful” 1959 melodrama On the Beach, and the “dead serious” novel Red Alert, on which Strangelove was based. Just five years after On the Beach, Kubrick broke through with a heretofore unexpected comic tone and attitude towards mutually assured world destruction. “A cultural shift had taken place about nuclear weapons in this five-year period,” Gaddis noted, attributing it largely to the close-at-hand Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962. That incident made laughable the idea of a winnable nuclear war, and it helped pave the way for arms-reduction talks.

Strangelove was “subversive in several ways,” Gaddis instructed, not least in its caricatures of “very important people” such as Curtis LeMay, Wernher von Braun, Herman Kahn, and the young Henry Kissinger—the first an inspiration for George C. Scott’s character General “Buck” Turgidson, the last three all bundled into the title character portrayed by Peter Sellers.

The standing-room-only crowd in the Whitney Humanities Center auditorium seemed rapt. Dr. Strangelove, Gaddis concluded, “made it possible to laugh at nuclear danger, and showed us it was crazy to entrust security to this configuration of power.


Selling Sudan shares to protest genocide

Citing the growing consensus that the Sudanese government is supporting genocide in the Darfur region, the Yale Corporation voted on February 11 to bar university investments in Sudanese government bonds and in seven oil companies operating in Sudan. Yale president Rick Levin said that the university currently holds stock in one of the seven companies and will immediately sell that stake. Several universities and a number of government pension funds have divested from Sudan or are considering doing so. Yale is the first university to bar not only direct investments, but also those made through its outside investment managers.

The decision marks the second time Yale has divested in accordance with ethical-investment principles it adopted in 1972. In 1978, the university sold its stock in many companies doing business in apartheid South Africa, though it stopped short of complete divestment from that nation.

The Sudan divestment proposal first surfaced at the 2005 annual meeting of Yale’s Advisory Committee on Investor Responsibility (ACIR), which advises the Corporation. Two years earlier, black Africans in Darfur had rebelled against the national government, accusing its leaders of discrimination and oppression. In retaliation, the government unleashed Arab militias (known as the Janjaweed) who have killed a reported 400,000 people to date, according to the Save Darfur Coalition, a national network of faith-based and humanitarian groups. At the request of a group of Yale law students from the Lowenstein International Human Rights Clinic, the ACIR—in collaboration with the clinic—worked to determine what companies had ties to Sudan and which of those may be supporting the genocide by providing the government with revenue. In January, they released their findings and recommendations to the Corporation’s own internal committee on investor responsibility.

“We’re very excited that the Yale Corporation decided to divest,” says Nick Robinson '06JD, student director of the Lowenstein clinic. He says the group is particularly pleased that Yale focused on the oil industry. Over half of Sudanese government revenue stems from oil, Robinson explains, and this money helps the militias buy guns, raid villages, and kill thousands of civilians.

While the clinic also investigated companies in the telecom and energy sectors, the ACIR concluded that the “widespread benefits” of these companies to the Sudanese people outweighed the revenue provided to the Sudanese government. These are complex issues, Robinson says: “Should Yale divest from a company that helps fund a Sudanese dam that brings electricity to its people?” The ACIR said it may further investigate these sectors in the future.

School of Management professor K. Geert Rouwenhorst, chair of the ACIR, says he is happy that the Yale Corporation adopted the recommendations fully. “I can only hope that Yale’s decision will indirectly contribute to bringing about change in the situation in the Darfur province.”

Activist groups expressed mixed feelings. “I was encouraged to see that Yale didn’t get bogged down in dialogue and took the ACIR’s report seriously,” says Eric Bloom '08, co-coordinator of Yale’s chapter of Students Taking Action Now: Darfur, which had held a rally last month to urge divestment. But Bloom says he had hoped that Yale would also issue a more general policy calling for immediate attention whenever an international consensus forms that genocide is occurring, rather than waiting until students call for examination.

Rouwenhorst notes that further divestment may still take place. In addition to a divestment list, the report placed a number of companies on a “watch list.” The ACIR will continue to monitor these companies. the end









The Generation-Gap Orchestra

To celebrate Mozart’s 250th birthday and the Yale Symphony Orchestra’s 40th, some 30 alumni of the YSO dusted off their horns, flexed their bow arms, and joined the current members of the undergraduate orchestra in a little night music. Toshiyuki Shimada, who was appointed conductor of the YSO last year, chose the fast and rollicking overture to The Magic Flute as the combined players' performance piece. At left, trombonists Robert Soto '07 and Jim McCreary '80 played in a Saturday afternoon rehearsal on February 4 for the concert that evening.








Too Big?

Critics of a proposed new biology building are hopeful that the university is reconsidering its design. In February, the university withdrew its request for city zoning variances needed to construct the building, which is planned for a Whitney Avenue parking lot near the Peabody Museum.

Some neighbors and urban design activists say the building is too large and badly sited. Local architecture critic Philip Langdon wrote in the Hartford Courant that the building, which is 348 feet long and 121 feet high, “will stick out like a very large sore thumb” on its site. Langdon also pointed out that the building will be taller than the Bass Center, its neighbor on Science Hill—despite the appearance conveyed by a photomontage released by architects Venturi, Scott Brown & Associates, in which the Bass Center’s peaked roof appears at right. “We appreciate the input we’ve heard from our neighbors, and we’ll continue to listen and share with them as we move forward,” says Michael Morand '87, '93MDiv, associate vice president for New Haven and state affairs.







Campus Clips

Applications to Yale College reached a record high of 21,084 for the Class of 2010, up 8.4 percent from last year. Other Ivy League colleges had similar increases, though Harvard’s decreased slightly. Undergraduate admissions dean Jeffrey Brenzel '75 believes the rise is a result of the “wider national reach” of the Ivies and other peer schools.

Legal Affairs, a magazine launched in 2002 with backing from the Yale Law School, suspended publication with its March/April issue. The magazine, which severed its ties to Yale in 2004, gained positive attention, but editor Lincoln Caplan wrote in a statement on the magazine’s website that Legal Affairs has been “unable to attract a second round of financing.”

A joint master’s degree program in architecture and environmental management will soon be offered by the School of Architecture and the School of Forestry and Environmental Studies. The goal is to train architects who can design environmentally sound buildings. The combined degree program will take three to four years to complete.

Delta Air Lines stopped its service to Tweed–New Haven Airport in January, ending a year and a half of thrice-daily flights between New Haven and the carrier’s Cincinnati hub. The airport had attracted Delta in 2004 with the help of $1.6 million in annual revenue guarantees from Yale and other local institutions. The loss leaves Tweed with only one carrier, U.S. Airways.

Cable news anchor Anderson Cooper '89 will deliver this year’s Class Day address to graduating seniors. Cooper, host of Anderson Cooper 360° on CNN, has been a reporter for Channel One and ABC.


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