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Light & Verity

Grant to Fund Women’s Health Research

Yale’s expanding interest in health and medical issues regarding women (see “The Push for Women’s Health,” Feb. 1997) got a boost in February when the School of Medicine was awarded a five-year, $6.5-million grant from a Connecticut foundation. The grant, given by the Patrick and Catherine Weldon Donaghue Medical Research Foundation, will be used to create the Ethel F. Donaghue Women’s Health Investigator Program, which will fund original and interdisciplinary research projects on women’s health.

The new grant will support a broad range of topics, according to Carolyn Mazure, who will oversee the program as principal investigator. “We are contacting people across Yale and Yale-affiliated hospitals and encouraging people to apply for support from this program, says Mazure. “I’m hoping that people will not necessarily leave their area of research but expand it to think about how gender may play a role in that research.”

Historically, a great deal of medical research has excluded women, both because of a reluctance to experiment on women of childbearing age and because of the complexities of the female reproductive cycle. But researchers commonly assumed that the results of all-male studies were applicable to women as well. “We’re asking people to revisit that assumption,” says Mazure.

Since 1996, Yale has been one of six institutions designated as National Centers of Excellence in Women’s Health by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. In addition to research initiatives like those the Donaghue grant will support, Yale’s efforts include a comprehensive clinical program for women.

West Hartford attorney Ethel F. Donaghue, who died in 1989, established the $60-million Donaghue Foundation in her will. The Yale grant represents the largest single grant the foundation has ever given.


A New Look at the Campus’s Future

The last time Yale commissioned a master plan for its physical development, Harkness Tower was under construction, residential colleges were still a dozen years away, and Science Hill had barely begun to be developed. The grand plan presented to the Corporation by architect John Russell Pope in 1919 called for dozens of new buildings, new streets, and squares arranged in a formal pattern of long vistas not unlike Washington, D.C. Now, almost 80 years later, the University is planning again, but don’t expect such dramatic flourishes this time.

The University has engaged the noted New York architecture and urban design firm Cooper, Robertson & Partners, along with a host of consultants on landscape architecture, graphic design, traffic, historic preservation, and environmental concerns, to assist in a major study of the University’s buildings and grounds. Unlike the 1919 plan, the study will not prescribe a specific course of action but will provide “a framework for campus planning,” according to Cooper Robertson project manager Scott Newman.

“We have intentionally avoided calling it a master plan,” says Newman. “We like to think of it as an owner’s manual for the campus.”

The study will pay special attention to the areas on the fringes of the campus where the University has acquired property in recent years. “We need to look at our relationship to the city,” says Pamela Delphenich, University Planner. “We want to think about defining or in some cases dissolving those edges.”

Newman says the analysis phase of the study is now complete, and the full report should be completed by the end of the year.


Smith Lectures on Yale and the World

As Yale approaches its 300th anniversary in 2001, students, faculty, and alumni can look forward to a run of books, lectures, and special events that offer a view of the University’s history and self-image. The festivities begin this fall, when Larned Professor of History Gaddis Smith '54, '61PhD, will present the DeVane Lectures on Yale and its role in the wider world in the 20th century.

Smith, an international relations specialist who has been affiliated with Yale as a student and professor for half that century (minus a three-year stint at Duke), will construct the course around the book he is currently writing, Yale and the External World: The Shaping of the University in the 20th Century, which is to be published by Yale University Press in 2000. The book was commissioned by President Richard C. Levin as part of the Tercentennial celebration, and Levin offered Smith the DeVane series as a way of helping to develop the book.

Among the themes of Smith’s book—and the course—are the effects of war, ethnic and social change, and federal funding on the University over the century.

Every year since 1969, a professor has been invited to deliver the weekly DeVane Lectures—which explore a particular subject from an interdisciplinary perspective—to students (for credit) and the general public. The lectures were established to honor former Yale College dean William Clyde DeVane.


Shedding Light on Vanishing Frogs

Throughout the decade, scientists have been observing puzzling population declines and, more recently, deformities in a number of frogs, toads, and salamanders. A study by Joseph M. Kiesecker, the first Gaylord Donnelley Fellow at the School of Forestry and Environmental Studies, suggests that both phenomena may have the same cause: the ultraviolet-B radiation (UV-B) component of sunlight. Overexposure to UV-B can result in sunburn in humans, and in a series of experiments conducted in several lakes in Oregon’s Cascade Mountains, Kiesecker, Oregon State University biologist Andrew R. Blaustein, and their colleagues, demonstrated that UV-B can also cause serious damage to amphibian eggs.

Earlier research showed that an enzyme called photolyase can repair the damage that UV-B causes to genetic material. In a paper published this winter in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, Kiesecker and his colleagues reported that when the eggs of the long-toed salamander, a low-photolyase animal that often lays its eggs under rocks and in other dark places, were exposed to sunlight, more than 90 percent developed abnormalities.

The scientists had studied three frog species and discovered “a hundred-fold difference in photolyase activity,” says Kiesecker. In the Western toad and Cascades frog, levels of the repair enzyme were low—both species are declining throughout their range. In the Pacific tree frog, however, natural photolyase levels are high, and this frog is holding its own.

The thinning of the Earth’s protective ozone layer can cause UV-B levels to rise, but the researchers don’t yet have data to confirm whether this is occurring in the Cascades. Furthermore, sunlight may not necessarily be the whole story, says Kiesecker, who is now studying amphibians at the Yale-Myers Forest in northeastern Connecticut. “Exposure to too much UV-B also makes amphibian embryos more susceptible to infection by a parasitic fungus,” he explains. “It’s a very complicated story.”


A Historic Pact to Preserve History

The dialogue between historic preservation groups and institutions like Yale is usually conducted on op-ed pages, in demonstrations, or in court. But in February the University and the New Haven Preservation Trust announced an unusual agreement over the future of six historic University-owned houses.

The heart of the pact—the first such agreement between the University and preservationists—is Yale’s promise to restore four of the houses, including the landmark Davies Mansion (see “Light & Verity,” Feb.), in exchange for the Trust’s assurance that it will not oppose the removal or demolition of two Trumbull Street properties. The agreement also commits the University to “continued consultation” with the Trust over the restorations.

“We felt we were able to get more by negotiating with Yale,” says Robert Grzywacz of the Trust, who helped craft the plan. “I think we will get a more thorough restoration of the four buildings than we would have otherwise.”

In addition to the Davies Mansion, whose future has been in question since Yale bought it in 1972, the University has agreed to a full exterior restoration of the John Pierpont House, Yale’s Visitor Information Center. The Elm Street house, which dates from 1767, is the oldest building still standing on the New Haven Green. The Skinner-Trowbridge House at 46 Hillhouse (1832) and the Abigail Whelpley House (1827) at 31 Hillhouse will also be restored.

The plan specifies that the Kingsley-Blake House, an 1860s structure at 88 Trumbull, will be marketed for a year to find a buyer who will move it. If no buyer is found, the house will be razed. The Maple Cottage at 85 Trumbull, an 1836 house by the noted architect Andrew Jackson Downing, will be demolished under the plan, since Yale and the Trust agreed that its historic character had been lost as a result of extensive renovations over the years. “It’s technically a Downing house, but it has none of the Downing parts anymore,” says Grzywacz.


Police Catch a Yale Blue Flu

In the midst of negotiations that have dragged on for almost two years, 25 Yale Police officers—all members of the Yale Police Benevolent Association—called in sick on February 14 in an apparent job action, leaving supervisors to fill the day’s roster with off-duty management personnel. The action, which was followed a week later by union picketing of the Yale Corporation meeting on February 21, was the most dramatic sign yet of union frustration with contract talks.

The officers who called in sick represented all but one of those union members scheduled to work that day. Union treasurer Christopher Morganti said that the officer who showed up has less than a year’s experience and can be fired without cause.

While Morganti maintained that the outbreak was not the result of an organized union effort, Yale spokesman Tom Conroy called it “a concerted job action to withhold services from the University.” The officers who participated had their day’s pay docked.

Union officials are bound by their most recent contract—which expired in 1996—to try to prevent job actions if they have any prior knowledge of them. That contract provision—which is part of a “no strike/no lockout” clause that the union wants to abolish—is but one sticking point in reaching a new accord. Yale and the union have also clashed over the length of their contract, the union’s request for an “employee bill of rights,” and pension and disability issues. Talks resumed in late February after being stalled for two months.


Tending the Soul Helps the Body

Whatever one’s religious persuasion, going to services has long been seen as essential to the health of the spirit. But a recent study by researchers at Yale and Rutgers has suggested that regular attendance at church or temple can enhance physical and psychological health as well.

In the November 15 issue of the Journal of Gerontology, Stanislav Kasl, a professor at the Yale School of Medicine’s department of epidemiology and public health, and Ellen Idler, associate professor of sociology at the Rutgers Institute for Health, Health Care Policy, and Aging Research, presented evidence that a lifelong habit of church- or temple-going has “a positive impact on health.”

The investigators base their conclusion on an analysis of data collected as part of an ongoing study, funded by the National Institute on Aging, of more than 2,800 New Haven residents ages 65 and older that was begun by Yale scientists 15 years ago. From 1982 through 1989 participants were interviewed annually on a variety of topics relating to health and lifestyle; they were surveyed again in 1994.

Among the questions were some about religious practices, and when Kasl and Idler compared the answers with information about the health status of the participants, an intriguing pattern emerged. “We found that church and temple attendance helps protect people against the normal declines in [physical] functioning that occur when we age,” said Kasl.

Being devout but staying home carried little benefit, and the researchers are quick to point out that the good effects cannot be ascribed simply to the benefits of group activity in general, or to specific behavior mandated by particular religions. “The benefits seem uniquely tied to attendance at services,” Kasl noted.  the end


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