Skip to Main Content

A half-century of growth

The medical school was a quiet place in 1951, with a part-time dean and only 23 full professors. What a difference 50 years makes.

In 1951, the School of Medicine operated on a budget of just over $3 million. In 2001, annual revenue had grown 239-fold, to $717 million.

In 1951, $1 million was spent on research. Fifty years later, the total was 382 times that figure.

And at the century’s midpoint, the medical school faculty counted only 23 full professors among its ranks. As of last October, that number had grown to 379, still just a fraction of the total 1,354 current full-time faculty.

It’s fair to say that the school has grown dramatically over the past five decades.

That growth is the focus of Medicine at Yale, 1951-2001, the third in a series of exhibits at the Cushing/Whitney Medical Library curated by Historical Librarian Toby A. Appel, Ph.D., and Curatorial Consultant Lilli Sentz, M.L.S., as part of the 300th anniversary celebration of Yale’s founding in 1701.

The role of federal money in the expansion of the school was significant, and remains a considerable factor in the school’s growth to this day. “After World War II, there were a number of agencies that got into funding science,” said Appel. “During and after the war, the country’s leadership decided that if you supported science, you would get breakthroughs, that there was a cause and effect.” The increase in funding led to growth on several fronts, including the administration. Instead of just a part-time dean who taught on the side, the school eventually would have a full-time dean, assistant deans, associate deans and deputy deans.

The appointment of Vernon W. Lippard, M.D., as dean in 1952 was significant because his full-time status allowed him to do a thorough job of fund-raising, according to former Deputy Dean Arthur Ebbert, M.D., who served on the faculty from 1953 to 1988 and provided assistance for the exhibit. Lippard launched several major building programs, said Ebbert, noting that the construction of Harkness Dormitory and Harkness Auditorium and the expansion of the Sterling Hall of Medicine took place during his deanship. During Lippard’s tenure, the number of faculty more than doubled and the budget grew fivefold.

Like the rest of the country, Yale experienced considerable unrest during the 1960s. Fredrick C. Redlich, M.D., dean from 1967 to 1972, led the school during the most turbulent years and oversaw the formation of five new departments and a 25 percent increase in the size of the faculty. Redlich strengthened basic science departments and grounded the teaching of psychiatry in the biological and behavioral sciences. He was succeeded by Lewis Thomas, M.D., former dean at New York University and a noted pathologist and essayist, who left after a year to become the director of Memorial Sloan-Kettering Hospital in New York. His successor, Robert Berliner, M.D., continued to build the school into a scientific powerhouse during his 11-year deanship, making it “one of the top two or three institutions in America in terms of hosting research supported by peer-reviewed grants,” then-Yale President A. Bartlett Giamatti said upon Berliner’s retirement.

Leon E. Rosenberg, M.D., HS ’63, dean from 1984 to 1991, oversaw the completion of the Boyer Center for Molecular Medicine, the Yale Psychiatric Institute, the Yale Physicians Building and the expansion of the Medical Library. He also helped raise $155 million to increase the endowment. Robert M. Donaldson, M.D., led the school in 1991-92 until the arrival of Dean Gerard N. Burrow, M.D. ’58, who returned to Yale after serving on the faculty of the University of Toronto and as dean and vice chancellor of the University of California San Diego. The exhibit credits Burrow with leading the School of Medicine through a difficult time of transition and promoting science and education despite threats of reduced external support.

The school’s current dean, David A. Kessler, M.D., was appointed in 1997 after serving for seven years as commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration. Kessler has presided over the continued growth of the school, shepherding construction of the Congress Avenue Building and a number of smaller building projects (See Chronicle). Speaking to a gathering of medical, nursing and public health alumni at the Yale Club of New York in January, Kessler said that the medical school will have added approximately 700,000 square feet of new or renovated space to its campus within several years and that the next 50 years may surpass the last half-century’s growth. “I think,” he said, “that we’re in the greatest period of expansion in the medical school’s history.”