Benno C. Schmidt, Jr.

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Benno C. Schmidt, Jr.
20th President of Yale University
In office
Preceded by A. Bartlett Giamatti
Succeeded by Howard R. Lamar
Personal details
Born Benno Charles Schmidt, Jr.
(1942-03-20) March 20, 1942 (age 76)
New York City
Alma mater Philips Exeter Academy
Yale University

Benno Charles Schmidt, Jr. (born March 20, 1942)[1] is the Chairman of Avenues: The World School,[2] a for-profit, private K-12 school, and Chairman of the Board of Trustees of the City University of New York (CUNY). From 1986 to 1992 he was 20th President of Yale University. He was Dean of the Columbia Law School, and its Harlan Fiske Stone Professor of Constitutional Law and chairman of Edison Schools (now EdisonLearning). He is a noted scholar of the First Amendment, the history of the United States Supreme Court and the history of race relations in American law. He clerked for Earl Warren, Chief Justice, United States Supreme Court.[3][4] He led New York City Mayor Rudolph Giuliani’s task force on revitalizing the CUNY system.

Early life and career

Schmidt was born in New York City, New York. His father was Benno C. Schmidt, Sr., a longtime friend and associate of John "Jock" Hay Whitney. In 1946 Whitney and the elder Schmidt started what became the first venture capital firm in the United States, J.H. Whitney & Co.[5]

Schmidt, Jr., attended St. Bernard's School, Philips Exeter Academy and Yale University. As a Yale undergraduate, Schmidt was a member of Delta Kappa Epsilon (Phi chapter) like both his father (University of Texas Chapter) and Jock Whitney (Yale Chapter), and Wolf's Head Society. He went on to Yale Law School. Following graduation from law school, he became a law clerk for Chief Justice of the United States Earl Warren, then worked for two years in the U.S. Department of Justice before joining Columbia Law School as a faculty member. His areas of expertise as a legal scholar include the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, the history of race relations in American law, and the history of the U.S. Supreme Court.[4]

He achieved tenure at Columbia in 1973 at age 29, was named Harlan Fiske Stone Professor of Constitutional Law in 1982, and was appointed dean of the law school in 1984 serving until 1986 when he left to become president of Yale.[4]

Yale University

Schmidt was president of Yale from 1986 to 1992. His tenure at Yale left a mixed legacy. In academics, he instituted several new and popular programs, but his attempt to reduce the size of the faculty was controversial. He anticipated the need to repair the physical plant, which had fallen into a state of disrepair, but widespread renovations were not carried out until the tenure of Rick Levin. He did not live in New Haven. He raised over a billion dollars for Yale,[6] and the endowment grew faster than at any other university.[4]

Answering faculty reports of poor writing abilities among incoming freshmen, Schmidt convened a committee to review the problem and, reflecting the committee's recommendations, subsequently added significant writing programs at Yale (such as the residential college writing tutor that remains a fixture at each college today). Under Schmidt's leadership, Yale also established the Ethics, Politics and Economics (EP&E) program[6] which was modeled on Oxford's PP&E program. He built a number of new interdisciplinary programs, especially in environmental sciences, molecular biology, and international studies.[7] Schmidt questioned the existence of certain academic programs at Yale, causing controversy, and his proposal for an 11 percent reduction in the size of the faculty was not well received.[6]

Schmidt was criticized for not maintaining an active physical presence on campus. As part of his agreement to serve, he had maintained his primary residence in New York City,[8] where his wife, Helen Whitney, a documentary filmmaker, was based.[9] He vowed also to never set foot in his society, Wolf's Head, until it admitted women.[10] The society tapped women for the first time in the spring of 1992, the last year of Schmidt's Yale presidency. On the morning of commencement later that year Schmidt resigned the presidency at a meeting with the Yale Corporation.[6]

Edison Schools

After resigning from Yale, in 1992, Schmidt became chief executive officer of Edison Schools (now EdisonLearning), a for-profit corporation that operates public schools in several districts. From 1997 to 2007, he served as Edison’s chairman and now serves on the board.[11]

Professional and civic service

Schmidt is chairman of the Council for Aid to Education, a not-for-profit organization that provides assessment and strategic planning services to colleges and universities.[4] He also serves as chairman of the Board of Trustees of the City University of New York (CUNY).[4] Former New York City Mayor Rudolph Giuliani's Task Force on CUNY was led by Schmidt, and in 1999 Schmidt authored a report that provided CUNY's present blueprint.[4] In November 2010, Benno received the sixth annual Philip Merrill Award of the American Council of Trustees and Alumni (ACTA) for outstanding contributions to liberal arts education.[12]


In 1989 he was appointed an Honorary Member of the Order of Australia (AM), "for service to the arts and agricultural development in Australia".[13] In 1991 this was upgraded to Honorary Officer status (AO). The citation read "For service to the arts, agricultural development and Australian/American relations".[14]


Schmidt had a cameo appearance in Woody Allen's film Husbands and Wives (1992) as the first husband of Mia Farrow's character, and in Hannah and Her Sisters (1986) as Dr. Smith.


  1. The International Who's Who 2004
  2. Avenues site
  3. Press release, Benno Schmidt Elected a Director of Argosy's John Marshall Law School/Atlanta, Business Wire, September 28, 2000
  4. 4.0 4.1 4.2 4.3 4.4 4.5 4.6 Benno C. Schmidt, Jr. Trustee Biography, Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation website
  5. Benno C. Schmidt Financier is Dead at 86, New York Times, October 22, 1999
  6. 6.0 6.1 6.2 6.3 Raymond Carlson, Ten presidents and 130 years at the University, Yale Daily News, January 28, 2008{}
  7. New York City Mayor's Press Office, Release #201-98, May 6, 1998
  8. Vivian Yee, For modern administrators, one mansion is too many, Yale Daily News, October 1, 2010
  9. Robert Kolker, The Old College Try, New York magazine, November 22, 1999
  10. Andrew Cedotal, Rattling those dry bones, Yale Daily News, April 18, 2006{}
  11. Edison Schools website bio of Benno Schmidt
  13. It's an Honour: AM
  14. It's an Honour: AO


Academic offices
Preceded by
Albert J. Rosenthal
Dean of Columbia Law School
Succeeded by
Barbara Aronstein Black
Preceded by
A. Bartlett Giamatti
President of Yale University
Succeeded by
Howard R. Lamar