By Serena Cho , Yale Daily News April 26, 2109
One afternoon last fall, four of Yale’s most generous alumni joined former University Secretary Sam Chauncey ’57 and Chief Investment Officer David Swensen GRD ’80 for lunch at the Racquet and Tennis Club — an exclusive, all-male social club on Park Avenue. The net worth in the room hovered in the billions.
But the Yale loyalists — which also
included Sandy Warner ’68, Nicholas Brady ’52, Vernon Loucks ’57 and Charles
Johnson ’54 — had not gathered to reminisce about their bright college years.
Instead, the six men convened to discuss concerns about University President
Peter Salovey’s leadership and his ability to head Yale’s upcoming capital
campaign, the University’s next major fundraising push.
“The general consensus of the people
at the meeting was that Peter had shown some real signs of weakness,” Loucks
These six alumni have footed the
bill for several of Yale’s most ambitious projects and served as right-hand men
to previous University presidents. Johnson, the biggest donor in University history,
gifted the $250 million that funded the construction of the two newest
residential colleges, while Brady, a former secretary of treasury, endowed the
Brady-Johnson Program in Grand Strategy with Johnson in 2006. Warner, a former
chairman of J.P. Morgan Chase & Co., is one of the longest-sitting members
of the Corporation. Chauncey served as special assistant to former University
President Kingman Brewster between 1963 and 1972. Loucks was a senior fellow of
the Yale Corporation in the 1980s and 1990s. And Swensen, the University’s
highest-paid administrator, is renowned for inventing “the Yale Model,” now the
mainstream model used in endowment management worldwide.
In interviews with the News, Loucks,
Warner, Johnson and Chauncey described their accounts of the meeting. Swensen
did not respond to multiple requests for comment. Brady declined to comment on
the private lunch. Salovey also declined to comment on the meeting.
While the group discussed the
University’s upcoming major projects, including the creation of the Yale
Jackson School of Global Affairs, much of the conversation focused on how
Salovey has handled past controversies, such as the 2017 decision to rename
Calhoun College. According to Loucks, the discussion centered on whether a
change in leadership is necessary, given that Salovey has not articulated a
clear vision for Yale.
Johnson told the News that he
attended the gathering to discuss candidates for the Yale Corporation. But
Loucks and Warner both agreed that such conversations were incidental to the
main focus of the meeting.
Warner said he attended the lunch to
meet with “longtime friends” and answer their questions about the University’s
current affairs. Meeting with alumni to discuss concerns about Yale is “part of
an everyday diet for a Corporation member,” he explained. But Chauncey and
Loucks both told the News that they had never been to a meeting like the one at
the Racquet and Tennis Club, where several of Yale’s biggest names discussed
their concerns about University leadership.
According to Loucks, while all six
men at the gathering shared similar criticisms of Salovey’s leadership, Warner
was “more hesitant” to criticize the president because he is “in a different
position and is a sitting member of the Corporation … and has to continue to be
a part of that.”
“[The current University
administration] does not have a solid vision and that bothered everybody,”
Loucks said. “They don’t have a good sense of where they are going and the
strength to pull it off, and that’s not a good position to be in when you are
going after a lot of money in a new campaign. That’s the job of the president.
… [The goal has] never been articulated in a way that ties everything together
and says where we are going as a university.”
But the group, which does not have
authority over the University leadership, has since paused its considerations.
According to Warner, the six men
left the fall meeting without a conclusion on what their next steps should be.
When asked whether the Yale Corporation — which has the power to fire a sitting
University president — has confidence in Salovey, Warner said last month that
“the view of the Corporation has been and continues to be that Peter is our
leader.” There is “work to do in some areas,” but the University is “in the
process of getting it done,” he added. But Warner declined to specify what
those areas of concern are.
According to Loucks, Warner said at
the meeting that the Corporation is unlikely “to be supportive of anything that
would result in [Salovey’s] ousting.” Still, Loucks said he knows from his
private conversations with former and current members of the Corporation that
several are concerned about the University administration’s lack of direction
and vision. Warner told the News that it takes internal debate to develop one
collective view formally espoused by the Corporation.
In an interview with the News last
week, Salovey, countering the group’s concerns, said he has been articulating
his visions for the University since his inauguration in 2013. But 40
interviews with current and former trustees, deans, administrators, faculty
members and alumni underscored the uncertainty surrounding the current
administration’s goals for the University.
Now, six years into his presidency,
Salovey is preparing to launch his first major fundraising push. But as Salovey
embarks on the project that will define his legacy, many members of the
University community remain confused about the direction Salovey is steering
IN LEVIN’S SHADOW
When Yale began searching for a new
president in 2012, Salovey was frequently mentioned as then-University
President Richard Levin’s most likely successor. He had held almost every
senior position in the University administration, including dean of Yale
College, dean of the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences and provost.
While the presidential search that
led to Levin’s appointment in 1993 took 10 months, the University appointed
Salovey after just 65 days. According to two individuals with knowledge of the
situation, Salovey received an offer to be president of Dartmouth College in
the midst of Yale’s own search.
“If your top candidate is offered a
position elsewhere … of course it’s going to change the Corporation’s view
about … what the best strategy is,” former trustee Francisco Cigarroa ’79 — who
was a member of the search committee that appointed Salovey — told the News.
“But just because somebody else is recruiting a candidate doesn’t mean that we
are going to make that candidate our top candidate as well.”
Cigarroa added that Salovey’s
commitment to be “really inclusive in developing strategy and making decisions”
for the University impressed members of the search committee. Many students and
faculty members told the committee that they wanted the next University president
to have “emotional intelligence” — a term coined by Salovey himself — Cigarroa
Once Salovey took the helm of the
University, many of his early goals echoed those that Levin had already
announced. At the freshman address in August 2013 — the first speech he gave as
president — Salovey vowed to make Yale more accessible. During his tenure,
Levin quintupled the University’s annual financial aid budget, raising it from
$24 million to $120 million. Moreover, several of the priorities Salovey laid out
in his October 2013 inaugural address — including improving the University’s
relationship with New Haven and making Yale “a global and more unified
university” — were projects that had defined Levin’s presidency. In the
address, Salovey also presented a few new goals, such as increasing research
and teachings about Africa as well as encouraging collaboration among units and
departments across the Yale community.
Shortly after his inauguration,
Salovey also announced “seven critical ambitions” to make Yale more unified,
innovative and accessible. The ambitions, bold and imprecise, left much to be
said about what Salovey would concretely do to improve the university he had
inherited. The goals included making Yale the “most committed to teaching and
learning,” “shar[ing] more broadly Yale’s intellectual assets with the world”
and diversifying the student body.
Indeed, Salovey’s early goals for
the University were broader and more ambiguous than what Levin envisioned in
the early days of his presidency. Unlike Salovey, in his inaugural address in
October 1993, Levin identified two specific goals: improving Yale’s
relationship with New Haven and making Yale a global research university. Levin
told the News that many of the projects and investments throughout his
presidency were specifically undertaken to advance these two goals.
“[Levin] mastered his own vision for
Yale … [and] it seems to me [that] he has left a unique imprint on the face of
the University,” history of art professor Mary Miller, who succeeded Salovey as
dean of Yale College, said in an interview with the News. “There are the years
before Levin and after Levin.”
Two years into his presidency,
Salovey was in the midst of developing and refining his goals and priorities
for Yale. But on the night before Halloween in 2015, an email from Silliman
College Associate Master Erika Christakis and an alleged “white girls only”
party at a Yale fraternity unleashed a series of racial controversies that
catapulted Yale into the national spotlight.
From October 2015 to February 2017 —
when the University announced the renaming of Calhoun College — Salovey
published at least 13 statements in response to heated discussions about race
and free speech on campus.
According to School of Management
Dean Ted Snyder, the months Salovey spent debating whether to rename Calhoun
exacted an opportunity cost. By focusing on the “issues of the day,” the
University missed opportunities to “think about the long-run health of the
institution” and develop its academic priorities, Snyder said.
In November 2016, Salovey finally
announced that Yale is “in a position to move forward on the strategic academic
investments.” In the University-wide statement, he identified faculty excellence,
the sciences, arts and humanities and social sciences as priorities for
investment and explained that while the descriptions these categories are “of
course, not comprehensive,” they are meant to “provide a sense of our overall
academic focus … and to serve as a starting point.”
But the approach Salovey took to
identify specific areas for investment diverged from that of his predecessors.
In fact, Salovey removed much of his own agency in the process by assembling
committees of faculty members and administrators — such as the University
Science Strategy Committee, University Humanities Committee and University-wide
Committee on Data-Intensive Social Science. He then delegated to those
committees the task of identifying specific and achievable academic objectives
that can be pitched to donors by to those committees.
According to former Vice President
for Development Inge Reichenbach — who coordinated the University’s previous
capital campaign, Yale Tomorrow — Levin’s strategic planning process “was less
formal … and a little bit more direct.” As his capital campaign came around 10
years into his presidency, Levin had a clearer idea of which major projects to
pursue, and Levin himself identified areas for investment in consultation with
deans, Reichenbach said.
Reichenbach added that it is the
University president’s responsibility to “pull all [the committee
recommendations and plans] together and articulate how [the smaller-scale
projects and initiatives] add up to an overarching vision” for Yale.
Chauncey — a longtime administrator
who served as special assistant to former University President Kingman Brewster
between 1963 and 1972 and secretary of the Corporation from 1973 to 1982 —
agreed that the ways in which former presidents like Brewster, A. Whitney
Griswold and Bartlett Giamatti developed academic priorities were “much closer
to the Levin model than the Salovey model.” While Salovey’s predecessors also
commissioned committees, those committees were tasked with implementing a plan
that the president had already decided on, Chauncey explained.
Still, in an interview with the News
last week, Salovey said his collaborative approach allows him to make full use
of the expertise on Yale’s campus. His strategic planning method — which he
described as “both top-down and bottom-up” — will produce achievable and
targeted objectives for the University in the next decade, Salovey argued.
He emphasized that leading by force
is no longer an effective strategy for running a global research institution
and said collaboration is key to running what he admitted to be an already
crisis-ridden university. Towards the end of Levin’s presidency, many faculty
members criticized him for establishing Yale-NUS College without adequately
soliciting their feedback.
“A more collaborative style — yes,
it takes longer — but I think it’s necessary,” Salovey said. “At the end of the
day, I want everybody to feel like they were heard. … What we are doing … will
change the University in the next decade and position it for decades beyond
that. We’ve got to get it right. The way to get it right and the way to make
sure that the campus is all marching in the same direction is to use a
A LACK OF DIRECTION
Still, interviews with professional
school deans, faculty members and alumni revealed that many members of the
University community remain confused about Yale’s direction under Salovey’s
Political science professor and
chair of the humanities program Bryan Garsten told the News that Salovey does
not “have a sense of one driving mission” for the University, unlike Levin
during his tenure. He added that while it is difficult to get all members of
the Yale community behind one vision, it “would be healthy” to articulate the
University’s priorities and visions more proactively.
Treasurer of the Class of 1963 Mike
Freeland ’63 echoed Garsten’s remarks. He told the News that many alumni feel
that the University “is running Salovey, rather than the other way around.”
Many alumni members are reluctant to donate to Yale because they think
Salovey’s goals are unclear, Freeland explained.
And even in Salovey’s inner circle —
the University Cabinet, which includes all professional school deans and
functions as a sounding board for the University president — there remains
discontent with a lack of clarity in Yale’s strategic institutional direction.
Yale Divinity School Dean Greg Sterling said he and several of his decanal
colleagues share concerns about the fact that the University lacks an
overarching vision. While the University administration has developed an
academic plan, it has yet to announce a vision that will connect the
constituent parts of that plan together, Sterling explained.
“We have a strategic plan [at the
Divinity School] and we live and die by that,” Sterling said. “Some of those
are pretty big goals … that would change the school. I don’t think Yale has
that as a university right now. I couldn’t tell you what those goals are for
Yale University. … Yale needs a vision. I would say certainly among the deans,
yes, we are concerned about that.”
He added that while Levin’s “very
decisive” leadership style brings faster progress, forcefully driving an agenda
can create backlash among administrators and faculty members. Although
Salovey’s collaborative approach may leave some wondering about the lack of
changes at the University, it builds consensus and moves everybody along
together, Sterling said.
“Enterprises with great resources
should have aspirations that make the status quo unacceptable,” Snyder said in
a statement to the News. “While Yale continues to progress on many fronts, a
relevant question is whether these steps have generated excitement, momentum,
and an overarching sense of purpose.”
A BATTLE YALE CAN’T WIN
In an interview with the News last
week, Salovey said confusion about the direction of the University could, in
part, be a result of the “recency effect” — when more recent information is
better remembered and thus receives greater weight when forming a judgment.
“They ask themselves, ‘What’s
happened in the past few months?’ and say, ‘Well, nothing seems to have
changed,’” Salovey explained. “So they wonder whether we are making progress.
But all you have to do is walk up the Science Hill and see a big science
building getting finished. That’s an enabling project for our science
In November, Salovey accepted the
University Science Strategy Committee’s recommendations — which identified five
“top priority” areas for STEM investment — and announced that Vice Provost for
Research Peter Schiffer would lead the implementation of the committee’s
findings. In an email to the News on Wednesday, Vice President for
Communications Nate Nickerson said Salovey’s biggest accomplishments in science
and engineering include renovating the Wright Laboratory, creating the
undergraduate neuroscience major and teaching labs at the Sterling Chemistry
Still, many faculty members said
there remains a major disjunction between what Salovey has promised and the
current state of Yale’s STEM departments. Since November, the University
administration has not released further guidelines or updates on how the
recommendations of the University Science Strategy Committee report will be
carried out. Meanwhile, many faculty members, alumni and administrators have
voiced doubts on how Yale will compete against other universities that have
traditionally excelled in the sciences, expressing concerns about the ongoing
dearth of resources and the lack of clarity in Yale’s plans to enrich its
Sterling, the dean of Yale Divinity
School, emphasized that the University must select a few areas in which Yale
can excel and clarify how its STEM departments will compete with their
counterparts at other institutions. He added that while Yale should strengthen
its sciences to remain a world-class institution, the University must also
maintain its comparative advantage in the humanities and arts.
Yale Alumni Association delegate and
Vice President of the Yale Club of Silicon Valley George Chen ’77, who conducts
interviews with Yale applicants for the Yale Alumni Schools Committee, also
emphasized the importance of capitalizing on Yale’s strengths. Persuading
students who are interested in science and entrepreneurship to choose Yale over
universities that have traditionally had a stronger STEM program is not only
difficult, but often futile, Chen explained.
“[Yale] seems to be chasing things
it cannot win,” Chen said.
Computer science professor Michael
Fischer said Yale’s investment in STEM still falls far below what is needed for
Yale to remain competitive with its traditional peer institutions. Similarly,
mechanical engineering professor Juan de la Mora noted that the number of
graduate students in his area of research, fluid dynamics, has greatly
decreased due to a lack of resources and funding. Regardless of the intent,
University administration seems to be letting research in the field die rather
than restructuring the program and increasing support, de la Mora said.
Moreover, the School of Engineering
& Applied Science has failed to name a new dean more than two years after
the school’s former dean, Kyle Vanderlick, announced her resignation from the
post. Unlike other professional school deans, the dean of the SEAS — which is
both a school within the University and a division within the Faculty of Arts
and Sciences — lacks the authority to independently set the school’s budget.
According to FAS Dean Tamar Gendler, while the school made an offer to a
candidate in February 2018, the candidate eventually “decided to remain at
their home institution, for a range of academic and personal reasons.”
And five out of 10 John C. Malone
professorships — which were created in 2011 when business mogul John Malone ’63
donated $50 million to the SEAS — remained empty until earlier this year.
While giving a PowerPoint
presentation at a SEAS faculty luncheon Dec. 12, the acting dean of the school,
Mitchell Smooke, said that Malone professorships may be taken away, three SEAS
faculty members told the News. They added that Smooke instructed faculty
members at the meeting to accelerate the search for faculty to fill the endowed
professorships and avoid such a situation. Many faculty members inferred that
Malone was upset because for almost eight years, the University had failed to
recruit faculty members for half of his professorships, the three individuals
said. While all three faculty members were present at the luncheon, they
requested anonymity to discuss confidential matters discussed at the meeting.
Smooke did not respond to request for comment.
“If Salovey’s goal is STEM, why
hasn’t he filled all the Malone professorships?” one of the anonymous SEAS
professors asked. “If Salovey’s goal is STEM, what are the accomplishments he
can speak to after six years?”
In March, computer science professor
Holly Rushmeier and physics professor Hui Cao — both of whom were already
faculty members at the University — were appointed to the professorships. SEAS
departments are currently conducting a search to name three more Malone
professors, Salovey said in an interview earlier this year.
Salovey declined to comment on his
conversations with a donor, but said “any donor who donates professorships
great pleasure out of seeing them filled.” Still, Salovey added that
most donors also want their professorships to be reserved for the best
candidates and recognize that recruiting leading scholars in the field requires
In an interview with the News,
Salovey also acknowledged that the University has faced challenges in
“strengthening exciting areas of engineering that is already attracting a lot
of students.” Yet he also noted that Yale must “pick our shots” to successfully
expand the sciences and said administrators and faculty members must have time
to mull over their strategic investment plan and “come to a consensus.”
GEARING UP FOR THE CAMPAIGN
As Yale gears up for the next
capital campaign — which is likely to launch in 2021 — University
administrators have been solidifying relationships with prospective donors and
identifying intersections between the University’s needs and donors’ interests,
according to Vice President for Development Joan O’Neill.
Salovey has a tough act to follow.
In the last capital campaign, the University raised a record $3.88 billion,
which many attributed to Levin’s clearly articulated vision.
“We earned their confidence from
having succeeded in the early projects, like rebuilding the campus and
improving our relationship with New Haven,” Levin explained. “That made it
easier to convince people that [Yale] should move on to [its] next priorities.
… It fit nicely to go global after having improved our local relations.”
But for Salovey, his campaign also
comes on the heels of controversies that have thus far defined his presidency.
The News surveyed all 1,301 individuals listed in the Alumni Leaders Directory — which includes Yale Club officers, class officers, regional directors and reunion chairs — and gathered responses from almost 250 alumni. The survey results suggested that alumni are less willing to donate to Yale compared to the early 2000s. According to the survey, 24.5 percent of the respondents believe that alumni are “unenthusiastic” to donate compared to the 2000s, while 7.5 percent believe that they are “very unenthusiastic.” On the other hand, only 12.9 percent and 5.8 percent of the respondents said alumni are “enthusiastic” and “very enthusiastic” to donate, respectively. The remaining 49.4 percent of alumni said they “don’t know” how enthusiastic alumni are. to donate compared to the 2000’s.
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