September 5, 2012
On the first day of this year’s shopping period, the Yale community received an email from President Richard Levin announcing that, after twenty years as the President of Yale and many more as a member of its faculty and administration, he will resign at the end of the 2012-13 academic year.
While President Levin’s tenure certainly brought about some heartening changes—most notably, a strengthened relationship with New Haven and a renewed focus on the sciences—some of the changes have been deeply disappointing. The return of the Reserve Officers’ Training Corps is not only a problematic partnership between militarization and education. It is a collaboration with an institution that has been repeatedly shown to be unsafe for female soldiers, who face astronomical rates of sexual harassment and assault, and one that refuses to allow trans persons to participate at all. Furthermore, the development of the Yale-NUS program is a disappointing sacrifice of free speech and academic freedom for the chance to advance Yale’s brand; while there are plenty of objections to be raised, worth noting is that Yale-NUS will exist in a nation where homosexuality is a criminal offense.
A second email followed from Edward Bass, the Yale Corporation’s Senior Fellow, explaining the process by which a new president would be chosen. It will follow in the model of the 1992-93 committee which chose Levin: eight trustees and four faculty members will serve. Members of the community were invited to submit names, and many other sources of input—trustee liaisons and faculty counselors are being appointed for faculty, staff and students, open forums are being planned, and AYA is making a special effort to engage alumni—have also been offered. But these efforts seem somewhat hollow, and it is worth questioning how much true input these other four members will have. The numerical imbalance—weighted heavily toward the Yale Corporation—certainly raises questions about who Yale considers itself responsible to. Is it its faculty, students, or New Haven community, or, overwhelmingly, its trustees?
Only two of the eight members—so far, all members of the Yale Corporation– are women; given that only four of the Corporation’s sixteen members are women, this is not entirely surprising, but still troubling. And while, certainly, the members of the committee should bring diverse perspectives to their work, six of the eight of them are high-ranking business officials. A university is, inevitably, like a business in many ways. But it must prioritize its true goals—the development of scholars, the free exchange of ideas, the application of thought to positive global change. Unlike the business world, a university must not privilege “efficiency” and “profit-making,” and it is crucial that the search committee seeks a candidate with appropriate priorities.
In an open letter pointedly addressed to Dear Yale “alumnae and alumni,” a group of students— Joshua Batson (DC ’08), Donna Horning (DC ’13), Dara Lind (BR ’09), Kate Selker (DC ’11) and Paul Selker (DC ’08)—offered the names of four faculty members whom they thought could be valuable additions to the search committee. Corporate executives they are not: Stephen Pitti ’91, Meg Urry, George Chauncey ’77 ’89 PhD, and Joseph Roach are all well-known as progressive voices on campus, advocating for, among other things, Yale’s Ethnicity, Race, and Migration program, the presence of women in the sciences, queer rights and scholarship, and the importance of the arts in an academic institution.
While the official deadline—which allowed for only one business day of public input—has passed, Batson, Horning, Lind, Selker, and Selker encourage members of the Yale Community to continue to contact Edward Bass at firstname.lastname@example.org.
If the search committee meant to find a new individual to best lead our university is, in itself, so disappointingly homogeneous and problematic, our expectations could be low—and rightfully so. While, certainly, the President is not the sole force in guiding the university, his or her decisions very much influence the direction it will head in. (Incidentally, the only woman to hold the post was Hanna Holborn Gray, who served briefly as Acting President from 1977-1978.)
It cannot be understated how crucial it is that the president of Yale advocates for the best interests of all its students and for the very goals of Yale as an educational institution. Whether or not he or she serves a term as long as Levin’s 20 years, this individual very much sets the university’s direction. If, as Bass writes, “The selection of the president is the most important responsibility of the Yale Corporation,” we should—and do—expect better. The upcoming selection will seriously influence Yale’s direction long beyond our time here, and we cannot afford to miss this opportunity to make our voices heard.
Julia Calagiovanni is a sophomore in Yale College. She is an associate editor for Broad Recognition.