The sun never sets on the Levin empire.
In 2006, with the opening of a new Yale-in-Beijing program to complement the Elizabethan chic of Yale-in-London, Levin will become the first president in the history of the University to preside over campuses on three continents.
And in 2005, when he wasn’t distracted by the pesky little task of running our school, Levin was feted by Japanese President Junichiro Koizumi, flattered by Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and foiled — but only just — by Chinese President Hu Jintao, who, in an honor accorded to neither Larry Summers nor George W. Bush ’68, scheduled a stop in New Haven in September, only to have Hurricane Katrina rain on his parade.
If President Levin keeps hosting and visiting heads of state with this kind of frequency, his plane may soon have to be rechristened Yale Force One.
The Ivy League’s longest-serving active president has successfully built himself into a one-man foreign policy machine. And last week, to little fanfare, he released a key document offering insight into his empire’s strategy. Entitled “The Internationalization of Yale: The Emerging Framework,” and tucked into the centerfold of the ubiquitous Yale Bulletin, the document in question reads like the illegitimate offspring of a corporate board report and a how-to manual for aspiring Risk players. If you had any doubts about Levin’s international aspirations, abandon them now. “The Internationalization of Yale” is a softly-worded blueprint for global domination.
Summarizing this blueprint is not especially difficult. At its essence, Levin’s treatise boils down to one word: China. To capture its deeper nuances, you need only add another two: Beat Harvard.
It should come as no surprise that China forms the cornerstone of Levin’s strategy for Eli expansionism. He has wooed Chinese Communist Party officials in private receptions at 43 Hillhouse, and in September Levin announced that he would shut down classes during President Hu’s scheduled visit, an honor that Yale otherwise reserves for Dr. Martin Luther King and the birth of Jesus Christ.
Yet rarely have the motivations behind this Oriental obsession been as clearly articulated as they were in last week’s report. Some of these motivations seem Freudian: Johns Hopkins is constructing a 100,000-square foot building at Nanjing University, we are told; Yale risks getting laughed out of the locker room if our “research facility” is any smaller.
But other reasons are surprisingly pragmatic. In uncharacteristically crass business-speak, Levin tells us that “In much of the … world, Yale stands among the top five or 10 U.S. universities in terms of ‘brand recognition’ … but in China we have almost certainly established ourselves as one of the top two.” The goal? To capitalize on this advantage in order to attract more talented students and scholars to Yale, outsource more scientific research to China and in the process become “the school of choice” for the emerging Chinese elite.
This “school of choice” formulation is a not-so-subtle allusion to our friends in Cambridge, and it’s monumental. Never before has Levin been so transparent about the connection in his mind between winning China, beating Harvard and establishing Yale as the global university of choice. Indeed, though the word “Harvard” never appears in this week’s report, it’s hard not to reach the conclusion that Levin’s stated goal, world domination, is motivated by an unstated one: Crimson envy. The most notable of the three goals listed in the report’s executive summary? “GOAL THREE: POSITION YALE AS A GLOBAL UNIVERSITY OF CONSEQUENCE.”
Perhaps I’m a little behind the times, but am I alone in thinking that Yale, as the educational incubator of the last three U.S. presidents, is generally viewed as a fairly consequential university?
Levin’s answer, it seems, is “Not consequential enough” — not as long as Harvard sits imperious in Cambridge. That’s why he’s locking up connections with Peking University, Oxford, Cambridge and the University of Tokyo. Last week, Levin signed a pact sealing Yale as a founding member of the new International Alliance of Research Universities, a self-styled big boys club of 10 of the world’s top schools. Intended to promote cooperative research and the training of global leaders, the IARU includes the usual suspects listed above, as well as the Australian National University, ETH Zurich, the National University of Singapore, the University of California at Berkeley and the University of Copenhagen.
Conspicuously absent from this list is Harvard. This is no accident. Levin recognizes that Yale is a stepsister, but it is a powerful stepsister — “one of two powers,” in Levin’s formulation, the late-coming Germany to Harvard’s British Empire. Through savvy diplomacy, the cultivation of soft power and aggressive expansionism, President Levin is working hard to turn that balance around, and to secure for Yale a place in the sun.
Daniel Weisfield is a junior in Calhoun College. His column regularly appears on alternate Tuesdays.