The University will launch an effort this spring to bring more racial diversity to its senior administrative ranks, Yale President Richard Levin announced in an e-mail to the community on Friday.
Levin’s message — sent in advance of Monday’s national holiday commemorating the birthday of civil rights leader Martin Luther King, Jr. — comes in part as a response to two incidents of hateful graffiti discovered around campus in the fall semester. The e-mail was Levin’s first community-wide statement about those incidents, which set off a passionate debate around campus about the state of race relations at Yale.
“This past fall, we were reminded that our work to bring unity and justice is not finished as the campus saw two acts of disturbing racist and homophobic graffiti,” Levin wrote in his message, which totaled 1,177 words and was sent Friday afternoon.
“I was gratified by the widespread concern expressed by students, faculty, staff, and alumni in response to these incidents,” he continued. “Our community will best rid itself of hateful attitudes by speaking out against them.”
Levin did not send any campus-wide message for MLK Day last year, drawing advance speculation — which turned out to be correct — that the statement may have been prompted, at least in part, by the fall semester graffiti incidents.
Although he said he had sent a similar message for the holiday at least once before early in his tenure, Levin told the News in an interview that he decided to pen a school-wide message this year “to respond to the concerns that were raised last semester, and to start the new semester off with some recognition that we have a ways to go.”
Levin said he also wanted to go on the record about plans to encourage diversity in the senior administrative ranks. Last year, the University hired its first Chief Diversity Officer, Nydia Gonzalez, and Levin said she is spearheading Yale’s effort in that arena.
Many of the University’s top administrators will attend a daylong retreat later this spring to discuss a diversity strategy and come to an agreement on some steps to take, the president said. The Yale Corporation also received a presentation on the subject last month.
Racial issues have long been popular topics of discussion at Yale and other schools, but the subject was spotlighted in November after two spray-painted messages, one bearing a racial slur and the other ostensibly homophobic, were found on a wall in Pierson College and at the University Theatre, respectively.
Those discoveries prompted a widely attended rally and a nighttime vigil organized by students who stressed the need for Yale to work harder in rooting out intolerance in the community.
Still, Yale officials said last week that the authorities have neither identified those responsible for the graffiti, nor whether they were even affiliated with Yale.
In the interview, Levin rejected some of the most severe criticisms launched by student groups after the graffiti incidents — such as that Yale is openly hostile to minorities — but said the University certainly has more work to do in fostering the most tolerant community possible.
“Yale is a welcoming place, but it’s far from a perfect place,” he said. “Institutionally, there’s quite a lot of commitment to inclusiveness. That doesn’t mean that there aren’t some in our community who express feelings of exclusion, and obviously we need to continue to work on that.”
Part of that effort will come through Yale’s diversification efforts within its staff.
The University already has a very gender-diverse senior administration, with four of the seven officers of the University being women. Other female administrators have gone on to top posts at other schools in recent years, too, including three provosts from Levin’s administration. Former Provost Judith Rodin departed the University in 1994 to become president of the University of Pennsylvania; Alison Richard followed in 2002 to take the helm of Cambridge University; and Susan Hockfield was named president of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 2004.
Most recently, former Deputy Provost for Science, Technology and Faculty Development Kim Bottomly departed last year for the presidency of Wellesley College.
Among Yale’s top officials, racial diversity has been scarcer. All seven of the University’s senior officers are white.
But two of Yale’s most recent and most prominent senior administrative hires — Dean of Student Affairs Marichal Gentry and Chief Financial Officer Gwendolyn Sykes — are black.
Efforts to diversify the Yale faculty have been in the works for decades. In 2005, the University announced an initiative to add at least 30 minority professors by 2012, which would account for a 34 percent increase in the number of minority professors at Yale. The initiative also aimed to hire 30 new female faculty members to serve in departments where women are currently underrepresented.
Among those new hires were Assistant Professor of American Studies Alyssa Mt. Pleasant, the Faculty of Arts and Sciences’ first Native American faculty member, and the prominent black ethnographer Eli Anderson, who joined the Sociology Department as a tenured professor this fall. And, this month, the University welcomed its first female dean of engineering, T. Kyle Vanderlick.
The sciences have been a particular focus of the University’s efforts related to diversity, Yale officials said.
In the Department of Geology and Geophysics, for instance, three of the department’s four most recent hires were female. And in the Department of Chemical Engineering, of the three new faculty who have accepted jobs at Yale next year, two are black and one is female, Deputy Provost for Faculty Development Judith Chevalier said Monday.
“In some of the science departments where women have been underrepresented, steady progress has been made in changing the composition of the department,” Chevalier said in an e-mail.
Yale does appear to be roughly on pace to meet the goal of the 2005 initiative, as the University has added 15 female faculty members and 18 minority professors over the past two years, according to the Office of Institutional Research.
Still, Chevalier said the University has more work to do.
“Progress has been slower in some departments than others,” she said.
Nevertheless, Calhoun College Master Jonathan Holloway, who is black, said after a panel discussion at the Afro-American Cultural Center on Monday that in the last five to seven years, he has witnessed a “real change” in the extent to which the University had made a concerted effort to recruit a more diverse faculty.
But he said bringing about such a change is easier said than done.
“It’s always important to remember that just because you’re trying to hire a person, you’re not necessarily going to get that person,” Holloway said.
“People need to recognize that it’s a complicated task,” he added. “Yale is working hard at it.”
-Raymond Carlson contributed reporting.