News’ View: Time to rethink Yale College’s vision

When a bubbling Peter Salovey entered Luce Hall three weeks ago, Richard Levin and Andrew Hamilton in tow, the secret was out: the widely admired dean was about to become the University’s number two.

There was, however, an elephant in that auditorium: Yale College would be losing its number one. And no one quite knew what that meant.

Three weeks later, the student body and faculty still don’t know. All the better, we say.

Now, with shopping out of the way and Tony Blair’s first visit to campus soon to pass, the Yale College community can finally begin to reflect, in peace, on the critical, even cathartic, questions that arise when, every half-decade or so, there is a vacancy in the top spot. Namely, what grand academic vision should drive Yale College into the future? And who is the one to carry it out?

As dean, Salovey introduced significant institutional reform. He revamped the tenure system. He overhauled distributional requirements. He diversified the faculty and expanded the sciences.

But not central to his approach — and, for that matter, President Levin’s — was a truly clear, if occasionally controversial, thesis of what the Yale education should be.

That’s not necessarily a bad thing. Sometimes, an institution begs for stability and genuine emotional intelligence at the top, not polemics or a rethinking.

On campus, though, there is interest among some in a new chapter of bold academic leadership at Yale, not only for the sciences but also for the humanities and social sciences.

And so there are big — even esoteric — questions we believe any next dean of Yale College must answer. As we welcome reader submissions, we, too, will consider the matter over the coming weeks. As for specifics:

1) Is Yale’s grading system as optimal as it could be? Or does it deserve, at best, a C for mediocrity? A look should be given, too, to Credit/D/Fail and academic honors.

2) With the heightened focus on the sciences, what will become of Yale’s humanities and social sciences?

3) As the University expands, what will ensure the hitherto intimacy that has permeated many Yale classrooms? And how can this begin to apply more to science classrooms, which have so far drawn the short-end of the teaching stick?

4) In an increasingly competitive world, the question must be asked: What are we doing here? Do we come to Yale to learn? Or to prepare? Clarity is in order.

Yalies have big decisions to look forward to this year.

Although Peter Salovey is no George W. Bush — and Richard Levin no Electoral College — the selection of dean could be a watershed for the College, just as the 2008 election will be one for the United States.

We owe it to each other not to tune out.


  • alum

    Dear YDN,

    You've articulated the question well. At issue is, among other uncertainties, whether students in Yale College can or ought to be said to have acquired a "Yale education" which has definite universal characteristics.

    For some, Yale is a springboard into a desired career or professional school. To them, the "Yale education" is largely a means to that end, with knowledge, wisdom, insight, and skills in analysis and expression being incidental. On the other hand, there are students who view Yale as an intellectual playground for the exploration of untested possibilities. Still another subset of students expend the majority of their efforts in the social scene, later to glide effortlessly (sometimes back) into the sphere of high society. What are the common elements of these educations?

    As we can see from their choices, not all Yale students share the same goals or values. What values can be claimed as common? The original mission of the College may appear antiquated but its worth as a statement of purpose should not be dismissed. Specifically, Yale has always imbued a service mentality in its students. Perhaps that is worth considering – indeed, teaching and learning -- as the central feature of the Yale education.

  • Noblesse Oblige??

    Service? Bush I and Bush II graduated from Yale. Ralph Waldo Emerson and hhenry David Thoreau from Harvard. Who has served mankind better, may I ask??