McGuire: Where was Levin’s leadership?

I was surprised to receive President Levin’s e-mail Sunday night. Our usually reserved president was unusually forward, so much so that I initially dismissed the e-mail as a terrible prank. But it was real, and it sent the people around me into a panic. Facebook updates were unanimously uneasy, scared and grieving.

I did not need President Levin to tell me a body had been found. It was already on this newspaper’s Web site, and major networks had the story updated within an hour. What the president wrote was appropriate, but it simply was not enough. What we needed Sunday night was a leader to guide us, and President Levin’s leadership was sorely lacking. Here is what needed to be said to Yale:

“We are all shocked and saddened by this tragedy. I know that some of you may be scared, especially those of you who have only been at Yale for a few weeks. This is a disturbing event for us all, but please remember that New Haven has never been safer. No student should lose sleep about the safety of their residential college or classrooms. The YPD is working tirelessly to protect our students at all times, and the NHPD and FBI are working to bring those responsible for this crime to justice.

“We are a community of scholars and a society of friends. This is a time to unite around those bonds as we mourn and remember one of our own. It is not a time for fear, panic and hysteria. And as important as it is to reflect on a life lost, it is also important that we continue leading our normal lives. Yale is a safe place to live and study, and I am doing everything possible to protect it.

“Please watch out for yourselves and each other. Walk with a group when possible, and if you feel unsafe walking alone at night please call Yale Security for an escort to your destination. We will make it through this tragedy together.”

Instead of using this announcement as an opportunity to calm students’ fears, President Levin sent them into overdrive with his terse, matter-of-fact e-mail. (Was he expecting college masters to do the heavy emotional work later?) His e-mail was tone-deaf, amounting to nothing more than, “A woman’s body was found stuffed into the basement wall of a Yale building. Thought you’d like to know.”

The best leaders anticipate challenges and put themselves in a position to shape and direct them; others are content to sit on the sidelines merely reacting. On this issue, President Levin was happy to warm the bench. Who’s going to stop the panic now?

Jake McGuire is a senior in Pierson College.


  • Fair enough, but…


  • Y09

    You haven’t analyzed the email, you’ve just block quoted it. Other than tell us that you don’t like it, why not tell us which bits were poorly written? Then again, when it comes to poor writing…

  • Yale ’07

    What did the original email from Levin say?

  • ysm

    Although President Levin certainly did not handle everything perfectly (the lack of an e-mail to the Yale community until thursday comes to mind…), I would not fault him for the wording of sunday night’s e-mail. (As an aside, I received President Levin’s e-mail shortly before the story was posted on the YDN website.) This “story” is first and foremost a tragedy about an individual who was a friend and co-worker of many, and secondly a large cause for concern regarding safety. I think it was wholly appropriate for President Levin’s initial e-mail to grieve, along with her friends and co-workers, for the terrible loss of Annie’s life. At the YSM meeting on monday, campus safety was in fact a large focus, and the President did communicate several of the things you suggested. But in the initial moment of communicating this terrible news, I feel that the focus of the initial e-mail was appropriate – it was focused on the loss of Annie.

  • Srsly?

    I’m not sure I see the need to be quite so adversarial toward President Levin. He had an inexpressibly difficult duty, he was operating under conditions of uncertainty, and he realized that no words on his part could adequately sum up the magnitude of the tragedy, adequately express our collective grief, or adequately console us. Instead, he did his duty as President to tersely inform us of the horrible news, while reminding us that, despite the tragedy, we are still mostly very safe. I think he did just what we should expect of him.

  • anonymous

    The writer of this piece obviously knows that “New Haven has never been safer”, so I don’t quite realize why he needs president Levin to tell him that. Is president Levin also expected to sing a lullaby to scared students?
    The fact of the matter is that we should all be able to deal with this horrible event as adults.

  • a yale community member

    You are simply wrong in your comments at this time, and should reconsider your position.
    Accusations /editorial opinions made in the form of commentary at this time are unhelpful to the yale community in such a tragic moment. President Levin correctly and somberly shared the tragic news about a member of the yale community and wisely chose to focus on this. It was not the right time for him to elaborate on how well Yale is addressing security. In fact, that would/or could have appeared as being defensive; and he showed excellent leadership in knowing when not to go into that mode.
    The time is still at hand to grieve as a community together, as President Levin spoke so eloquently about last night. Please follow his leadership now, and stop this negative second-guessing that plagues most of the news comments.

  • YaleieGradStudent

    Having been at the meeting held at the medical school on Monday, I must say that I was impressed with Levin’s handling of the situation. He is clearly as shocked and saddened by this as anyone, and I found his remarks and responses to questions to be appropriate and informative. Shortly before the announcement on Sunday, he met with Annie’s relatives as well as her fiancee, which must have been terribly difficult. I think Levin and the Med school administration have handled this appropriately and do not think that what they – or we as a community – need right now is unnecessary criticism.

  • tony

    Sorry author, you just got this completely wrong. Whatever the President says at this moment will be extremely important and any inaccurate comfort or underestimation of the situation could potentially lead to serious consequences. When the body was first found, not even the police informed the school first and the police were not sure whether the killing was intentional, a “random act” or anything else. Any assumptions made by Levin to assure students of safety after a unresolved crime is just extremely dangerous. Your suggested choice of words, instead, could be extremely dangerous to the Yale Community had this been an act of serial killer. Back then, not even the police could positively eliminate this possibility. Can a responsible President? You should take back your argument. It does the school more harm than good at this sad moment.

  • Yale ’12

    Sir – I’m sorry that Levin’s letter was the worst part of your entire weekend.

  • free speech

    oh please, whatever staff member of levin wrote #7…

    levin is a politician.

    if he hadn’t gotten involved in the candlelight vigil, maybe it wouldn’t have turned into a publicity stunt.

  • from yale community

    Jake, I was very disappointed to read this today. Your attack is totally inappropriate, as are your claims for what “should have been said”. This is about a loss of a life, and the right thing was what was done- to mourn and grieve this poor girl. It was not the time to make it about Yale.

  • Paul Keane

    Dear Editor:

    Jake McGuire’s critique of Mr. Levin in today’s Yale Daily News and of his presidential email is unfair, although understandable because of Mr. McGuire’s youth and , perhaps, his inexperience with death.

    Has it ever occurred to Mr. McGuire that Mr. Levin is human too and that he might be in shock to say nothing of profoundly upset with grief, as surrogate parent of the University?

    After all the years and effort Mr. Levin has put into shepherding Yale, I am sure that his feelings toward the University and its members are more than just token fatherliness.

    A proper time of mourning needs to be accorded everyone–even surrogate parents –before they are expected to snap into the automated counselor mode which Mr. McGuire seems to require of this particular mortal, president though he may be.

    Give Time time.

    Paul D. Keane
    M.Div. ’80

  • Mrs. McGuire

    Stop being so mean to my baby boy! He didn’t mean any harm to anybody, he’s just trying his best just like everybody else, he has a right to his opinion, so stop bullying, okay?