University outlines priorities in town hall meetings

In an unprecedented series of meetings with faculty and staff over the past two weeks, the last of which took place Tuesday afternoon, the University’s top officers laid out Yale’s institutional goals for the next five years and the budget adjustments needed to finance those goals.

At the four meetings, which attracted about 150 faculty and more than 1,000 staff members, University President Richard Levin and Provost Peter Salovey outlined 11 strategic goals ranging from boosting the sciences to making all the arts schools tuition-free — priorities University officers adopted this fall following the Yale Corporation’s latest five-year institutional review, which was completed in May.

Their decision to hold town-hall style meetings open to the Faculty of Arts and Sciences and staff was justified, Levin said, by the University’s difficult financial situation. The University is now facing a projected budget shortfall of $100 million, down from $350 million last fall, and will continue to make cuts that Levin said may make a more visible impact on campus.

“It is an unusual situation,” Levin said in an interview. “We’ve never lost such a significant proportion of the endowment. I felt it was important to get around and make ourselves available to faculty.”

In the 30-odd years of his career at Yale, William Kelly, chair of the anthropology department, said he does not remember a similar round of town hall meetings with top administrators. While he expressed concern about the impact of budget cuts, Kelly and another professor who attended the meetings said the faculty generally finds administrators’ plans for the budget reasonable.

“We put the budget issues in the context of, what are Yale’s strategic objectives and long-term goals?” Levin said in an interview. “The reason to balance the budget is so we can afford to do these things.”

The first set of goals aims to make sure Yale College, Yale Law School and the arts, humanities and social sciences maintain their marquee positions, he said. But the officers also identified areas to improve, such as the sciences and engineering, the School of Medicine’s clinical work, the School of Management and West Campus. Supporting economic development and education reform in New Haven, as well as increasing Yale’s focus on sustainability and globalization, round out the five-year goals.

Finally, Yale’s management and business operations should rise to match Yale’s academic excellence, Salovey said, referring to YaleNext, the overhaul of Yale’s business operations and computer systems.

“When we’re selecting students, for example, we’re seeking the very best,” Salovey said in an interview. “It’s the same on the administrative side.”

The priorities “bubbled up” from existing plans and from the findings of the Corporation’s review, Levin said. During that review, Corporation fellows examined University data and interviewed about 70 students, faculty and staff.

After determining the five-year priorities this fall, Levin said, he and the other officers gave the Corporation three to five specific ways to support each priority. To maintain Yale College’s position of strength, for instance, administrators are using statistical data and student surveys to study the effects of the 2003 Committee on Yale College Education report — a comprehensive review of Yale’s undergraduate education that led to changes in distributional requirements and advising.

But a common theme emerged as Levin and Salovey discussed how the University can achieve these goals: They all require money, something Yale is struggling to find in the wake of a 24.6 percent drop in the endowment.

Levin said he believes building the two new residential colleges, for instance, will help to advance Yale College’s mission. But breaking ground on the colleges, as well as adding the resources needed to support 800 or so extra students, has been put on hold indefinitely.

Still, Salovey said the administration is taking care to pave the way for the eventual expansion and preserve Yale’s core teaching mission. As a result, faculty hires were delayed, not frozen; departments will still be able to make key recruitments over the next five years, Salovey said.

Other concrete goals, Levin said, include making all the arts schools tuition-free and constructing a new drama school building.

“But again,” he said, shaking his head, “there’s a $100 million shortfall, so we need money.”

Facing an original budget gap of $350 million, Yale has been able to cut that figure by $250 million through two rounds of across-the-board budget cuts, an indefinite hold on construction projects, a salary freeze, a 25 percent cut in West Campus spending and a 60 percent slash in the cost of YaleNext.

Administrators are still working with departments to find the remaining $100 million, Salovey said, adding that budget cuts will be finalized by April.

With the meetings, the officers of the University wanted to make sure Yale’s institutional goals and financial situation are transparent to faculty and staff, Deputy Provost Charles Long said.

When Levin and Salovey opened up the floor to questions and comments on Tuesday, the attendees mostly asked the two to clarify what impact further budget cuts might have on teaching and research, two professors who attended said. (Four other professors interviewed said other conflicts prevented them from going.)

“You could tell that some faculty were concerned about their departments,” economics professor Joseph Altonji ’75 said, citing questions about how budget cuts might affect library collections. But, Altonji said, professors seemed to agree with him that the budget measures are “pretty sensible and hopefully achievable.”

Levin acknowledged the next round of budget cuts may have a more visible impact, but that the University will strive to preserve Yale’s mission.

The information presented in the meetings did not come as a surprise, Altonji added, given that Levin has outlined the budget picture in previous e-mails and updates.

The deans of the professional schools are holding similar meetings with their faculty, Levin said.

Officials will present the budget picture to the fellows of the Yale Corporation when they meet next week.

Nora Caplan-Bricker contributed reporting.

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