Yale Corp fellow: If Levin leaves, Corp prepared to name his successor

Updated: December 16, 10:04 p.m. If University President Richard Levin leaves Yale for a job in the Obama administration, the Yale Corporation will be prepared to choose a successor, Yale Corporation Senior Fellow Roland Betts ’68 told the News in an interview Thursday.

Levin has traveled to the White House to interview with President Barack Obama for several positions in the administration, a White House official who asked to remain unnamed said in an interview with the News Tuesday.

Betts said he has known Levin has been under consideration for an appointment for “several weeks.” If Levin is appointed as National Economic Council director, Betts said in an e-mail Friday, the Yale Corporation will be prepared to announce an interim president immediately before beginning a formal search for a new President, but he declined to comment on who that successor would be. Levin could leave Yale next semester if he is appointed, Betts said.

“It is the [Yale Corporation’s] responsibility as stewards of the university to make sure that we have the right person in the president’s seat,” Betts said. “We are well prepared to deal with that if it comes up.”

But when the administration will make an announcement remains unclear. At this point in time, no decisions have been made on either end, the official said. Betts said he had reason to expect that a decision would have been announced earlier this week. With no word yet from the White House, Betts said he is not sure when the announcement will now come, but he added that hopes to hear of Obama’s pick soon.

“The decision has planning consequences, and I’d like to get at it,” Betts said, referring to the Yale Corporation’s job of selecting Levin’s successor if he steps down to fill a role in Obama administration.

Current NEC director Lawrence Summers — whom Levin is under consideration to replace — had hoped to leave the post Friday, Dec. 17, but Obama has asked Summers to remain in his current position through the end of the year, The Washington Post reported Wednesday.

After rumors surfaced Dec. 3 that Obama is considering appointing Levin to an economic advisory position in the administration, an administration official confirmed that Levin is among the top three candidates to replace Summers — who formerly served as president of Harvard University, Bloomberg reported Monday afternoon. Levin is also under consideration to replace former Federal Reserve Chairman Paul Volcker as of head the President’s Economic Recovery Advisory Board (PERAB), Betts said.

Levin’s lack of ties to past economic policies may make him an attractive candidate for director of the NEC, said Paul Solman, economics correspondent for the Public Broadcasting System and current Brady-Johnson Distinguished Practitioner for Yale’s program in international security studies.

Levin is also the only candidate among the field of three — Roger Altman, an investment banker and former Deputy Secretary of the Treasury, and Gene Sperling LAW ’85, director of the NEC from 1996 to 2000 under President William Clinton LAW ’73 — with a doctorate in economics.

“There was no sense that [Obama] had broken with Wall Street,” Solman said. “Of those three [candidates], the one choice that speaks to a new kind of beginning is Levin.”

In an interview with the News Dec. 5, Levin said he is not looking to leave his position at Yale. One factor in President Obama’s decision may be how interested each candidate is in the job, Solman said. But, he added, when offered a position by the President, appointees rarely turn down the offer.

“I think [Levin] feels a strong pull obviously to Yale,” Betts said. “And he feels a strong pull to the country, as he teaches at Yale.”

Unlike the head position at the NEC, Levin would not be required to take a leave of absence from Yale as the director of PERAB, Betts said. Levin served on two separate advisory panels under President George W. Bush ’68, Betts noted: the Irag Intelligence Commission and a commission to review the United States Postal Service.

The purpose of PERAB was to give Obama with a more “ad-hoc” group of advisors, Solman said. Obama created the group under a two-year term set to expire in February unless extended. PERAB’s role is thought to diminish as the economy recovers, Solman said, but he added that the amount of influence an economic advisor has depends more on personal factors rather than a position. The group’s 17 members include Yale Chief Investment Officer David Swensen GRD ’80.

But until an announcement of Obama’s decision is made, Betts said he is focusing on a different task.

“Now I’m going to work on drumming up support for Roger Altman,” Betts quipped.

Levin has served as University President since his appointment in 1993.

Clarification: December 17, 2010

An earlier version on this article paraphrased Yale Corporation Senior Fellow Roland Betts ’68 as saying the Yale Corporation would be prepared to appoint University President Richard Levin’s successor if he steps down to take a position in the Obama administration. Betts clarified Friday that he was referring to an interim president, with a permanent replacement to follow at the conclusion of a formal search process.

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