Fisher: Come on, President Levin

School of Fisher

Last week, President Levin was scheduled to address Yale sophomores at the first inaugural Sophomore Class Dinner. Levin showed up to give the speech, but his performance was a firm demonstration of complete indifference towards the student body.

President Levin arrived at Commons to deliver his speech 25 minutes after the scheduled time, and only after numerous phone calls from Yale College Dean Mary Miller.

Unfortunately, though, the speech was devoid of content. Levin spoke for all of about ten minutes and gave sophomores nothing more to think about than the stock advice one could find in books, on the Internet, or from anyone who has ever given a moment’s thought to the experience of being a college student.

Take advantage of the opportunities Yale offers you, he said. Go to Yale’s museums. They’re great. Go to concerts. There are a lot of them here. And study abroad. All fine advice — but surely nothing new. Not one story, not one insightful thought or piece of advice, not one comment aimed at forging a connection with his audience. The speech was no different from one he might give to a class of sophomores at the University of Arizona, or the University of Tokyo, for that matter.

And as soon as he finished the speech, he left. He didn’t bother to stick around for dinner or a performance by the Glee Club, and, after a long wait with no reward, students fled quickly, too.

Maybe Levin was having a bad day. Maybe he had to deal with some sort of crisis. I can’t know why he put apparently no effort into the event. I don’t know if he thought sophomores didn’t care about what he had to say and thus didn’t bother to say much of anything, if he thought we were stupid and would appreciate his stock advice — though that seems unlikely — or if he just didn’t give a damn.

But Yale students should expect more of the president, and he should care about the lives of his students. Or, if that’s too much to ask, he should at least be concerned about students’ opinions for practical reasons — after all, after we graduate, we’ll be the ones Levin and Yale will look to for donations. The time to start making friends is now.

Yale boasts a strong commitment to undergraduates, and that commitment should be on the part of the president, too. As the figurehead of the University, he, more than any other person, represents the attitude of the University as a whole. He should refocus his attention to the students, who provide the school with life and spirit, and show them he is invested in making Yale as intimate and lively a community as possible.

Dean Miller is engaged with students — and perhaps that’s more than some universities can say about any administrator. But her job is to deal with undergraduates, so merely to say she does her job while her peers at other institutions might not is no extreme compliment — though she does do it quite well.

President Levin, though, probably doesn’t have any official need to talk to or know undergraduates. To show concern for them would be to go above the minimum job requirement. But if he is to be a truly excellent president, that’s exactly what he ought to do. Make no mistake — he has done great things for Yale on a grand scale. But he ought to narrow in and pay attention to what actually happens on campus, to the lives of the students for whom he has done so much.

He doesn’t need to devote all — or even more than a very small bit — of his time to undergrads. He doesn’t need to get to know them all. But most students have never even set foot in Woodbridge Hall. Many universities’ presidents hold meals or other events for small groups of students. President Levin hosts his annual Halloween party, but that’s about it.

Each student deserves at least one opportunity to interact with the president in a meaningful way between his welcome speech at the beginning of freshman year and graduation. A lot of students probably wouldn’t take advantage of the opportunity. But a lot would, and the strength of Levin’s popularity and presence on campus would be markedly improved. That interaction could start with the bare minimum level of respect Levin ought to give students to whom he addresses a speech.

Julia Fisher is a sophomore in Berkeley College. Her column runs on alternate Thursdays.

Comments

  • Yale12

    This is a great article. That speech was an embarrassment.

  • Jaymin

    That’s fair. I’m sure the man has a very busy schedule,but it feels like we hardly ever get to see him in person.

    I’m guessing the day of the dinner, he was overwhelmed with the whole Title IX thing.

  • 201Y1

    It isn’t Levin’s job to care about you. He’s the President of the UNIVERSITY, not the college, and his primary goal is to manage administrators and money. He does a good job of that–so say thank you and shelf the indignation. If you wanted to hang out more with your school president, you should have gone to Williams.

  • Jaymin

    @201Y1 Hence this article. The author is making a normative claim that the president of a University should be more of a figurehead than his job description currently requires him to be.

  • cocitizen

    Yale is Yale because She has courageous students like Julia.

  • MJG

    But how would interacting with undergraduates advance Yale’s goals in China?

  • 201Y1

    @Jaymin: But the author seems to think Levin “refocusing” on undergraduates will be good for the university, and make him a better President. Why? It’s just a bizarre conflation of what she thinks a President ought to do, rather than what might actually be effective. Is there really any reason for Levin to spend less time running this place and more time hanging out in Bass Cafe with Fisher & Friends? Okay, so he adds an extra reception during the year. So what? The quality of life here isn’t gonna go up, and he has better things to be doing that actually impact the university. The author just sounds whiny and entitled; such a change seems suggested only for her self-esteem, which apparently takes priority over the endowment and a well-run institution.

  • Yale12

    Yes, he’s the president of a university, but the university also includes Yale College, and it would serve him well to actually act like he gives a crap about the thousands of undergraduate students who pay tuition here every year instead of treating us like a dull inconvenience. I would argue that a university which a vast majority of undergrads believe the president is a pathetic speaker and doesn’t give a hoot about them is not a “well-run institution,” no matter how much money we make.

    I suggest you read Fisher’s piece again (or maybe just for the first time). She’s not suggesting that he spend more time on undergrads than on the endowment: “He doesn’t need to devote all — or even more than a very small bit — of his time to undergrads.” No, going to Bass Cafe with undergrads isn’t part of his job (and Fisher never says it is) but speaking to us absolutely is, and he should start acting like it.

  • graduate_student

    If you want to get President Levin’s attention, become the dictator of a country with an important emerging economy. Suppress dissent, pass draconian laws, jail people for the slightest deviations from the official doxa — then you will have the President’s ear, or at least his hands, so long as you fill them with money.

  • River Tam

    > Each student deserves at least one opportunity to interact with the president in a meaningful way between his welcome speech at the beginning of freshman year and graduation.

    For heaven’s sake, why? He’s an administrator, not your BFF Jill.

  • des13

    Julia, I agree with you. All I remember from his speech was his line about how we can major in English and still become investment bankers or consultants. Very uninspiring.

  • silliwin01

    I think we’ve reached a conclusion that Yale sucks.

    (Edit: By that I mean that we come here expecting a perfect place and then find out cruelly it isn’t exempt from the shi77iness that is present in society.)

  • Yale1701

    Though President Levin is the chief administrator of the University as a whole, Yale College is an integral part of the University. The overwhelming sentiment on campus is that President Levin cares much more about his projects overseas than the students who pay tuition each year, and the disconnect between Levin and the student body is problematic. While the residential college system is nurturing, a broader sense of community across the University is essential, and as President, Levin needs to be a part of those efforts. Hosting a Halloween party and showing up at the NCAA hockey games to make a 10-minute appearance with the YPMB hardly helps. It’s not about President Levin holding open office hours for students or even reaching out to individuals; it’s as simple as him hosting a Master’s Tea once in a while, giving a public lecture, attending a Dramat performance, writing his own emails to the student body, attending any number of the student-run conferences that pro-active Yalies have established, etc. Dartmouth’s president even went so far as to make an appearance in their campus-wide singing competition (http://www.ivygateblog.com/2011/03/dartmouths-prez-kim-debuts-as-a-rapping-spaceman/). It was silly, but it showed that he was part of the Dartmouth community, something that can’t be said for Levin and Yale.

  • dm

    There are many good things to be said about Levin’s presidency. He has fundraised impeccably, bringing Yale out of a very tough financial situation. He has improved relations with New Haven and pushed development in the city.

    But, there are criticisms to be made. Has all of the development been benificials for all New Haveners? Does he have any interest in the student body? Does he care about the athletic program? He continues to make cuts to athletics, so notwithstanding the Yale box in Brdgeport, he has not been a real supporter of the efforts of 13 percent of the student body (Note: I’m not an athlete, so this isn’t my personal gripe. We can save the debate on athletics for another time).

    The truth is that the President should be a part of the undergraduate, the graduate, and the professional student body in addition to selling the school. This is not a ridiculous or a whiny request. In fact, I’m surprised that any undergraduate would suggest that, “Oh, well, Levin has more important things to worry about.” Perhaps that is the right angel, but do try to recall that in the 60s students were taking over Columbia and berating their regents at UC Berkeley. We’re supposed to question leadership. They have to prove to us that they deserve to be there.

  • River Tam

    > Does he have any interest in the student body?

    I wouldn’t care if he stuck pins in my voodoo doll as long as he made my University experience better by being a good administrator.

    Which he has been.

  • Yale12

    Unless you think being a good administrator means interacting with the student body in a way that demonstrates he cares about us rather than just raising money and ranting about China. I’m not talking about personal interaction – just a damn speech that doesn’t sound like it was written and delivered by a robot would be a good start. His speech to Branford on Monday about the hiring of the new master was equally aloof, and included some not-so-subtle and completely undeserved digs at Master Smith.

    Showing up on time would be nice, too.

  • River Tam

    > I’m not talking about personal interaction – just a damn speech that doesn’t sound like it was written and delivered by a robot would be a good start.

    Yes, that totally makes the list of Top 100 biggest impacts on student life.

    > His speech to Branford on Monday about the hiring of the new master was equally aloof, and included some not-so-subtle and completely undeserved digs at Master Smith.

    What, did he mention wiffle ball?

  • Inigo_Montoya

    “What, did he mention wiffle ball?”
    @River: I actually laughed out loud. Well played.

  • Goldie08

    Master smith is kind of weird, but from what I hear, he’s a chill-@$$ head who kicks it with Ludacris on the reg. What were the “digs?”

  • Ulysses

    I could never ask President Levin to spend more time on us sophomores; he simply hasn’t any more to spare. However, students would appreciate if President Levin hired a better speech writer. If President Levin presented a well-considered speech of any origin, this would communicate that he considers undergraduates worth time and thought. I’m sure many talented students, for example, would be honored to assist in this capacity, at least for speeches addressing undergraduates.

  • diggedty

    guess what, over the years Levine has come to treat every division of Yale this way. The guy runs this place like a for-profit corporation, and it shows

  • ohno

    @River Tam: “Yes, that totally makes the list of Top 100 biggest impacts on student life.”

    I agreed with you entirely up to that point. Yes, a well-written, inspired, memorable speech given by the head of my university delivered to a group of students at a significant event would probably make my top 100 list.