Levin’s ‘alter ego’ to fill role of VP

Vice President and Secretary Linda Lorimer’s title will change to just vice president come this summer.
Vice President and Secretary Linda Lorimer’s title will change to just vice president come this summer. Photo by Sharon Yin.

With the arrival of Kimberly Goff-Crews ’83 LAW ’86 as University secretary this summer, Linda Lorimer’s title is set to change.

Currently, Yale has seven vice presidents whose titles specify their roles in various facets of the University, ranging from development to finance and business operations.

But when students return in the fall, Lorimer will be just “vice president.”

While the change might seem one of semantics — Lorimer’s job will remain largely the same — the new title may be indicative of Lorimer’s 19-year career working at the top of Yale’s administration with University President Richard Levin.

“She is really a senior counsel to the president: She is his senior adviser and has been for the whole time she’s been here,” said Martha Highsmith, Lorimer’s deputy secretary, who has worked with her for 18 years. “I think this is a recognition that her role in the University really is University-wide. She has that peripheral vision that spans the entire University.”

With such experience, several administrators and former Yale Corporation members interviewed said Lorimer is capable of serving as the University’s first female president. But Lorimer maintains that she could never be president of Yale: she has never held a teaching role, as every other president of the University for the past century has.

Still, Lorimer has received offers over her career at Yale to serve as president at other institutions. And for Lorimer to leave and become president of another university would be no exception — eight Yale administrators have left the University to become presidents at elite institutions during the 19 years that Levin and Lorimer have been in office.

Two former Corporation members interviewed said she chose to stay due to an allegiance to Levin, with whom she has helped execute most major presidential initiatives of the past two decades.

THE ‘UTILITY INFIELDER’

Today Lorimer, 60, oversees eight divisions at Yale, six of which — ranging from the Yale University Press to the Office of Sustainability — were added to her responsibilities since she assumed her role as secretary.

Highsmith said this increase in responsibilities is indicative of what she called Lorimer’s ability as an “incubator” for University projects, taking new initiatives and overseeing them until they can operate independently.

“How she has worked as part of President Levin’s team, is to work on a number of specific projects for which she initially has had the primary responsibility, and then delegated responsibility to others once the project has been established or has stabilized,” said Margaret Marshall LAW ’76, a former Corporation fellow and general counsel at Harvard.

Marshall added that, within and beyond Yale’s campus, Lorimer is widely considered to be one of the most adept administrators in higher education.

During her 37 years at the University, Lorimer has worked in several of Yale’s top offices — including the Provost’s Office, the General Counsel’s Office, the Yale Corporation and now the Secretary’s Office — giving her broad insight into the University’s administration.

Lorimer first arrived at Yale in 1974 as a student in the Law School. As a student there, she began work as associate general counsel under Jose Cabranes LAW ’65, Yale’s first general counsel and a former Corporation fellow. She would work in the same office after graduation, eventually running it alongside current University Vice President and General Counsel Dorothy Robinson upon the departure of Cabranes’ successor. In 1983, Lorimer became the youngest associate provost in the University’s history — a role in which she oversaw academic and administrative policy for several of Yale’s departments.

Lorimer refers to herself as Yale’s “utility infielder,” a term that then-University President and eventual Major League Baseball Commissioner A. Bartlett Giamatti gave her in the early 1980s.

“I have always thought that was a lovely description,” Lorimer said. “I may have had five or six different titles at Yale, but my role has been the same: I have always just wanted to do what was needed for Yale.”

LEVIN’S ‘ALTER EGO’

After leaving the University in 1986 to become president of Randolph Macon Women’s College — now the coeducational Randolph College — in Lynchburg, Va., Lorimer continued to serve on the Yale Corporation and returned in 1993 as University secretary at the request of newly appointed President Levin.

Lorimer had served as one of the Corporation’s representatives on the 1992 search committee for a successor to former University President Benno Schmidt ’63 LAW ’66. Over their 19-year partnership, Levin and Lorimer have worked closely on a number of University projects, effectively establishing Lorimer as one of Levin’s closest advisers.

After assuming the role of secretary, Lorimer’s first major project was to take on the University’s New Haven Initiative, an urban development program spearheaded by Yale. With New Haven’s crime rate having just reached its peak, town-gown relations at the time were in decay, and they became Levin’s first priority upon assuming office.

The two worked closely to build a program that is now overseen by the University vice president for New Haven and state affairs and campus development, a position created in 1998.

“There were a smattering of initiatives around town-gown relationships, and Linda took those on,” Highsmith said. “A similar thing has occurred with the University’s international focus. When it became it was clear that was a major presidential priority, Linda was the one who gave that its life.”

Two years into her role as secretary, Lorimer received the additional title of vice president, becoming the first vice president and University secretary.

Since then, Lorimer has worked closely with Levin on high-profile projects such as the Yale India Initiative, the World Fellows Program and Yale-NUS College, among others. In that time, Lorimer’s international work led to the creation of the Office of International Affairs, which her office now oversees, Highsmith said.

All five administrators interviewed described Levin and Lorimer’s working relationship as uncommonly strong, with Lorimer serving as a close adviser to Levin on many of his major decisions as president.

Cabranes said the relationship is one in which “they communicate telepathically,” while Marshall described their partnership as two people with the ability to see a problem “from 360 degrees,” approaching issues holistically.

“You would expect one to be the visionary and one to be the implementer, but in many ways, each has the attributes of both and Yale benefits from the very best of both,” Marshall said.

Since the two work so closely together, Cabranes said Lorimer might even be considered Levin’s “alter ego.”

A JOINT DEPARTURE?

In the past, Levin said he would remain in office at least through the conclusion of the Yale Tomorrow fundraising campaign, which ended last June. As Levin nears his 20th year in office, it remains to be seen when he will leave.

Given her experiences at Randolph Macon and Yale, Lorimer could have already become president at any leading institution, Marshall said. Lorimer is often approached by other schools regarding the subject, Levin noted.

But her relationship with Levin has kept her at the University, Marshall said.

“It is an amazing tribute to him, I think, that had she ever wanted to do so, Linda could have become a university president again,” Marshall said. “But she has, I think, enjoyed being and has been an important part of President Levin’s team.”

For now, Levin has given no further indication of departing from his office in Woodbridge Hall, but over the past 100 years, only Arthur Hadley 1876, University president from 1899-1921, served a longer term than Levin.

Lorimer said she has too much to accomplish at Yale to leave any time soon. When asked whether she would either retire or become president of another university when Levin steps down, Lorimer paused before replying.

“I don’t know,” she said. “I can’t predict the future. But I’ve been grateful for every year I’ve had to serve Yale.”

Correction: 4.18.12

A previous version of this article misstated the location of the former Randolph Macon Women’s College. The college, now named Randolph College, is in Lynchburg, Va., not Ashland, Va.

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