At forums, discontent grows

As the Yale Corporation gathered input at forums and discussions this weekend on the criteria for a new Yale president, many students’ concerns about the search grew.

Six forums and 40 smaller meetings with students, faculty and staff took place across campus on Friday and over the weekend, with the event for Yale College students drawing between 50 and 60 undergraduates to Battell Chapel. As search committee members took notes in the first pew of the chapel, 28 undergraduates criticized the search for its lack of transparency and implored committee members to be accountable to student opinion. Search Committee Chair Charles Goodyear ’80 rose from his seat as the forum came to a close to defend the Corporation’s decision to use the meetings to gather information rather than to answer questions.

“A number of you have asked what we think are important attributes of the president and what the process is going to be like [but] we’re actually asking you that — we can’t answer those questions,” Goodyear said. “We have numerous constituencies. We have the faculty. We have alumni. We have the staff. We have the city. What we need to do is listen to those groups and build that into our own views. We’d make a mistake to answer your questions without having a consultation first.”

Rather than suggest qualifications for candidates, students primarily commented on the the process set forth by the Search Committee.

Alejandro Gutierrez ’13 said questions relating to procedure are more pressing than specific suggestions. Gutierrez is a member of the activist group Students Unite Now, which has petitioned for greater student involvement in the search and released a five-page statement outlining its grievances prior to the forum. Six SUN members read the document aloud in three-minute, non-consecutive intervals — speaking for almost a fifth of the 33 student speeches at the forum.

“What was important was not allowing the forum to go the way they wanted,” Gutierrez said. “Any sort of substantive suggestion we might have made wouldn’t have done anything because there’s just no accountability or clear avenue for student suggestions actually influencing anything the Corporation does.”

Brandon Levin ’14 currently serves as the student counselor to the search committee — a non-voting liaison between the University’s student body and the committee.

Amalia Skilton ’13 said during the forum that the student counselor’s position is insufficient to field student input in the search.

“The Yale Corporation hasn’t said how it’s going to receive public comment that isn’t through the counselor,” Skilton said. “It seems as though they appointed a student counselor to save face.”

Levin said he wished more students had put forward priorities and criteria for the committee, rather than criticize its procedure. He added that time “could have been allotted differently” by focusing on Yale’s strengths and weaknesses and the necessary qualifications for a new president.

But John Gonzalez ’14, Levin’s successor as president of the Yale College Council, said procedural uncertainties have hindered student feedback.

“Despite what the YCC has been doing to talk to students, send out surveys and compile reports to amplify the student voice, the reason people aren’t responding is because they’re not sure whether you guys are going to listen,” Gonzalez said at the forum. “We need some guarantee that you all will read through and really think about what we have said.”

In addition to the six forums, fourteen meetings with smaller groups of students — including the YCC, athletic team captains, SUN and other organizing groups , Greek life presidents, and the Women’s Center and LGBTQ Co-op — drew mixed reactions from participants.

LGBTQ Co-op coordinator Hilary O’Connell ’14 and Sigma Phi Epsilon President Will Kirkland ’14 said they were pleased with the Corporation’s efforts to reach out to student groups.

“Though the representatives didn’t know much about our community before the meeting, they were certainly interested in learning about the progress we’ve made on LGBTQ life here and about what remains to be done,” O’Connell said. “They seemed to sympathize with the fact that there hasn’t been enough attention to students. I think we have a good chance of being listened to.”

Gutierrez, who represented SUN at the meeting with campus organizing groups, said he was more disheartened by the exchange. He said the meeting confirmed his concerns that the Corporation would not take student concerns seriously, adding that students will have to work on their own to assert power in the search process.

Asked to comment about the weekend’s meetings, Goodyear said “we love being here” but declined to comment further. The four other Search Committee members and Corporation trustees present at the forum — Neal Keny-Guyer SOM ‘82, Trustee Liaison to Students Peter Dervan GRD ’72, forum moderator Byron Auguste ‘89 and Morse College Master Amy Hungerford — also declined to comment.

With formal consultations now concluded, those wishing to provide additional feedback may submit written comments at presidential.search@yale.edu, Goodyear said in an email on Oct. 1.

Clarification: Oct. 4

A previous version of this article stated Brandon Levin felt students “misused” their time before the committee by criticizing the procedure. In fact, Levin said in the original interview that the time “could have been allotted differently.”

Comments

  • iggis

    Yale committees (of adults) have to be accountable to Yale students.

    But Yale students do not have to be accountable, period.

    I suppose it’s a good idea to get a new president.

  • dms

    Accountable for… being students? They do get grades.