Following Thursday’s announcement that Provost Peter Salovey will succeed University President Richard Levin as Yale’s top administrator, city officials voiced excitement and optimism that the long-time New Haven resident will continue the progressive town-gown partnership initiated under his predecessor.
Levin assumed the presidency in 1993, at a time when decades of disconnect between the University and the city left students wary of venturing beyond campus and New Haven residents distrustful of an expansive neighbor. Today, the former economics professor passes a mantle of town-gown accomplishments — including educational, economic development and outreach efforts — to his presidential successor. Local residents and elected officials said they view Salovey’s appointment to the presidential post as a step forward for Yale’s relationship with New Haven and believe he will carry on Levin’s legacy of promoting partnerships between the University and the Elm City.
“Peter comes to us as someone we all know. He has lived for 30 years in the city. He’s a part of the city,” Mayor John DeStefano Jr. said, “[Working with New Haven] will be second nature to him.”
Aldermen interviewed also said Salovey’s appointment is a positive sign for New Haven. Though neither Ward 10 alderman Justin Elicker FES ’10 SOM ’10 nor Ward 7 alderman Doug Hausladen ’04 said they have worked directly with Salovey on city initiatives, both are hopeful his appointment will be beneficial to the New Haven community.
“I am very optimistic Mr. Salovey will continue and expand Yale’s role in being an active and positive force in the city,” Elicker said.
Aldermen and city locals interviewed pointed to Salovey’s residence in New Haven as a sign of his investment in the city. Elicker said that while some professors choose to live in the suburbs, Salovey’s decision to live in New Haven for 30 years makes him a “dedicated resident.” DeStefano said that, having lived in the city for decades, Salovey understands the “texture” and “importance” of town-gown relation-building.
But Bruce Alexander ’65, vice president for New Haven and state affairs and campus development, said Salovey’s relationship with the city is not limited to his status as one of its residents. The two worked together on University projects benefiting New Haven public schools 15 years ago, and Alexander said he is confident that Salovey will be an active leader in the community as Yale’s president.
“Peter is very interested in New Haven and will certainly continue the University’s very substantial involvement in community affairs and civic leadership,” Alexander said in an email to the News.
Salovey arrived to the city in the fall of 1981 as a graduate student during a difficult era for Yale and New Haven. Through much of the 1980s and into the early 1990s, the University was burdened with deteriorating infrastructure, persisting labor union strikes and a multimillion dollar deficit. At the same time, the city was struggling to control high rates of unemployment, record level school dropouts and poverty. New Haven saw a then all-time high of 34 homicides in 1991, which included the death of Yale student Christian Prince ’93. Prince was shot to death by a New Haven resident on the steps of St. Mary’s Church on Hillhouse Avenue.
DeStefano said Salovey’s exposure to the history of New Haven’s relationship with Yale will help him understand how best to continue the partnership.
“He’s seen it from both sides — seen it in better times and in worse times,” DeStefano said.
Those “better times” for the University and its relationship with the city began when Levin introduced a number of Yale-sponsored programs aiming to help New Haven. These programs include the New Haven Promise, the Yale Homebuyer Program and the creation of University Properties. The New Haven Promise is a college scholarship for students in the city’s public schools, the Homebuyer’s initiative provides University employees an income benefit if they purchase a home in the Elm City and University Properties has invested millions of dollars in real estate in New Haven. Aldermen and the mayor said they believe Salovey will work to build on the relationship Levin created with New Haven.
“Over the last 20 years Richard Levin has done a lot for the town-gown relationships,” Hausladen said, “I can only imagine that [Salovey] wants to continue that trajectory.”
New Haven Promise Director Patricia Melton ’82 said she has no concerns about what will happen to the program during Salovey’s tenure.
“I think he’s an excellent selection,” Melton wrote in an email to the News. “The president-elect will continue to build upon the great work and legacy of President Levin. I am very excited to know we’ll be working with him and I have confidence in his leadership skill.”
Elicker said he would like to see the city’s relationship with Yale progress even further under Salovey. He said the University could partner with New Haven to improve transportation in the city. If the Yale shuttle and CT transit were combined, he explained, greater service could be offered to students and residents alike at lower costs. He also said he hopes Yale continues to support economic development in New Haven.
Ben Crosby ’14, co-chair of Ward 1, said he hopes Salovey will emphasize economic development that is inclusive of New Haven residents. Crosby noted changes on Broadway as an example of development that has benefited Yale students but is not always accessible to other city residents.
“Big, expensive brand-name places are great for students — at least those of us who can afford it — to shop at high-end clothing places, but I think that’s an example of a decision that was made that has generated tax revenue for the city but has not benefited New Haven people as much,” Crosby said. “In order for these places to be helpful, they have to actually be hiring from the neighborhood.”
Fellow Ward 1 co-chair Nia Holston ’14 said she hopes Salovey will create mechanisms through which New Haven residents and Yale students can offer input on what they want to see from the University, adding that she wants Salovey to be more of a “visible presence” than Levin was.
“I think Salovey needs to continue building relationships with community organizations and be a visible presence. Levin has done a lot and was very important to the city, but I’m not so sure if he connected with different people in the community,” Holston said. “I can only think of a few times that I’ve interacted with President Levin, and I didn’t necessarily get to engage in conversation with him, and I don’t think that’s conducive to transparency.”
Salovey earned his M.Phil and Ph.D. in psychology from Yale in 1984 and 1986, respectively.
Diana Li contributed reporting.