From the first day of the search for a new University president, Provost Peter Salovey was considered a strong candidate — but not just for Yale.
Members of the Presidential Search Committee said they vetted around 150 candidates, roughly the same number as in past searches, and Salovey’s experience and vision for the University made him a clear front-runner in the selection process. But committee members considered another factor during the process: Princeton University and Dartmouth College are currently also searching for new presidents. Yale’s past four provosts all left the University for top leadership positions at major research institutions, and Salovey’s administrative track record at Yale, where he has served as dean of both Yale College and the Graduate School before entering the Provost’s Office, qualified him for top positions at other universities.
The presidential search that led to Levin’s appointment in 1993 took 10 months, and Yale Corporation Senior Fellow Roland Betts ’68 predicted in late August that the search for his successor would take four to six months. But the process ended just 65 days after it began.
Richard Lifton, Genetics Department chair, said they had to “move with alacrity” because of the ongoing searches at other universities. The Yale Corporation interviewed the Search Committee’s top candidates last month, and Corporation members decided on Oct. 31 that they were ready to make a final decision this past weekend, former Yale Corporation Senior Fellow Edward Bass ’67 said.
But a series of cancellations and absences suggest the search process’ end came sooner than expected. On Tuesday, Levin canceled a meeting in New York for Thursday afternoon, based on emails obtained by the News. Levin was also scheduled to speak at a Yale College Council town hall event Thursday evening, but the YCC was not informed the event had to be canceled until immediately after Salovey was named president at a ceremony Thursday afternoon. Bass said the Corporation made its decision to meet last weekend while he was on a plane to Cuba, so he attended the weekend’s discussions over a conference call from a Cuban hotel room. In addition, Yale College Dean Mary Miller was not in attendance at Thursday’s event.
Salovey and other administrators declined to comment as to whether he had received an offer at another university.
When asked why the Corporation decided to make the announcement this week, Bass said the Corporation was “ready.”
English professor Amy Hungerford, a member of the Search Committee, said the scarcity of highly qualified candidates for any university presidency caused the committee to speed up its search.
“I think it was clear when we realized how many peer institutions were searching for presidents at the same time that if we really wanted the best chance for the best person, we had to move very fast,” Hungerford said.
Chair of the Presidential Search Committee Charles Goodyear ’80 said the committee had planned to “move in an expedited way” from early in the process. Goodyear added that the committee only took Yale’s best interests into account during the process without considering on external factors such as other searches.
Search Committee member Judith Chevalier ’89, a professor at the School of Management, said the committee did not sacrifice thoroughness in vetting candidates. After evaluating potential successors to Levin, she said, the committee decided Salovey was the best choice for the job and condensed months of work into a nine-week search.
Howard Gardner, an expert in leadership at the Harvard Graduate School of Education, described the context of the search as a “perfect storm” for a quick selection. While it is not unusual for presidential searches to last for over a year, Gardner said selection processes tend to be shorter when the preceding president is considered successful and there is an obvious, qualified successor.
Gardner added that in Levin’s time as president, he was known for his ability to groom future leaders, which he said would make Salovey an attractive candidate for other institutions. During Levin’s tenure, eight top Yale administrators went on to leadership roles at nine different institutions — Cambridge, Carnegie Mellon, Colgate, Duke, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Oxford, Swarthmore, the University of Pennsylvania and Wellesley.
“Of course [Salovey] would be considered because Rick Levin is known worldwide as a person who develops future leaders,” Gardner said. “Any other university would put [Salovey] on their short list.”
Princeton Vice President and Secretary Robert Durkee, who will also be staffing his university’s search committee, said Princeton is still in the early stages of its selection process. The committee held its first meeting last month and is currently engaging in forums and discussions about the search, with the aim of selecting a candidate to present to the trustees in the spring, Durkee said.
Members of Dartmouth’s presidential search committee could not be reached Thursday evening.
The Yale Corporation announced Salovey’s appointment at 2:30 p.m. Thursday in the Hall of Graduate Studies.
Sophie Gould contributed reporting.