NGARMBOONANANT: Great big ideas for Salovey

Thank god it’s Peter Salovey. Who would’ve thought that such a murky search process would turn out such a fantastic selection?

It’s a little ironic that Salovey’s selection — arguably the best decision the Yale Corporation has made for students in many years — severely lacked valid student participation. No students were appointed to the committee. The only two chances for 11,000 students to get a say in the process were terribly flawed surveys and a town hall meeting. That’s it. The Yale Corporation was also under tremendous pressure to elect a woman or minority simply to make a statement — a statement that would have unnecessarily narrowed the candidate pool by half simply because of an arbitrary characteristic.

So it is perhaps with a sigh of relief that I welcome Salovey’s appointment. But I also welcome it with hope. I have an inkling that, in a decade or two, the search process for Salovey’s successor will be more representative of the community, because of his initiative to make administrative decisions less top-down and more inclusive.

Salovey has worn many different hats at Yale, and he understands them all. I first met Salovey through my “Great Big Ideas” class — an innovative course, co-taught by Adam Glick, that Salovey had worked hard to bring to Yale. “Great Big Ideas” is a seminar where students survey 12 different disciplines in 12 weeks. There were no lectures; classes were filled with heated debate, and homework consisted mostly of watching lectures online. The proposal for this class was controversial, to say the least, and many professors disapproved of the course when it entered the Bluebook.

But Salovey did not buckle under the pressure. He saw tremendous potential in the instructor and great opportunity in the class. Because of his faith, the end result was the newest classic Yale course: a chance for 20 students each term to receive the kind of education that truly pushes and pulls at your assumptions, the kind that sticks with you well beyond your bright college years.

It takes a bold leader to run against such faculty crosscurrents. Salovey did so because, as a social psychologist, he understands each type of education brings forth its unique strengths. Similarly, he believes in the equally valuable perspectives that everyone brings to the table — from athletes to freshmen, to staff and alumni. He understands that this university is only as good as the interactions between its students, staff and faculty. This bedrock understanding will shape the decisions he makes — and it is what makes Salovey such a great choice to lead us.

Mr. President-elect, the vast majority of the student body celebrated on Thursday as we learned of your appointment. From the beginning of the search process, we viewed you as our candidate, as our advocate, because of the small, seemingly meaningless, interactions we’ve had with you.

Mr. President-elect, we would like a president who realizes that the presidents’ job does not end with making University policy, who recognizes that he also has a personal role to play: that of listener, role model and chief instructor. We realize that you may not fundraise with the prowess of President Rick Levin, but fundraising is worth much less to us than presence and approachability. Though raising money is important, we want you to affect our lives in a much more personal and profound way.

We would like a president who extends Levin’s spectacular financial aid expansion; a president who advocates sensible, safe alcohol policy on campus; a president who attracts the best faculty to the school; a president who dedicates enough resources to sports, who attends games, who brings Bulldog Athletics back to the days of its glory.

We would like a president who protects the liberties of its students every time and everywhere, even in Singapore, and who supports leaving that country before we betray our open, liberal arts tradition.

We would like a president who treats this place like an experience, not a business, and who is equally accountable to the student body and the Yale Corporation.

We would like a president who is interested in new things, the kind of leader who fought to bring “Great Big Ideas” to fruition.

Mr. President-elect, this may seem like a daunting list. But its goals are within reach. The students are on your side. If you continue to approach your job the way you did as professor, dean and provost, with a genuine caring for intellectual and moral development of students —the raison d’être of this place — you will have left a wonderful legacy behind when the next transition takes place.

Geng Ngarmboonanant is a sophomore in Silliman College. Contact him at wishcha.ngarmboonanant@yale.edu .

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