UP CLOSE | Salovey inherits a stable Yale

Levin Salovey

On the afternoon of Nov. 8, 2012, faculty and administrators crowded into the McDougal Center to meet Yale’s next president, with rumors circulating that the current provost would take the reins of the University.

So when Provost Peter Salovey appeared with University President Richard Levin and Yale Corporation senior fellow Edward Bass ’67 ARC ’72 at the side door, he had to walk through a standing ovation and chorus of cheers in order to reach the podium in the front. No one looked surprised. The clamor did not die down quickly, but eventually Bass took the podium to announce Salovey’s unanimous election by the Yale Corporation.

“Rick [Levin] leaves a lasting legacy of exceptional leadership, one on which our next president can build with confidence,” Bass told the audience that day. “This legacy continues with Peter’s appointment as the next president of Yale.”

Levin has built this legacy over the past 20 years, during which he increased Yale’s global presence through initiatives such as the creation of Yale-NUS, improved Yale’s relationship with New Haven by integrating the University into its surroundings, significantly increased the percentage of international and science students in Yale College, and oversaw the reconstruction of a campus once in disrepair.

After the announcement of Salovey as president, Chair of the Presidential Search Committee Charles Goodyear ’80 told the News the committee had thoroughly vetted around 150 candidates and ultimately chose Salovey because he was a “hand-in-glove fit” with the presidential search statement, which the committee had released Oct. 9. The statement stipulated the new president had to be a scholar and a global thinker, in addition to exemplifying the “highest ethical and moral standards,” maintaining a positive relationship with New Haven, and supporting the diversity of the Yale community.

In other words, the Corporation wanted a president who would continue along the successful trajectory Levin set for the University.

While the similarities between Levin and Salovey are numerous, their presidencies will start at vastly different points. Levin transformed the campus he took charge of, which was ringing with calls for a better future, into one of the world’s strongest universities — and Salovey has little damage to repair. He has not yet announced concrete plans for his presidency, and his broad goals remain vague.

But Levin is leaving behind a number of unfinished projects and newborn initiatives, so though the “Levin era” will formally end when he packs up his Woodbridge Hall office on June 30, his influence will likely linger.

 

A HAND IN ALL DECISIONS

Sitting atop a table of framed photographs below a window in Levin’s Woodbridge Hall office is a candid snapshot of Levin and Salovey embracing one another. The photo stands propped up before the other photos on the table.

When asked to describe how he and Salovey differ, Levin did not skip a beat.

“He’s a better musician, and I’m a better tennis player,” he quipped. “There you have it.”

Those close to Levin and Salovey repeated this sentiment, if not so succinctly. While they may seem different in conversation, Salovey is closer to a younger carbon copy of Levin. Outside work, they are also close friends.

Both received undergraduate degrees from Stanford University: Levin in 1968, and Salovey 12 years later. Both earned their doctorates from Yale, then also climbed the ranks of the faculty to hold administrative positions. Right before Levin became president, he served as the Graduate School dean, a position Salovey held before becoming Yale College dean in 2004 and provost in 2008.

Perhaps the most important shared experience was the way both professors rose to the chairmanship of their respective departments at an early age, gaining an appreciation for the experience of faculty members while having the maturity and self-confidence of leadership thrust upon them, Levin said.

“If you can handle being the department chair of people you took courses from, you can handle anything,” Levin said.

As Levin rotated Salovey through Yale College committees, two deanships and a four-year term as provost, the two administrators became attuned to each other’s institutional values, collaborating on the vast majority of decisions that faced the University. Neither could recall an instance of disagreement.

“I can’t think of a case when the No. 2 on the academic side had worked so well with the president,” Yale historian Gaddis Smith ’54 GRD ’61 said. “The smooth way in which they work together is really quite unique in Yale’s history.”

In conjunction with Levin, Salovey has shaped all major decisions for the University — not only the celebrated, but also the controversial.

For instance, Yale-NUS, the joint liberal arts college that Yale is opening with the National University of Singapore, is the capstone of Levin’s 20-year push for globalization. With the first class of Yale-NUS students enrolling this fall, Levin’s project will come to fruition just after the president leaves office. Though the venture has endured public scrutiny since its inception, detractors should not expect Salovey to chart a new course for Yale-NUS. The president-elect has shaped the new college since he and other professors and administrators first visited the site of the future college in 2009.

Of course, Salovey’s involvement with Yale-NUS and several other major University initiatives has not gone unnoticed by many involved with work at Yale.

“Both [Levin and Salovey are] deeply woven into the fabric of the institution,” Council of Masters Chair Jonathan Holloway said.

So with a voice in all of the major decisions of the University for the past few years, Salovey said he does not have plans to divert the University’s course significantly.

The few commitments Salovey has voiced are either minor or not new at all. The president-elect has described plans to reinvigorate internal communications at Yale and pursue pre-existing renovation and construction projects that were halted during the recession.

But while the president-elect’s values will stay relatively constant with the initiatives that marked Levin’s presidency, the contrasting Yales of 1993 and 2013 mean the experiences of Salovey and Levin’s presidencies themselves will prove extremely different.

 

INHERITING A HEALTHY YALE

When Levin stepped into the presidency in 1993, Yale was in shambles.

Benno Schmidt had abruptly resigned a year before over Commencement breakfast with the Yale Corporation. Buildings were literally falling apart. Relations with New Haven had hit an all-time low following the murder of Christian Prince ’93 on Hillhouse Avenue. In the face of a $22 million deficit, the size of the faculty was shrinking and whole departments were in danger of elimination under Schmidt’s proposed budget cuts.

Yale was in need of a visionary leader to rebuild the school, and Levin — with his goals of globalization, integration with the city, creation of shiny new facilities and more — seemed promising, if inexperienced: He became a full professor at the School of Management in 1982, eight years after joining the Yale faculty, and had served as the dean of the Graduate School for less than a year before the Yale Corporation chose him.

Smith, the Yale historian, noted that Levin had clear, strong objectives — more so than any other president the University has seen thus far. He set a five-year plan to balance the budget, which included raising tuition fees to $25,000 after a Yale Corporation vote. He immediately started working with Mayor John DeStefano Jr. and set about to negotiate with Yale’s labor unions. In his Oct. 1, 1993, inaugural address in Woolsey Hall, Levin pledged to broaden Yale’s walls, encompassing the world.

“There’s been a real lack of leadership at Yale over the past few years,” News Editor in Chief David Leonhardt ’94 told The New York Times in 1993 as Levin stepped into office. “The people in positions of authority — the dean, the president, the provost and members of the Corporation — have not put as a priority honestly evaluating problems and seriously attacking them.”

So it comes as no surprise that Bass, Goodyear and Yale Corporation fellow Jeffrey Bewkes ’74 all praised the profound impact Levin has had on Yale.

Goodyear and the rest of the search committee made their approval of Levin clear when they outlined the qualifications necessary for Yale’s future president in an Oct. 9 statement, which included a global outlook and a strong moral code.

So after an unexpectedly quick, two-month presidential search, the Corporation considered the Presidential Search Committee’s recommendations and selected the new leader.

Had they wanted a change of agenda, the Yale Corporation would have chosen “outside blood,” said Joseph Zolner SOM ’84, the senior director of Higher Education Programs at the Harvard Graduate School of Education and a specialist in higher education administration.

Selecting a president with Levin-like qualities and immense institutional knowledge guarantees the most seamless transition possible on June 30. The path in front of Salovey could not look more different than the one Levin started down 20 years ago: While Levin jumped into action, appointing new administrators and setting objectives, Salovey is not a symbol of a new Yale.

But Salovey’s lack of novelty, in this case, may be a good thing.

 

GREAT EXPECTATIONS

With stability, Yale is no longer desperate for change. In fact, members of the Yale community are excited for Salovey to continue the progress Levin started.

After 20 years of work, Levin’s influence on the direction of the University permeates every facet of Yale life. Since Salovey is inheriting a stronger Yale than the one which fell onto Levin’s lap, the University community is not thirsting for a new beginning like it was in 1993.

Dean of the Medical School Robert Alpern said he came to Yale 19 years ago because of Levin, and he expects Salovey to extend Levin’s “real vision to advance science” at Yale.

Meanwhile, at Yale-NUS, Levin will stay on the new college’s governing board even after leaving Woodbridge Hall, and Yale-NUS Dean of Faculty Charles Bailyn told the News last month Salovey, as a result, may take a “less hands-on approach” to the new college than his predecessor. After meeting with Salovey regularly, Yale-NUS President Pericles Lewis agreed he does not expect a change in approach from Salovey.

Chair of the Association of Yale Alumni Board of Directors Jimmy Lu ’77 and AYA Vice Chair Mike Greenwald ’75 both said they and the alumni body as a whole are pleased with the amount of money Levin allocated to their initiatives through the recession — and they are confident Salovey will continue to show similar endorsement.

Randy Nelson ’85 chairs the Board of Directors for the Yale Alumni Fund, which gives the school unrestricted current-use funding. Nelson said the fund plans on providing the new president with increased support next year, adding that he, and the alumni he with whom he works, expect to collaborate just as well with Salovey as they have with Levin.

“[Levin’s] strategic vision is brilliant, and I don’t see any reason why Peter won’t be the same,” Nelson said.

The sentiment is the same over numerous other subjects. Yale College Dean Mary Miller expects Salovey to continue Levin’s dedication to the arts, Vice President for Development Joan O’Neill expects the same for existing fundraising projects and Vice President for Human Resources and Administration Michael Peel echoed similar hopes for Salovey’s commitment to diversity.

Of course, there are those who hope Salovey will depart from some of Levin’s policies — most prominently, students and alumni who hope Salovey reverses Levin’s decision eight years ago to reduce the number of athletic recruitment spots in each class to 180 from the 230 allowed by the Ivy League. Salovey said he will not decide upon policies regarding athletics until he has met with the other universities in the Ivy League.

While Salovey’s position is preferable to the problematic situation Levin had, it poses a different challenge for the new president, said Judith McLaughlin, a professor at the Harvard Graduate School of Education who specializes in University leadership and chairs the Harvard Seminar for New Presidents.

“You’re not coming in as a hero to solve the messes,” she added.

 

SIGNS OF CHANGE

Though he has no pressing issues to dodge and does not plan to depart from Levin’s vision, Salovey has given his constituents reason to expect a different approach to the presidency.

Administrators and alumni noted “stylistic” differences between the two. While Levin exudes the reserve and authority of a president, Salovey comes across as more of a “social animal,” Holloway said.

Although both are similarly approachable at alumni and fundraising events, O’Neill said, Salovey is more likely to pepper his conversation with vignettes from life or teaching.

Their distinct characters seem a natural parallel to their disciplinary differences. Salovey and Levin are both highly regarded in their respective fields of psychology and economics, and many noted that their personalities reflect their chosen subjects. Salovey said his academic background is the main difference between the way he and his predecessor approach problems.

“I think an economist is more likely to think about trade-offs and costs versus benefits, and maybe a psychologist is more likely to think about the behavior … and relationships among individuals in an organization,” Salovey added. “Both are necessary. But in our backgrounds we have different starting points.”

Since he became president-elect, Salovey has been more accessible than Levin to the Yale community as he makes the rounds on his listening tour — which brought him to New York, the West Coast, Europe and Asia to gather the thoughts of students, faculty, staff and alumni in regards to Yale’s next 10 to 20 years — because he does not yet have the president’s packed work schedule. In recent weeks at Yale, Salovey has sat on panels, held forums, and met with professors and administrators throughout campus, and he has even been spotted at athletic events.

All this exposure to the many facets of the University may seem unnecessary for someone who has served in four major administrative positions within the Faculty of Arts and Sciences, starting with the chairmanship of the Psychology Department. But Salovey said he aims to gain an understanding of people’s “hopes and aspirations” for Yale in the next decade or two.

Gauging people’s thoughts now will prime Salovey to make informed changes and decisions in the fall, said Zolner, the senior director of Higher Education Programs at the Harvard Graduate School of Education and a specialist in higher education administration. The mere existence of Salovey’s listening tour may be an implicit promise for change.

Despite any differing impressions Salovey and Levin may leave with people, the perfect storm of circumstances — marked personality differences, disparities in visibility between Levin and Salovey, and the listening tour’s implications that Salovey is gearing up for action — have come to suggest that Salovey will bring in a new era of leadership at Yale.

 

THE GIFT OF TIME

Salovey will have every opportunity to create his own legacy, even if the task at hand does not involve forging a new path for the University.

There is a difference between continuity and stagnancy — and no University governing board would appoint a president hoping for the latter, McLaughlin said.

“I view as my challenge many of the same issues that President Levin viewed as his challenge,” Salovey said, specifically noting Levin’s contributions to Yale’s academics and facilities, in addition to his work on town-gown relations and globalization. “These big issues are still the big issues. Where [Levin and I] might see some difference is in strategies and tactics more so than large goals.”

And Salovey’s vision focuses on expanding Levin’s Yale — as he has repeated since he was appointed, he hopes to create a “more unified Yale, a more innovative Yale, a more accessible Yale and a more excellent Yale.”

Building upon a successful predecessor’s foundation and resisting the temptation to leave one’s “own particular fingerprint” on a University is the mark of an astute leader who will be more open to increasing existing successes than changing them for the sake of revolution, Zolner said.

When Salovey takes a look at the University with fresh eyes, he is likely to draw from his background in emotional intelligence to increase the sense of unity on campus and implement a new system of communication between different University departments. But much of the future president’s work is up for speculation. Administrators and faculty can expect some reorganization at higher levels, Miller said, given the natural tendency for new presidents to shuffle their subordinates and Salovey’s history of doing so in previous roles.

Regardless of what Salovey does with his years in Woodbridge Hall, the luxury of taking charge of a stable campus has left him with the gift of time — something more significant than room for groundbreaking initiatives. With the end of his listening tour drawing near and no urgent messes to mop up when he steps into the presidency, Salovey has time — years, even — to figure out how to bring others on board with whatever his priorities may be.

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