Yale President Peter Salovey immediately instated a new University Cabinet when he took office this summer, bringing together academic deans and administrative officers to assess large-scale policy issues and hone the grander University mission.
Salovey called the 25-person cabinet an “academic brain trust” designed to foster communication between administrators and deans of Yale’s schools, who are members of the faculty, to discuss University policies and how they affect teaching, learning and research. The cabinet’s birth falls during a period in which Faculty of Arts and Sciences members have urged top officials to increase faculty input into administrative decisions. The new group will meet once a month and hold two to three all-day retreats each year.
“I think it’s a group that can help us understand how different policies and practices play out in the different schools,” Salovey said. “I think it’s a feedback mechanism, it’s a brainstorming mechanism and it’s a way to help deans and vice presidents know what the other [group] is doing and worrying about.”
Salovey said he created the group, whose members include all nine University officers and the deans of each school, after he heard many administrators and faculty members suggest a version of the group during his “listening tour” as president-elect. Prior to the University Cabinet’s creation, the deans of each school met regularly in the Deans’ Cabinet, and officers of the University, including former President Richard Levin and Polak, met in the Vice Presidents’ Cabinet — but the two bodies had no formal way to collaborate.
The new collaboration comes during an ongoing conversation about faculty input channels into administrative decisions. Last fall as provost, Salovey instituted forums of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences that meet at least twice a semester to give professors a venue in which to voice concerns about the University, but the meetings have showed declining attendance. In addition, Salovey and Provost Benjamin Polak announced in May the formation of an ad hoc committee to examine faculty input at Yale. The committee will report back to top leadership later this fall.
Since being named president, Salovey has publicly expressed a desire to improve communication throughout the University, calling for a “more open” Yale. He said he hopes the University Cabinet, which first met last May but officially formed on July 1, aligns with that goal.
Graduate School Dean Thomas Pollard said the “brilliant” idea is a welcome opportunity for the deans to share ideas and develop strategies with the vice presidents, since the two groups used to operate relatively separately.
“I think in particular the deans were looking for more systematic and regular ways to interact with the vice presidents, and vise versa,” Salovey added.
The issues the cabinet has addressed during its several meetings and two all-day retreats are confidential, Salovey said, but the agenda consists of topics of his choosing as well as some submitted by the other 24 members. He will use those conversations to determine which issues to prioritize.
But members of the cabinet have said the opinions of the two groups — one academic, the other, administrative — do not always reach a clear consensus.
Polak told the News that the discussions have been frank and Yale College Dean Mary Miller said in an email to the News that members show respect for the different points of view “that do not necessarily all converge.”
“I will be honest in saying that I thought perhaps the group would be too large for addressing serious issues,” Miller added, “but I was wrong.”
Vice President for Development Joan O’Neill said the conversations are still in preliminary stages, but once the group starts assessing more specific directions for the University, she expects new emphases could turn into development priorities.
The Deans Cabinet and the Vice Presidents Cabinet can still meet separately if they choose.
The cabinet’s first two retreats took place at the ends of May and August.