The first time I spoke with Peter Salovey, we talked bluegrass. It was at a Yale student reception several years ago when I was visiting my older brother, who was an undergrad at the time. I am an avid fiddler, a huge fan of old-time folk, and had somehow heard about Salovey’s band Professors of Bluegrass. I remember him recounting his favorite songs to me, regaling me with his double bass performances at various festivals.
The fact that Salovey plays in an old-time string band says a lot about his character. He’s a warm presence whose passion outside of academics is a style of music that brings groups together, usually in dance. And even more consequentially, he’s part of a band that includes both students and faculty alike. He has established himself as someone who prioritizes community and interaction with students.
Salovey’s academic work has also focused heavily on interpersonal interaction. Work he published in 1990 originated the study of emotional intelligence, which lays out the framework for how people identify and assess their own emotions, in relation to themselves and those around them. Salovey understands the fundamentals of human interaction — and he acts on it. The other day I was eating in Slifka’s Kosher kitchen when the President casually walked in to eat with students. This sort of personal involvement on campus will strengthen his ability to formulate policies based on student concern and input.
As a sophomore still relatively new to Yale, it’s hard to talk personally about what President Richard Levin accomplished. That being said, all I have to do is look back to my freshman suite to see a small part of what President Levin wrought during his tenure: my suitemates were from China, Romania and Russia. Under President Levin, Yale evolved into a truly global institution, which I could see just by stepping into the doors of Welch Hall my freshman year.
While Levin’s tenure was largely centered on Yale’s relationship with the outside world, my hope is that President Salovey will focus inward, on the Yale community. Yale certainly needed to expand its brand — I have heard many stories from alumni who spoke of the dismal state of the University’s finances and its troubled relationship with New Haven before the Levin era.
But our new president must focus his attention on the needs of students right here on campus. Seventy percent of those who responded to the Yale College Council’s presidential search survey said that it is very important for the president to be directly engaged with the student body — eating with students, more accessibility and transparency, attending student events. This is the right time in the life of the University to have a President focused on the day-to-day life of students.
Some have argued that it would have been in the University’s best interest to choose a president from outside of the Yale bubble so as to ensure that the new administration would have a fresh outlook on long-term vision and policy. But as I have discovered in just one short year, Yale is a complicated place, and to achieve progress here requires an intimate knowledge of the institution’s inner workings. President Salovey is familiar with the student body, the school administration and policymaking procedures — he will be able to officially begin his term on Sunday without a grace period, ready to enact change.
Salovey is an expert in the workings of Warner and Woodbridge, and he also understands the happenings on campus. He is uniquely capable of bridging that divide. From the first time I met him, I could tell he is a leader who knows how to connect with people and create community. After all, what kind of University president plans on playing his upright double bass for the student body during his own inaugural weekend?
Rafi Bildner is a sophomore in Davenport College. Bildner served on the undergraduate advisory committee to then Provost Peter Salovey. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.