On Sunday afternoon — nearly 312 years to the day after a small group of men signed The Collegiate School, later Yale University, into existence in 1701 — Peter Salovey was installed as the University’s first new leader in 20 years.
The ceremony officially placed Salovey at the helm of an institution that has grown radically in diversity and scope since his predecessor Richard Levin ascended to the presidency two decades ago.
Though steeped in tradition and formality, Salovey’s inauguration in Woolsey Hall followed a week of celebratory events that took a more casual tone — and Salovey maintained this same informal approach in his inaugural address. In laying out his vision for the University, the new president emphasized the importance of expanding access to a Yale education and of maintaining the University’s vitality through high-quality teaching.
“Our task — even while we grow in size, even while we commit to being a more diverse faculty, staff and student body, more cross-disciplinary, and more global, is to retain Yale’s focus on the ties that bind us together,” Salovey said in his address.
Although Salovey stepped into the role of president on July 1, it was not until Sunday that Yale Corporation Senior Fellow Margaret Marshall LAW ’76 presented him with the University’s symbols of authority — its charter, the official Seal of the University and four keys to historical spaces across central campus.
The afternoon ceremony began with Yale faculty and delegates from other universities marching across Cross Campus from Yale Law School into Woolsey Hall. Inside Woolsey, Marshall presented the symbols, along with the official president’s collar, following a series of introductions and speeches — from herself, University Chaplain Sharon Kugler, Harvard President Drew Gilpin Faust, National University of Singapore President Tan Chorh Chaun and poet Elizabeth Alexander ’84.
Following his formal installation, Salovey delivered the traditional inaugural address, emphasizing the value of Yale’s traditional values while suggesting ways Yale can innovate as it moves into the 21st century.
Salovey stressed the centrality of students, teaching, expanding access to Yale and collaborating with New Haven and the world in his vision for the University. He spoke of the new residential colleges and the efforts to expand online access to Yale’s classes while also underscoring his belief that any expansion must not be “diluting, distorting or distracting” to Yale’s mission.
Looking to the University’s relationship with New Haven, he noted that Yale could not regard itself as separate from the surrounding city. Saying that the “city and University are forever coupled,” Salovey emphasized that the University must work to keep Yale students in New Haven after graduation and continue to encourage economic development and entrepreneurship within the Elm City.
Salovey also pointed to Africa as the next location for Yale’s continued globalization. Salovey said that he plans to identify partnerships, strengthen recruitment and build scholarship on a continent that has been frequently overlooked.
“I think that’s a great theme, teaching and learning and expanding Yale,” Provost Benjamin Polak said of the address. “It gave the people in my office marching orders.”
Yale Police Chief Ronnell Higgins said that Salovey’s inauguration excited him and his coworkers to work alongside new president, and former Yale Alumni Fund chair William Folbreth ’66 called Salovey’s push to expand Yale “the wave of the future.” Yale College Dean Mary Miller expressed excitement over Salovey’s emphasis on the fundamentals of teaching and research. And mayoral candidate Justin Elicker FES ’10 SOM ’10 said that Salovey’s focus on innovation bodes well for the Yale-New Haven relationship.
Despite the enthusiasm amongst those in Woolsey, though, the speech seemed to reach only a modest audience outside of the auditorium. Although the ceremony was streamed in multiple locations — Battell Chapel, Burke Auditorium and Hillhouse Ave., as well as being broadcast live online — few students on campus watched Salovey lay out his vision for the University. Of 37 students interviewed on Sunday evening, only one watched the address.
The block party that followed the address, however, saw higher interest. After Salovey’s formal inauguration, the new president and other Yale leaders streamed out of Woolsey Hall and made their way to Hillhouse Ave. On the street that Charles Dickens and Mark Twain both called the most beautiful in America, some 5,000 members of the Yale and New Haven communities gathered to celebrate.
The block party invited all members of the public to enjoy free fried dough and ice cream, listen to a cappella performances and mingle with Yale’s top administrators. Polak chased his children as they ran through the crowd while students and alumni mixed with dignitaries and faculty members, many of whom remained in their colorful robes. Seeking study breaks in the midst of midterms, students listened to bluegrass music and took photographs with Salovey.
“It’s a lot of fun,” Salovey said at the party. “It’s great to see the Yale community and New Haven community coming together to eat this extremely healthy food.”
Salovey said he hoped the inauguration would foster a spirit of unity across campus, suggesting that every 20 years “is not enough” for events with the whole community. In a Sunday email to the News, he said he hopes to “sustain the spirit” of the weekend with future events that bring together the Yale and New Haven communities.
Sunday’s formal inauguration came after a week of festivities. The celebrations begin with 27 departmental “drop-ins” in which Salovey visited Yale faculty and staff in their workplaces. Then, starting on Friday, alumni and distinguished visitors — university presidents, donors to Yale and others — arrived on campus in droves.
On Saturday, the University opened its doors with a campus-wide open house. All members of the public were invited to tour the residential colleges, pet Handsome Dan and Salovey’s dog Portia and stroll through the University’s vast library and gallery collections.
After the open house, dignitaries and donors gathered for a formal reception in Beinecke Plaza, while undergraduates enjoyed their own formal dinners in the residential colleges. Later that evening, Old Campus and the courtyard of the Hall of Graduate Studies roared with the sounds of bluegrass at two inaugural balls. Salovey’s band, The Professors of Bluegrass, performed at both.
Larry Milstein contributed reporting.