City looks to Salovey for town-gown improvements

henryehrenberg-inauguration-594
Photo by Henry Ehrenberg.

During University President Peter Salovey’s inaugural address on Sunday, Mayor John DeStefano Jr. looked on from the balcony of Woolsey Hall as Yale’s new president extolled the virtues of the Elm City.

Mirroring former Yale president Richard Levin, who concluded his 1993 inaugural address by calling for a renaissance of the Yale-New Haven relationship, Salovey spoke extensively about the University’s role in the Elm City. Unlike 20 years ago, however, Salovey did not call for a reversal of the relationship, but rather for a continuation of existing trends, such as collaboration with city leaders, public schools, unions and retailers.

Salovey also suggested that the University must encourage student engagement, bolster economic development and employment and incentivize entrepreneurship and innovation if it wishes to improve both the city and Yale.

“First and foremost, we need a partnership, a partnership characterized by trust and undergirded by the idea that Yale and the city are both working together to make New Haven an even better place,” Salovey told the News, adding that he had tried to “honor the parts of the partnership that are ongoing while also approaching some new directions” in his inaugural speech.

ELEVATING EDUCATION

A central focus of the town-gown relationship, from both the New Haven and Yale perspectives, has been New Haven Public Schools. Over the past two decades, outgoing Mayor John DeStefano Jr.’s administration renovated every school in the city, and Yale made significant investments in New Haven’s education system. Still, public education in the Elm City continues to struggle with low test scores and high dropout rates.

A key component of collaboration has been New Haven Promise, a scholarship fund sponsored by Yale, the Community Foundation for Greater New Haven, Yale-New Haven Hospital and Wells Fargo. The scholarship, which provides funds for qualified New Haven students to attend college in the absence of financial means or assistance, has helped 393 students attend college since its inception in 2011.

Hillhouse High School Principal Kermit Carolina, whose students have received 65 scholarships through the program, said its continuation is vital in continuing to build a working relationship between Yale and New Haven.

Both Salovey and New Haven Superintendent Garth Harries ’95 expressed similar enthusiasm for the scholarship program.

“I’ve met with [Salovey] and he is very clear about his commitment to our students,” Harries said. “I’m sure we will continue with programs like New Haven Promise and the involvement of Yale undergrads in our schools.”

Carolina pointed to undergraduate involvement as an area where Yale could do more to improve public education in the city. He suggested that more Yale students work as tutors in New Haven schools, saying that Yale students provide excellent role models for the city’s youth.

Having watched Salovey’s address, Carolina said he is optimistic about further collaboration between Yale and the Elm City.

“With the new leadership of the city — whether it’s Yale, City Hall or the New Haven Public Schools — there’s an opportunity for us to really make some significant changes and charter a new course,” Carolina said. “Particularly if we can learn from any mistakes that were made over the past 20 years.”

But when prompted, Carolina declined to elaborate on what those mistakes were.

Points of contention still remain regarding Yale’s role in education throughout the city. Although Yale does not publicly release the number of students it admits from New Haven’s public schools, those students’ representation on campus is minimal.

“I think it would be good for Yale to share more of its resources with our communities and establish an easier pathway for our kids to get into Yale,” said Parris Lee, a New Haven public school employee.

Harries also suggested that city schools reach out to parts of the University with which they do not usually interact. He said he has already met with the head of Yale’s Emotional Intelligence Center, which Salovey played a key role in founding, to discuss the possibility of further collaboration.

INCUBATING INNOVATION

Over the past 20 years, Levin used real estate as a mechanism for improving Yale-New Haven relations. Through University Properties, which buys and then leases space in the city, Yale gentrified several New Haven streets, including Broadway and Chapel. Adding to the University’s engagement with the Elm City, Yale also incentivized employees to purchase homes in New Haven rather than in the surrounding suburbs.

Salovey said that while these methods were successful, the vehicle for growth in the Elm City is quickly shifting to an “idea economy.” Entrepreneurship from Yale students, faculty and staff has already contributed to establishing new businesses, technology, public policy ideas and services, Salovey said in his Sunday address.

Mayoral candidate Justin Elicker FES ’10 SOM ’10 seconded Salovey’s call for economic growth based on innovation.

In the past, Elicker has pointed to Science Park as a successful example of creative collaboration between Yale and the city.

The park — a 600,000-square-foot development in New Haven’s Newhallville neighborhood that cost the University approximately $150 million to renovate in 2010 — is a first-rate scientific research facility on the site of a former arms manufacturing plant. Elicker said the plant is successful not only in providing jobs that require advanced educational degrees, but also in offering jobs that do not require post-secondary educations, such as janitorial, secretarial and other positions.

Beyond scientific innovation, city leaders suggested Yale can play a role in making simple improvements to New Haven’s infrastructure. Yale’s recent $160,000 investment in a crosswalk on Whitney and Audubon streets is a good example of the University providing a tangible benefit to the city,  said Ward 7 Alderman Doug Hausladen ’04.

Hausladen added that the city could use expertise from Yale’s professional schools in tackling issues ranging from its ongoing budget crisis to public health throughout the Elm City.

Both in the inaugural address and in an interview with the News, Salovey emphasized the importance of Yale students staying in New Haven to increase entrepreneurship in the city. In order to encourage more students to remain, the city and the University need to collaborate on issues such as housing and building “creative communities of recent graduates,” he said.

“If we want our students to participate in the idea economy by being providers of idea capital, I think we have to work together with the city to figure out what would make remaining in [New Haven] after graduation attractive,” Salovey said.

But Salovey did not use his speech to address public safety, an issue that defines most Yale students’ perceptions of the Elm City. Although the city’s 15 homicides this year represent a significant drop from 2011, when the Elm City saw 34 murders, many Yale students continue to regard the streets beyond the University’s campus as unfriendly and dangerous.

Changing both these perceptions and the realities regarding public safety will likely need to be a top priority for Salovey if he hopes to convince more Yale graduates to stay in the Elm City after their four years in New Haven, city leaders said.

“The University needs to set the tone even before new students arrive,” Elicker said. “Orientations are more often about New Haven as a dangerous place rather than the opportunities it provides.”

Salovey has lived in New Haven since the early 1980s, when he first came to Yale as a graduate student.

Comments