Key administrator steps down, students demand input in successor. Yale Corporation refuses.
Sound familiar? That’s because it happened just last academic year, when former Yale President Richard Levin announced his retirement after 20 years in Woodbridge Hall’s most powerful office. Over the fierce protests of students at the time, the Yale Corporation put together a selection committee without a single student as a full voting member, able to speak to the concerns of the nearly 5,400 undergraduates on campus. Their message was clear: We value our students only enough to splash their smiling faces on admissions fliers.
So the Corporation huddled behind closed doors to choose President Salovey, and the next fall, the University expected us all to watch his inauguration parade in awe, sing along with his band and sport celebratory “23” t-shirts — all to rejoice in the coronation of a President we had no part in selecting.
And without a concerted push by students this year, the same scenario threatens to repeat itself.
Following Mary Miller’s announcement she will step down from her post as Dean of Yale College this July, President Salovey announced in an email to all students he will “appoint a single advisory committee to provide recommendations” about her successor. Simply put, there is no reason at least one undergraduate shouldn’t sit on that committee.
Making such crucial administrative decisions without any student perspective is dangerous for the future of student life at Yale. In fact, we need look no further than the recent Bluebook controversy to see what happens when Yale makes business decisions without regard to how they will affect students.
The dean of the College acts as the chief spokesperson of the student body in all administrative affairs, and as a result, the decisions she makes will affect students even more directly than those of the president.
And despite her recent bumps, Miller has historically been a staunch advocate of students, pressing Yale to look seriously at its unsafe sexual culture, bringing back an ROTC program only after the fall of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell and acting as the last line of defense on rising college costs.
We simply cannot afford to take the selection of her successor lightly, especially looking ahead to the challenges the next dean will face. Yale currently has a $39 million deficit — a sum higher than any of our peer institutions — putting many programs like the Undergraduate Organizations Committee funding, ISA stipends and financial aid at dire risk. We have been lucky to have Miller in place to safeguard such programs, but there is no guarantee Yale’s governing body, which shamelessly calls itself a Corporation, will have the same priorities as the students it purports to serve.
And, of course, we must remember that the lack of student input is not standard — it’s an anomaly. In choosing its last president, Princeton included two undergraduate students on its selection committee, Brown’s Advisory Committee included three undergraduates and students at Stanford, Duke and Columbia similarly had a voice in their selection processes. Surely in deciding between candidates, the Corporation should first consult the very students the new dean will represent.
Admittedly, our time here as students is ephemeral, and the next dean will almost certainly outlast all of the students currently enrolled. However, as students, we offer a crucial snapshot of the campus culture that the Corporation should at the very least consider when selecting the administrator who most directly shapes our Yale experience.
Last year, we got beat. If we want to make the Corporation listen this time, every student must push for change.
YCC, start every meeting with the question, “How can we put students on the selection committee?” College councils, talk to your master about why this is important to you. Campus publications, be proactive — don’t accept vague answers from the Yale Corporation about the selection process and demand they give an explanation if they shut us out again.
Last year, the student body fought valiantly to have a voice in choosing the new president, but we eventually gave in to the realization that the Corporation would not recognize the importance of student input. This time, we won’t back down until we have a spot at the table.
Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on us all.
Tyler Blackmon is a sophomore in Jonathan Edwards College. His columns run on alternate Tuesdays. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.