August 30th, 2012 | Cross Campus

ZELINSKY: Five quick takes on Levin’s retirement

Some things to think about, given President Levin’s announcement to step down this coming June.

1) We owe Levin our thanks, even if we disagree with him.

I have often criticized Levin in the News, chiefly for his lack of public morality. He shies away from values, like last September 11, when the memorial service became an ode to toleration, not the sacrifice of 3000 Americans.

But, for all his faults, Levin served Yale in the way he thought best. He did so for two decades. That kind of loyalty to an alma mater deserves our thanks and praise.

2) Levin’s accomplishments are mixed.

Levin really did rebuild downtown New Haven, alongside Bruce Alexander ’65, vice president for New Haven and state affairs. I was born in this city right before Levin took office. For twenty years, I watched the Broadway district revive from an urban slum into a gentrified and safe neighborhood. That’s quite an accomplishment. So too is the renovation of all the residential colleges.

Some “accomplishments,” though, were not so appealing, in retrospect. Take just one example:

Levin traded peace with the Yale unions for bloated contracts that will place the University in an increasingly worse fiscal situation. The dining halls are perfect examples, full of union featherbedding and ever-increasing cost. Just this past June, Yale and the unions signed a contract that gave employees 14 to 15.35 percent raises over four years. These raises came at a time when Yale has a faculty-hiring freeze, the Provost continues to keep a tight cap on the budget, and our endowment refuses to recover fully from the downturn.

3) Special interests must not dominate the search for the next President.

You already hear it around campus: The next president should be a woman, gay, a minority — anything but white and male.

Wrong. The next president should be the best possible candidate. If that is a WASP from ten generations of Yalies, so be it. If it is an out lesbian, fine. Just let he or she be the best candidate.

Special interest groups cannot have a stranglehold on the decision on who is Yale’s next leader. It’s too important for that.

4) The next president should reverse Levin’s failures.

The next Yale president should immediately reverse Levin’s failures that can still be fixed. Pull us out of Singapore and axe Yale-NUS. Reappoint Harvey Goldblatt as master of Pierson, something Levin refused to do because Goldblatt dared rock the boat (hint: Harvey stands for values). I could go on, but you get the idea.

5) The next president should be a Yalie.

We need a Kingman Brewster ’41, someone who understands what Yale is about: its undergraduates. Brewster used to walk his dog around campus. He lived in the President’s house. He breathed Yale with every breath, and students loved him for it.

Levin, by contrast, is rarely seen on campus — most undergraduates likely cannot distinguish between the president and a random professor. That’s a problem.

Searching for the president who turned out to be A. Whitney Griswold ’29, Wilmarth S. Lewis ’18 wrote a famous line on what Yale needs in the president. Today, it could be written for a man or a women. It is worth keeping in mind over the next few months (I quote, here, from Reuben Holden’s Profiles and Portraits of Yale University Presidents, page 5):

“Yale’s next president must first of all be a Yale man…He must be a leader — not too far to the right, not too far to the left, and of course not too much in the middle. He must be a man of iron health and stamina, a young man — but also mature and full of wisdom. He must be married to a paragon — a combination of Queen Victoria, Florence Nightingale, and the best-dressed woman of the year. As I have been talking, you have, I don’t doubt, realized that there is One who has most of these qualifications. But there is a question about Him: Is God a Yale man?”