Last Friday, I stepped up to the microphone at Battell Chapel to voice my concerns with the presidential search process. I told the members of the search committee sitting before me that as a member of Students Unite Now, I did not believe that the three minutes allotted to me were sufficient to communicate what I wanted to see in Yale’s next President. The audience cheered — the committee did not respond.
We, the students of Yale University, are not being represented in the presidential search process. Yale has fallen far behind its peer institutions in the level of democracy and transparency displayed in its search to replace President Richard Levin.
Two other members of the Ivy League, Dartmouth College and Princeton University, are currently undertaking searches for new presidents as well, yet a striking difference exists between their processes and ours — their search committees include staff members and students, both of which are missing from Yale’s committee.
The Princeton presidential search committee consists of nine trustees, four faculty members, two undergraduate students, one graduate student and a staff member. The Dartmouth search committee is made up of six trustees, seven faculty members, a staff member and a student.
In comparison, the Yale committee has only eight trustees and four faculty members. Not a single student or staff member will be present at the meetings during which the next president of Yale University, someone who will be representing both aforementioned groups, will be selected.
In their emails last year, Yale administrators cited the policies of “peer institutions” as justification for changing tailgating policy and eliminating fall rush for fraternities and sororities. Why should the Presidential Search process not be held to the same peer-based standard?
Instead, student participation in the selection process has been reduced to the presence of a Trustee Liaison to Students, Peter Dervan GRD ’72 , on the committee. Dervan’s primary qualification for this position, according to the email sent to students by the Yale Corporation, is that he is the father of a recent Yale graduate. He is a professor at the California Institute of Technology, not Yale.
Brandon Levin ’14, the Student Counselor to the committee, essentially serves as a liaison to the liaison on the committee, while students at other colleges are sitting on the search committees themselves.
In an email to students who attended his office hours, Levin explained the rationale that the search committee gave him for not having a student seat on the committee. “No one or two students can represent the full diversity of the Yale student body,” he wrote.
The concept that no representation is preferable to potentially imperfect representation is illogical. Even though no one or two students can sufficiently represent the entire student body, they still share a common undergraduate experience with each of us. None of the faculty or trustee members on the committee have the experience of being a student at Yale in 2012.
To be effective, a president has to represent and work with multiple constituencies, including trustees, alumni, faculty and students. Only three of these four groups are represented on the search committee. The administration has denied us our opportunity to responsibly represent not only ourselves — but also future undergraduate students who will become part of a student body that we know better than they do. The new president will be a key decision maker on issues that affect each of us directly, including financial aid, the new residential colleges and Yale’s role in New Haven.
The town hall meeting held with four members of the committee last Friday involved very little discussion between parties. The committee refused to respond to the concerns and questions raised by students, including me. When Charles Goodyear ’80, chair of the Presidential Search Committee, spoke at the conclusion of the meeting, he said he could not respond to student concerns until he spoke with the rest of the committee.
Students have been continuously offered countless meetings, liaisons, surveys and polls, but with no student on the committee we have no way of knowing that our words are being considered seriously.
Last year in his welcome speech to the class of 2015, Richard Levin said the following:
“The simple truth is that we need you. In these times of great uncertainty, when we seem unable to deal with our gravest problems, we desperately need an infusion of broadly educated citizens and leaders to join the debates, raise the level of discourse, and move us in the right direction.”
If Yale needs our help to move in the right direction, then they should solicit our help by placing a member of the student body on the search committee. We must organize and demand a larger role in the selection of the future leader of the university.
Diana Rosen is a freshman in Pierson College. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
This column is part of the News’ Friday Forum. Click here to continue.