For University President Richard Levin, Monday, July 1, 2013, will be unlike any other Monday of the past two decades.
He will not have to wake up at 5:45 a.m. He will not have to rush to meetings in Cincinnati or on West Campus. He will no longer be responsible for 11,875 students, 3,953 faculty and 9,183 staff members. For the year starting that Monday, Levin will be on sabbatical.
After he steps down from his position as Yale’s top administrator, Levin says he plans to compile a collection of his recently written works and write a book about economic development and university management. Though he has not made any final decisions concerning his future professional life, speculation about what lies ahead for Levin is already growing among those close to Levin and in the pages of The New York Times, which mentioned Levin as a possible Treasury Secretary for a second-term Obama administration in an Oct. 19 article. Colleagues at Yale said two major options loom in Levin’s future: remaining at Yale, or leaving higher education behind.
“I don’t think he would want to return to teaching because for the last 20 years he’s run something, and I think he really enjoys running things,” former senior fellow of the Yale Corporation Roland Betts ’68 said. “Honestly, I think he wants a bigger horizon than a classroom.”
But Economics Department chairman Benjamin Polak said in a Nov. 7 email that he is “very excited” to have Levin back in his department. Though he said he has not discussed the courses Levin will teach, he added that he is certain they will appeal to economics majors and non-majors alike.
While he has not taught full-time since stepping up to Yale’s highest office in 1993, Levin said he is flattered that some of his colleagues wish to see him return to the classroom, but added that he has not made any decisions about returning to academia.
Vice President Linda Lorimer said Levin was a very popular teacher and he could easily return to the Economics Department, even though it has been “a bit of time.”
If Levin does re-enter Yale’s lecture halls as a professor, he will be the first Yale president to do so. Benno Schmidt, whose Yale presidency ended in 1992, started a for-profit education organization, and A. Bartlett Giamatti, whose term ended in 1986, entered the sports business after leaving Yale. Kingman Brewster became the United States ambassador to the United Kingdom after stepping down as president in 1977.
Levin has reportedly been under consideration for a position in President Barack Obama’s administration multiple times.
Various newspapers reported that Levin was a contender to lead the World Bank in 2007, though the position went to Dartmouth College President Jim Yong Kim. In December 2010, Bloomberg News reported that Levin had discussed an economic administrative position with Obama, which sparked questions over whether Levin would leave Yale to lead the National Economic Council. The NEC position had been vacated by former Harvard President Larry Summers.
New York Times reporter Peter Baker, who wrote the recent article on the potential candidates for Treasury Secretary, told the News in a Nov. 7 email that he has heard Levin’s name come up “for any of several possible economic-related positions,” but he does not have knowledge of these possibilities advancing any further.
Levin declined to comment on his chances of becoming Treasury Secretary.
Economics professor Kenneth Gillingham, who served on the White House Council of Economic Advisers under its then-chair Ben Bernanke — who is currently chairman of the Federal Reserve — said Levin’s academic background qualifies him for a number of Cabinet roles, including chair of the CEA.
“You don’t become chair of the Economics Department at Yale unless you’re extremely well-respected,” he added, referring to a position Levin held prior to his presidency.
Levin’s academic research focuses on industrial economics, and he has written about topics such as patents and railroad deregulations. His academic interests do not center on the budget or tax reform — two major challenges the Obama administration is facing as it begins its second term.
Though Betts, the former Yale Corporation senior fellow, said Levin enjoys leadership positions, he added that he doubts the president will seek a job in the corporate world after leaving Yale. Still, Betts said Levin enjoys serving on advisory boards — Levin currently sits on the board of American Express and is a trustee of The William and Flora Hewlett Foundation — and could transition into leading a foundation.
“There’s probably 10 major foundations in the United States,” Betts said. “I would imagine that any one of those that opened up would be talking to [Levin].”
Betts added that Levin may be inclined to take a position on the West Coast, where his four children and seven grandchildren reside.
For his part, Levin has declined to discuss his future job prospects until his tenure ends.
“I’m really going to do my job until the end of my year,” he said. “Then I would have to see what happens.”