As President-elect Peter Salovey continues to pack his days with meetings and speeches, he regularly takes time off to cheer on the Bulldogs from the bleachers. And student-athletes have noticed.
Salovey said he has not yet decided on any policies pertaining to the athletics program, including changes to campus life or recruitment, adding that making any decisions before he has taken office would be premature. Still, he said he has met with a number of alumni representatives and athletic staff, including Director of Athletics Thomas Beckett, to gather information on the athletic program and assess the needs of its community. With the University preparing for a changing of the guard in Woodbridge Hall, the transition has sparked conversations about possible changes to athletic policy on a campus where many student-athletes said they do not feel supported.
Much of the discussion focuses on raising Yale’s recruitment numbers to match those of other schools in the Ivy League, a policy which may dispel some athletes’ resentment toward the University. After implementing a broad sweep of renovations to athletic facilities, University President Richard Levin cut the number of recruitment slots from the 230 allowed for Yale by the Ivy League to 180 eight years ago.
Until Salovey attends his first Ivy League meeting, which sets league-wide regulations for athletic programs, he said he will not feel comfortable planning any changes to recruitment or funding policies. Beckett said the two have not even discussed the topic of recruitment yet, though they will at “an appropriate time.” But Salovey did say he is open to changing policies related to student-athlete life on campus.
“I would say the single most frequently raised issue has been, how do we promote better integration between student-athletes and other students?” Salovey said, “And how do we combat the reality or the perception that somehow the athletic community is separate?”
Though some students said they already want to hear that Salovey plans to increase recruitment, his decision to postpone any formal planning has precedent. When he stepped into the presidency in 1993, Levin said he did not have views on recruitment, instead focusing on improving athletic facilities and leadership by hiring Beckett.
Salovey pointed to the policy Head Football Coach Tony Reno announced late last semester — that members of the football team are encouraged to live within their residential colleges through at least their junior years — as a positive example of how to improve integration between athletes and non-athletes. He said he wants to support policies like Reno’s, adding that living in the residential colleges often provides a healthier environment for students.
Beckett said Salovey has also met with a number of coaches and members of the Yale Sports Federation, a newly formed group consisting of the chairs of various teams’ Alumni Sports Associations. Salovey has yet to meet with the Captain’s Council or Student-Athlete Action Committee, so students interviewed from both groups said they are not sure of the future president’s plans. Still, the students hope his show of support at games is an indicator of support for the program in the future. Salovey attended a viewing event in Payne Whitney Gymnasium last weekend for the NCAA hockey hame between Yale and North Dakota.
These groups are all calling for similar things: a more supportive environment on-campus and the resources to keep Yale’s teams competitive within the Ivy League.
SAAC president Adele Jackson-Gibson ’13 said she hopes student-athletes and the President’s Office will communicate more under Salovey. Under Levin, she said student-athletes have often been confused about their place on campus.
“I don’t think [Levin] made efforts to reach out to a large part of the community that’s felt neglected for a long time,” Jackson-Gibson said. “There just needs to be more conversation between the president and the athletic community.”
In February, Andrew Sobotka ’15 compiled the athletics section of the Yale College Council Report to President Salovey, which the council has not yet released to students. Sobotka said students who responded to a YCC survey brought up concerns about campus unity and recruitment as well, but they seemed optimistic about the future of Yale athletics. He added that Salovey’s attendance at games is a small gesture, though he said student-athletes to whom he has spoken appreciate the support.
“I think there are high hopes,” Sobotka said.
The Ivy League sports conference was created in 1954 and includes seven other institutions.