Linda Lorimer, a powerful administrator who shaped the University over the course of more than three decades, will step down in April 2015.
Widely considered the most influential of Yale’s vice presidents, Lorimer currently serves as vice president for global and strategic initiatives. But her current role is just the latest in a long string of positions at Yale that included serving as university secretary from 1993-2012. A graduate of Yale Law School, Lorimer took her first administrative post at Yale in 1978.
Particularly notable is Lorimer’s work on Yale’s relationship with New Haven and the internationalization of the University. Lorimer was a key player in the improved town-gown relationship in the 1990s, as well as in the creation of major international projects such as Yale-NUS. She also played a major role in Yale’s work in online education.
Her retirement was announced by University President Peter Salovey in an email to the Yale community Wednesday morning.
Salovey’s letter stated that Lorimer will remain at Yale part-time through December 2016 as senior counselor to the president. According to Lorimer, her position will not be filled following her departure, with her responsibilities divided throughout the University.
“It is almost impossible to capture in a single message the breadth and depth of Linda’s contribution to the life of this institution,” Salovey wrote.
Former University President Richard Levin said none of Yale’s “civil servants” have had a greater impact on the University’s advancement than Lorimer, who was one of Levin’s closest advisors during his two decades in Woodbridge Hall. Levin said Lorimer’s ability to organize and inspire others, both on long-term projects and daily crises, was unparalleled. Lorimer served on the presidential search committee that selected Levin in the early 1990s.
In 1978, Lorimer took on her first administrative position as assistant general counsel. She eventually became the youngest associate provost in Yale’s history. From 1987 to 1993, Lorimer served as president of Randolph-Macon Women’s College in Virginia, at which point Levin recruited her to return to Yale and serve as secretary, and later vice president and secretary.
Lorimer’s years as secretary and vice president were largely shaped by her push to make Yale into a global institution with both an online presence and a strong partnership with New Haven.
Henry “Sam” Chauncey ’57, a former University administrator who at one point served as secretary, said the early 1990s challenged Lorimer to take an “old Yale” and make it “new” by capitalizing on opportunities for globalization, technological advances and a growing endowment.
“Linda’s greatest strength was to understand good things about the past that could be kept while changing things at Yale to make it possible for Yale to be part of the future,” Chauncey said. “She modernized [Yale] and saw to it that the trustees and the president dealt with the right problems and didn’t get bogged down in unimportant issues.”
Lorimer returned to Yale just as Levin, newly inaugurated, sought to turn a page in Yale’s relationship with New Haven, which had reached a low point in 1991, when Christian Prince ’93 was murdered on Hillhouse Avenue.
Lorimer said she saw the state of the city in the early 1990s as a discouraging factor both for students and faculty, ultimately prompting her foundation of the Office of New Haven and State Affairs and the New Haven Homebuyer Program. In 2011, the program surpassed 1,000 Yale employees who had bought homes in New Haven through University support. The program is open to any permanent University employee working 20 hours or more per week and gives an annual income benefit to those who buy a home in New Haven’s target areas.
Former Mayor John Destefano, Jr., who took office only one month after Levin’s inauguration, said Lorimer was crucial in ensuring mutually beneficial relationship between Yale and the city.
“She had the trust and confidence of [Levin], which made her able to engage in the city in a different way, in a positive way and in a constructive way” Destefano said, adding that Lorimer’s personal handling of University tragedies, such as the deaths of students, showed that she never let her responsibilities overwhelm her supportive nature.
But Lorimer’s influence also extended well beyond New Haven. She was one of the primary architects of Yale’s push to become a global university.
A report released by Levin and Lorimer in December 2005 stated that the internationalization of Yale over the subsequent three years would focus on three overarching goals: “preparing students for leadership and service in an increasingly interdependent world,” “attracting the most talented students and scholars to Yale from around the world,” and “positioning Yale as a global university of consequence.”
In 2011, Levin and then-Provost Salovey announced the launch of a new liberal arts college, Yale-NUS, through a partnership with the National University of Singapore.
Even before its opening in 2013, however, the campus became a source of controversy. Faculty and students on Yale’s campus quickly criticized Yale’s expansion to a country with restrictions on freedom of expression, arguing that it went against the basic tenants of the liberal arts. Faculty excoriated the fact that the project was never put to a vote by faculty and that Yale never made public, or even available to faculty, its agreement with NUS.
The criticism of Yale-NUS also extended to the project’s relation to Lorimer’s husband, Charles Ellis, a former member of the Yale Corporation who previously served as an adviser to the Investment Committee of the Board of the Government of Singapore Investment Corporation.
Criticism reached a peak in April 2012, when Levin released a statement denying conflicts of interest in the Corporation’s approval of the Singapore project.
“In sum, two of the three individuals with connections to Singapore were not serving as Yale trustees between January 2009 and February 2011, when the issue was under discussion,” the statement read. “The third, who was a trustee when the matter was under discussion, recused himself from voting.”
Ellis was among the two individuals not serving as trustees during conversations between the presidents of Yale and NUS.
Regardless of criticism, Yale-NUS is now up and running. And Yale’s international efforts are continuing. This fall, the University opened the Yale Center Beijing, which aims to provide a space for Yale affiliates in Beijing to conduct research and hold conferences.
Lorimer also led the push for online education at Yale, such as the Open Yale Courses — a website that provides lectures from select Yale College courses to the public free of charge. Her establishment of the Office of Digital Dissemination and Online Education in 2007 would prove to be just one more example of her insistence that Yale could amplify the impact of its teaching beyond the campus gates, said Lucas Swineford, the office’s executive director.
Still, the University has moved into the online medium more cautiously than many of its peers, such as Harvard and MIT, which founded the non-profit online initiative EdX.
Lorimer was also one of Yale’s top earners. In 2012, Lorimer earned approximately $1 million in supplemental retirement benefits, which came on top of base compensation of $521,594, a figure that sparked criticism amongst many faculty and staff.
But to many of Lorimer’s colleagues interviewed, her legacy is one of unmatched dedication to Yale.
Senior Advisor to the President Martha Highsmith said Lorimer’s accomplishments were too great to number, but that her care for her staff was lesser known by the Yale community. Highsmith said from delivering meals to Old Campus during a hurricane or planning Yale’s tercentennial extravaganza, Lorimer fostered a kind of deep loyalty within Woodbridge Hall.
Yale School of Management Professor Sharon Oster, who served as a dean of the SOM, said Lorimer had carved out major areas of the University, particularly in regards to globalization, and made them “very much her own.”
Brandon Levin ’14, who worked closely with Lorimer during his year as Yale College Council president, said Lorimer’s investment in students was remarkable given the magnitude of her job.
Following Salovey’s email, Lorimer sent her own message to longtime friends and colleagues noting her excitement to continue focusing on online education and special projects, albeit with a bit of free time. Reflecting on her many roles — which included being the only woman to be elected to the Yale Corporation and to serve as an Officer of the University — Lorimer said her favorite title was one given to her by former University President A. Bartlett Giamatti: “utility infielder.”