As of late Thursday night, over one third of students at the Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies had signed an open letter to University President Peter Salovey calling for him to place a student on the search committee for the school’s new dean, who will take the office next June. The letter was sent just hours after Salovey officially announced the composition of the search committee, whose current roster does not include any students.
“We are deeply disappointed by President Salovey’s decision to exclude students from the F&ES dean search committee,” said Paul Burow FES ’16, co-chair of the F&ES Student Affairs Committee, who signed the letter.
The document was also emailed last night to Senior Advisor to the President Martha Highsmith and current F&ES Dean Peter Crane, and it will be delivered in paper to all faculty mailboxes in the school this morning. Students can continue to sign the letter via an active Google Document.
In the letter, the students argued that including them on the search committee would strengthen the relationship between the student body and the F&ES administration as well as bring a unique opportunity to impact the future of the institution.
“Student representation links the search committee with the broader doctoral and professional student body at F&ES, and provides a consistent voice on the committee that represents the perspective of the student body,” the letter states. “Most importantly, meaningful student involvement in the search process will result in greater student buy-in to the decisions made by the committee. This translates into broader student support for whoever is ultimately chosen as the new dean.”
The letter noted that there is a precedent of student involvement — there were students, for example, on the committees that selected Dean of Yale College Jonathan Holloway and Dean of the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences Lynn Cooley. It added that the Dean of the F&ES similarly influences student life and research priorities at the school, and that its students, who have already completed baccalaureate degrees and have several years of work experience, are capable of engaging with the committee actively and meaningfully.
“We approach our tasks and responsibilities with the utmost professionalism and have full faith in our student body to participate meaningfully in the search process,” the letter read. “It is our hope you believe that the future environmental leaders of tomorrow are also capable to have a substantive role in searching for the dean of their School.”
Burow said student participation on the F&ES dean search committee is a simple issue of equity. Students feel strongly that they should be able to meaningfully participate in the process, and there is a precedent for their doing so successfully, he added.
He added that students have an important perspective to contribute and the search committee stands to benefit from student involvement. He said that the University is supposed to be a space for inclusive participation and that allowing student involvement on the committee seems like a clear and easy way to support this principle in practice.
Nina Dewi Horstmann FES ’16 said that the F&ES administration had raised the concern that, were a student to be involved with the committee, the student might not keep the committee’s affairs confidential. She said that the issue has been framed as a confidentiality problem, but that students can keep information as confidential as faculty members can.
Salovey announced in an email Thursday that of the seven faculty members on the committee, three are women, including the chair.
Geography and urbanization science professor, Associate Dean of Research and committee chair Karen Seto said the committee will prioritize listening to student and alumni voices in the selection process through a series of open houses and other efforts. She said that the committee’s efforts to engage students in the decision-making process would likely not include substantially different avenues of student input than past dean’s search committees.
“The committee hasn’t met yet, but it is my priority to hear from a diverse set of voices — staff, faculty, current students, alums, friends of F&ES — about the qualities we need to look for in the next dean of the school,” Seto said. “One of the things we’ll look for is someone who can lead a very diverse school. We probably have one of, if not the most, diverse faculty of all the professional schools.”
Seto outlined the diversity of viewpoints among the faculty, from climate justice attorneys to research scientists, and she suggested that an ideal candidate for the job would be someone capable of communicating well with both theoretical research-focused and more hands-on parts of the school.
“Candidates for the dean will need to not only respect this range of perspectives but also enable it,” she added.
With regard to racial and gender diversity among the faculty, Seto suggested that the committee would consider complaints from students that the faculty is disproportionately white and male, but had no intention to substantially narrow its search for qualified candidates in order to lessen the gender and racial disparities in the school’s faculty. Of the 49 faculty currently employed at F&ES, 44 are white, three are Asian, one is Black and one is Hispanic. Out of 49, 36 are male and 13 are female.
Seto added that she did not want the committee to restrict consideration of candidates for dean to people from certain backgrounds, particularly because she doubts that a change in the ethnicity or gender of the dean would substantially shift any of the broader cultural issues some students want to change.
On Tuesday at a town hall forum, Crane said that based on Yale’s history, he assumed students would not be included on the dean’s search committee.
Myles Lennon, a second-year Ph.D. student at F&ES, described the administration’s decision not to provide a formal codified role for students in the selection process as “inexplicable.” He said the dean plays a very important role at the school, from overseeing faculty recruitment to shaping administrative decisions, and that it makes no sense that students will not be represented.
However, Lennon added that he and some students do not believe that the decision on the makeup of the selection committee is necessarily final.
“An expectation among many is that just because there was an announcement does not mean that there is not the possibility of changing things,” he said. “There is every reason in the world for students to be represented in the decision of the school that they have invested their lives in for a few years and no reason why the president can’t create a formal space for student representation.”
He added that there was a “sense of incredulity” among F&ES students about the decision.
In a Thursday email to F&ES faculty and staff, Crane called for a meeting to be held at 11 a.m. Friday to hear from Seto about the search process and about how the F&ES community can engage “most productively” in the process.
Correction, Nov. 15: A previous version of this article incorrectly stated that at a forum on Nov. 10, Dean Crane announced that students would be excluded from the dean search committee. In fact, Crane only stated his assumption that students would be excluded from the committee. Additionally, due to an editing error, Paul Burow FES ’16 was misquoted as saying that he was disappointed by President Salovey’s decision to exclude students from the F&ES dean search. In fact, Burow referred specifically to the exclusion of students from the dean search committee.