David Shimer

The structure of the Yale Corporation and University President Peter Salovey’s decision-making model may help explain Yale’s relatively slow progress in deciding on the title “master” as well as a host of other high-profile issues.

The Yale Corporation — the governing board and policymaking body for Yale — has final jurisdiction over the naming of the two new residential colleges, the potential renaming of Calhoun College and whether to remove the title “master” from the University bylaws. The Corporation, whose next official meeting is in February, has yet to reach a decision on any of these debates. While Salovey has the ability to call a special Corporation meeting and expedite the decision-making process, Senior Advisor to the President Martha Highsmith said he has not discussed doing so. Rather, Salovey has prioritized outreach to the Yale community and discussion amongst the Corporation that stretches across several months, he said.

“In decisions that involve the Corporation that have long-lasting impact on the institution, the Corporation often likes to talk about them at multiple meetings before they make a final decision, and there are only five meetings each year,” Salovey said. “I think anything having to do with residential colleges at Yale is so fundamental to the emotional attachment that students have to this place that it tends to be deeply considered.”

Salovey said the goal of the Corporation is to reach a consensus through “repeated reflection,” which includes several conversations on the same issue.

Still, Sam Chauncey ’57 — who served as University secretary in the 1960s and 1970s — said while it is reasonable for Salovey to take time to solicit the opinions from the Yale community, he could call for more frequent meetings amongst the Corporation, either in person or electronically, to speed up the process.

“Given modern communication methods, it is possible for the Corporation to make a decision as rapidly as the president wants it made,” Chauncey said.

Corporation Senior Fellow Margaret Marshall LAW ’76 did not respond to request for comment.

Highsmith said there is precedent for holding special Corporation sessions, noting that such a meeting took place to discuss “next steps” after former University President Richard Levin announced his retirement. But the possibility of holding a special meeting to discuss current issues has not been discussed, she said.

Highsmith added that it takes time for the University to gather input from the Yale community and that external pressure — such as Harvard and Princeton’s recent removal of the master title — should not impede upon that process.

“This is a time to act with all deliberate speed, and that means to act as quickly as we can but in a deliberative fashion that includes consultations with the community,” she said. “There’s some urgency around decision making now, but that urgency doesn’t override the need for involving the community in serious reflection. These are complicated issues.”

Because the Corporation does not face any “hard deadlines,” University Spokesman Tom Conroy said its members can take their time in deliberating, “to a certain degree.”

On the title of master, Salovey said he expects Corporation members to seriously consider the opinions of Yale College Dean Jonathan Holloway, the Council of Masters and himself, as well as an analysis of possible options prepared by an officer or dean.

Still, Salovey said the Corporation will also discuss the issue independently and has the final say.

“They absolutely have the authority to take a different position,” Salovey said.

On the naming of the two new colleges, Salovey said University leaders would present the Corporation with 20 to 25 possibilities that stem from outreach efforts to the Yale community.

Salovey added that the naming process demonstrates the consensus model of repeated reflection and why that model takes time.

“The corporation will take [the 20 to 25] names and have a series of conversations at different meetings, so members could think between meetings and might even ask for scenarios to be written around names that weren’t on the original list,” he said. “The idea has been we will have as many conversations as it takes to get to an equilibrium. I much prefer, if at all possible, for the Corporation to move toward names they are excited about as a group rather than simply asking people to vote.”

The Corporation has 19 members.