After excluding most of his cabinet of professional school deans and University vice presidents when developing the “Toward a Better Yale” initiatives in November, University President Peter Salovey will establish a formal cabinet steering committee that will meet regularly and serve as a “core consulting” group particularly during moments of crisis on campus.
Under pressure in November, Salovey worked closely with his senior advisors and a handful of officers to quickly respond to student concerns about racism and discrimination on campus, leaving most members of his cabinet feeling excluded and unsure of who has the president’s ear. Several deans expressed frustration with their lack of involvement in the development of those fall initiatives, and Salovey acknowledged in hindsight that he would have liked to involve his cabinet in the process more deeply. Through a new six-person subgroup, likely with rotating members, Salovey plans to more formally integrate the cabinet into University decision-making.
“The cabinet has met and approved the plan for a cabinet steering committee that could be brought together particularly when there is a crisis situation on campus or for other reasons,” Salovey said. “It will be composed of three deans and three vice presidents, and I will announce their names once I ascertain their willingness to serve.”
Because he is in the process of inviting cabinet members to join the committee, Salovey added that it is too early to know exactly how often the group will meet and communicate.
While Salovey said the subgroup has been approved, Vice President for Communications Eileen O’Connor said details like how frequently members will rotate are still under discussion. She also said the roles of Senior Advisor to the President Martha Highsmith and Chief of Staff Joy McGrath — whose involvement in policy development generated confusion among cabinet members in November — on the steering committee remain undecided and that there could potentially be permanent members of the subgroup, such as herself or Provost Benjamin Polak.
In November, Salovey leaned heavily on Polak, Dean of Yale College Jonathan Holloway, Secretary and Vice President for Student Life Kimberly Goff-Crews, Dean of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences Tamar Gendler, Highsmith and McGrath in developing the initiatives. Salovey said while they were the ones he called on to help most closely during that specific situation, they do not have a “special status” within his cabinet itself.
Dean of the School of Management Ted Snyder said that while describing the steering committee during the February cabinet meeting, Salovey did not limit its functions to crisis management. O’Connor added that once the steering committee is operational, cabinet members and staff not formally included will likely sit in when relevant.
“This subgroup will be consulting with the whole cabinet and will probably pull in those people most pertinent to the situation at hand and would work with them very closely in determining what actions to take, while keeping other people apprised of what is being considered,” she said.
All five cabinet members interviewed expressed support for the steering committee.
Dean of the School of Public Health Paul Cleary — who previously told the News that he was “not happy” with the way Salovey’s decision-making process unfolded in November — said Salovey discussed the steering committee with him personally and that he thinks it is an “excellent idea.”
Gregory Sterling, dean of the Yale Divinity School, said that part of the value of the steering committee is that cabinet members will now know to whom to turn other than the president during fast-moving situations.
“It will make his inner circle more transparent,” he said. “It enables [Salovey] to immediately call a group together, that group can give him advice, everyone knows who those people are, so if we want to, I could always call one of my colleagues and speak with them … Sometimes when you have to respond quickly, you need people whom you trust who will not tell you what you want to hear necessarily, but what you need to hear. I think the subgroup will certainly help in that.”
Goff-Crews said she has been on other campuses with similar steering committees, all of which led to more efficient and effective administrative operations.
Sterling added that while all vice presidents and deans are more than qualified to serve on the steering committee, it is important that Salovey include a variety of perspectives.
“You want representation across the spectrum because people will have different points of view in part based on their own location and the way in which they fit into the University more broadly,” he said. “I trust that [Salovey] will rotate people through and have some diversity — in the case of Yale, larger and smaller schools.”
Salovey established the cabinet in 2013.