After repeatedly stating that he would not submit formal recommendations to the Yale Corporation as it decides upon naming issues, University President Peter Salovey appears to have pivoted toward a more assertive, unilateral approach.
For months, Salovey has said the Corporation as a group will decide what to name the two new residential colleges and whether to change the name of Calhoun College and the title of master. While historically, almost all Corporation decisions have been grounded in presidential recommendations, Salovey has presented these three as unusual, far-reaching issues that the Corporation would decide by consensus.
But after the Corporation’s fourth meeting this past weekend, it appears that Salovey’s strategy — or at least its public presentation — has changed.
“It is my job as president to recommend to the board what I feel is best for students, faculty, staff, alumni and the institution on every issue. This one is no exception,” Salovey said Sunday afternoon.
Vice President for Communications Eileen O’Connor said that as president, Salovey consistently gives recommendations to the Corporation and that these three decisions are “no different.”
University presidents have historically presented recommendations to the Corporation with the expectation that they will be followed. Typical issues settled by presidential recommendation include the construction of new buildings and the raising of the Yale College term bill. In saying that the decision-making model for these naming issues is “no different” and “no exception,” O’Connor and Salovey seem to be suggesting that the president will, in fact, determine the outcome of these three decisions, too.
Yet in more than half a dozen wide-ranging interviews with the News over the past four months, Salovey has said the opposite.
“These are ultimately Corporation decisions,” Salovey said in February. “Rather than the usual process of coming with a specific recommendation and asking the Corporation to endorse it, in the case of the naming of the new colleges, Calhoun College and the title of master, we’ll instead lay out options for them to consider.”
For example, Salovey said in February that he submitted nearly two dozen names for the new colleges for the Corporation to consider. Last semester, Salovey said that while he could express an opinion in his capacity as president, he still saw himself as just another member of the Corporation for these decisions, and he saw his opinion as just one of many.
Both Vice President for Development Joan O’Neill and Vice President and Secretary Kimberly Goff-Crews have previously told the News that Woodbridge Hall would provide the Corporation with background information on the three issues, not recommendations.
When asked on Sunday about the apparent shift in his approach, Salovey suggested that he has aimed for a middle ground between overriding presidential recommendations and consensus-based decision-making. While he continued to emphasize the importance of collaboration, he also described how his opinions have helped move Corporation conversations forward.
“This discussion has been characterized by everyone on the Corporation having an opportunity to weigh in,” Salovey said. “At various points, I weighed in with my opinions, shaped in the form of recommendations. At one point, I recommended focusing on a shorter list of names and provided that short list. And somewhat more recently, I provided specific recommendations as a guide. I would still describe the conversation, however, as inclusive and thorough.”
The University’s plan for announcing the decisions seems also to have changed. O’Connor told the News on Sunday that Salovey will make the announcement in the next few weeks, and the Corporation will have no further involvement until then.
But just two weeks ago, Corporation Fellow Charles Goodyear IV ’80 said he expected the three decisions to be presented as Corporation decisions, perhaps in an email from one of its members.
“At the end of the day, my expectation is the Corporation will say we have decided to do the following, whatever it is,” Goodyear said. “This is [our] decision to make, and [we] will take ownership of it. My guess is that everyone will communicate that as we normally do: If the Corporation owns the decision, the Corporation owns the decision.”
Five students interviewed Sunday evening expressed hope that Salovey had taken the lead in resolving the issues, explaining that they do not know the motivations or views of Corporation members.
Ryan Campbell ’16 said he would rather Salovey hold power than the “faceless Corporation.”
“Salovey is the best liaison,” Campbell said. “I would rather have him decide than the entire Corporation.”
Stephanie Siow ’17 also said she would be more comfortable with Salovey making decisions because he is a familiar administrative figure and more in touch with students.
Meanwhile, as Salovey and the Corporation have attempted to reach a consensus, Yale’s peer institutions have resolved their own naming debates. With broad agreement that a consensus-based approach was prolonging the decision process — and as students almost unanimously expressed impatience with Yale’s relatively slow pace — a heavier hand from Salovey was perhaps what was required.