Following an academic year dominated by campus controversies, University President Peter Salovey has turned his attention toward various ongoing academic projects that fit his strategic goals and will also cost the University hundreds of millions of dollars.
Last fall, conversations about racism and discrimination on campus dominated student life and a significant portion of Salovey’s attention, as did preparing initiatives on inclusivity and his subsequent naming announcements in April. In the aftermath of such an “unpredictable academic year,” Vice President for Communications Eileen O’Connor said Salovey spent the summer “refocusing on his [presidential] priorities,” including major construction projects to bolster STEM and the humanities at Yale.
“I think campus climate issues will always be with us and they are important, but at the same time that those are being discussed and addressed, we also need to be addressing our ongoing academic priorities too. It can’t be either or,” Salovey said.
Provost Benjamin Polak cited several ongoing projects that Salovey has prioritized, including the recently announced renovation of the Hall of Graduate Studies — which he said demonstrates an ongoing commitment to the Humanities — as well as various STEM-related initiatives.
Polak said the University’s $130 renovation of Yale’s Sterling Chemistry Laboratory, which opened last week, was put at the “top of the building projects queue” by Salovey. Polak also pointed to the construction of a central science building, which will replace the current Gibbs building on Science Hill and cost nearly $300 million.
Salovey said strengthening Yale’s STEM facilities will benefit the entire University.
“The underlying strategy is that the sciences at Yale would be made better and Yale as a whole would be made better if we can be attractive to the very best students and faculty in the sciences. The actual tactic being used to accomplish that strategy is we need far better facilities,” he said.
Polak said that while his job is to always focus on the strategic objectives of the University, Salovey has grown more engaged on major academic projects.
Three years into Salovey’s presidency, Polak said now is an ideal time for “the boss to check in” on his work.
“Over the summer, with things having grown calmer, he checked in on various projects,” Polak said. “He wanted to know how we were doing on the science projects he set in motion years ago. It’s been a good check in for me that my boss is keeping tabs on me and making sure we are moving forward, and that has led me to think are we going at the right pace here.”
While Salovey turns toward his broader goals, they remain relatively unknown to the broader Yale community. Polak noted that most planning has been done “behind the scenes,” and of the 10 students interviewed, eight said Salovey’s strategic priorities were unclear.
Still, all 10 said the University would be well-served by focusing more on STEM.
Andrew Siaw-Asamoah ’19 emphasized that good professors constitute the basis of a strong STEM program. If the way to attract and maintain more professors is through increased funding, Siaw-Asamoah said that gives these initiatives added value.
Thomas Zembowicz ’19, a prospective applied math major, also emphasized the importance of hiring top faculty, especially given that many computer science seminars are understaffed — an issue several other students referenced.
Some, however, expressed concern that increased STEM funding might draw resources away from humanities programs in which the University is known to excel.
Dylan Hosmer-Quint ’18, an English major, said that increasing focus on STEM would add value to a certain extent, but expenses to other disciplines should be taken seriously.
Salovey assumed the presidency in July 2013.