The University Council, an advisory board of up to 35 members designed to advise the University president on a broad range of topics, convenes today for one of its biannual meetings.
The council, which was formed in 1947, studies issues ranging from public image to academic priorities to campus maintenance and makes recommendations to the president based on its findings. Members are mostly Yale alumni who are appointed to serve in three-year terms, which may be renewed.
This week, the council will likely focus on the academic priorities similar to those laid out in the October meeting of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences, University President Peter Salovey said. Those priorities included investing in faculty excellence and devoting more resources to science education, solidifying Yale’s reputation not only as a University for the humanities, but also as a strong research institution.
Other issues that will be discussed at today’s meeting include dialogues happening on campus, such as postelection conversations and continued discussion of the Committee to Establish Principles on Renaming, Salovey said. University Secretary and Vice President for Student Life Kimberly Goff-Crews, whose office provides logistical support to the council, added that council members will be briefed on updates regarding diversity and inclusion, the Center for Teaching and Learning and the Office of Career Strategy, which were the focuses of past meetings.
“[The University Council] is something that has not been publicized but over the years has been very helpful to Yale presidents to get perspective on issues where they only hear about it on the inside,” longtime Yale Administrator Sam Chauncey ’57 said. “It is a very healthy thing, a very good thing, and some people put in a lot of work in the committees and the council itself. The fact that it has lasted for 60 years means it must be doing something right, otherwise it would have disappeared.”
The University announced the appointment of eight Yale alums as new council members on Nov. 8. Nominations for council membership are submitted to the president, and deliberated upon by the Council of University Vice Presidents before being approved by the Yale Corporation.
This year, the council has added to its roster names ranging from Neil Shen SOM ’92, whose donation partially funded the establishment of Yale Center Beijing, to Elisa Spungen Bildner ’75, a founding member of YaleWomen. The new appointments also include a broad range of entrepreneurs, chief executive officers, and professors at other institutions , many of whom have retained connections to the University.
“The University Council has been a tremendous source of input to Yale leadership and the Yale Corporation,” said Yale Corporation Senior Fellow Donna Dubinsky ’77. “It’s particularly great when we have alumni leaders who bring specific expertise about topics of concern at Yale.”
The Corporation, which is the University’s primary governing board, has neither the time nor specific expertise to monitor the individual schools and everyday concerns of the institution, Chauncey said. As a result, the University Council serves as a parent body to subcommittees that analyze a diverse range of University concerns, and sometimes serves as a lobbying force for areas that are receiving little attention such as renovation of specific buildings, Chauncey added.
In the past, members of the University Council have split off into smaller committees that engage in long-term studies, Salovey said. The focuses of the committees have ranged from specific areas of the University, such as the School of Music or West Campus, to broader topics such as “Alcohol in Yale College” and “Workplace Diversity.” The individual committees, which are usually chaired by a council member but also receive input from noncouncil members, then submit reports and recommendations to the president, Chauncey said.
However, Salovey said that in recent years the University Council has moved away from its long-term committee structure and focuses instead on its biannual meetings. Now, council members split off into working groups during the all-day meetings after being briefed on issues pertinent to the University, Salovey said.
He added that while the subsequent input is not as in-depth as yearlong committees allow, the feedback is more immediate, and thus can be incorporated into the University’s policy decisions in a timely fashion.
“We certainly may continue to use the committee process,” Salovey said, “but the University has found the feedback we get from this alternative process very helpful, and we have found that the University Council finds it a productive and satisfying way to engage.”
Gina Boswell SOM ’89 is the current University Council president.