University President Peter Salovey expects to travel to Washington more frequently in the coming years as Yale continues to respond to policies put forth by the Trump administration.
“So far this has been an especially intense year with respect to federal policies and speculation about federal policies that affect universities,” Salovey told the News earlier this month. “Presuming that’s still the case, I’ll probably step up the number of times I go down to D.C.”
At the moment, Salovey usually travels to Washington about twice a semester to meet with Yale alumni serving in Congress and to participate in an annual meeting held by the Association of American Universities. His next trip is scheduled for the end of April to coincide with the AAU meeting.
In an interview with the News, Salovey said he typically limits his political advocacy to four key policy areas that directly affect Yale: Federal support for research, funding for financial aid, immigration issues and tax policies on endowments.
“We want to go down when people are available to see us, when Congress is in session. We’ll look at my calendar, we’ll look at their calendar and try to optimize,” he said. “As long as there is a discussion going on about federal policies that have an impact on higher education, I want to be a part of that conversation.”
Over the past few months, as President Donald Trump has pushed for controversial new policies on immigration, health care and a number of other issues, Salovey has faced criticism from some members of the Yale community for his cautious approach to the new administration. He has not given a public speech about Trump, preferring to send campuswide emails explaining Yale’s position on the immigration issue, nor has he traveled to Washington since the presidential inauguration in January.
By contrast, Harvard University President Drew Faust has visited Washington twice in the last two months to meet with lawmakers and oppose Trump’s recent executive orders barring immigrants from certain predominantly Muslim countries. At a roundtable in Washington hosted by Bloomberg News last month, Faust pointedly criticized Trump’s proposed federal budget and called the new administration “unpredictable in many ways.”
Since January, Salovey has taken a number of steps to push back against Trump’s immigration policies. Yale signed an AAU petition denouncing the president’s first executive order, which barred immigrants from seven predominantly Muslim countries and imposed a 120-day moratorium on refugees entering the United States. In February, the University filed an amicus brief in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of New York, joining more than a dozen other elite universities in the legal battle against Trump’s order.
According to public records on OpenSecrets.org, Yale spent $500,000 on lobbying activities in 2016, an increase of $70,000 from the previous year but well within the University’s normal spending, which has ranged from $430,000 to $640,000 over the last 10 years.
Richard Jacob, the University’s associate vice president for federal and state relations, did not respond to emailed questions about Yale’s lobbying plans for the coming year.
Will McGrew ’18, one of the leaders of Yale Students for Hillary, called Salovey’s plans to travel more often to Washington “a great step in the right direction.”
“All of us as citizens have an obligation to fight back, and this is particularly the case for those of us in positions of power and influence,” McGrew said. “I hope he takes every opportunity to stand up for Yale’s diverse community as well as the University’s values of inclusion and equal opportunity. I think he will make us all proud by doing so.”
According to history professor Jay Gitlin ’71 MUS ’74 GRD ’02, who teaches a popular course on the history of Yale, past University presidents have traveled to Washington with varying frequency, largely depending on their personalities and professional backgrounds. For instance, Kingman Brewster, who went on to become the American ambassador to the United Kingdom, spent more time in the capital than A. Bartlett Giamatti, an English professor who served as Yale president in the 1980s. During his presidency in the 1960s and ’70s, Brewster was famously outspoken on the issues of the day, including the Vietnam War and the civil rights movement.
“I don’t see Peter Salovey as an heir to Kingman Brewster in form or style or substance, but it’s a different time,” said Glenn Murphy ’71, a former president of the Yale Club of Boston who was an undergraduate while Brewster was president. “He’s acting as a good administrator: making sure that people understand what the University’s position is as best as the University has one.”
The only current Ivy League president to have given a public speech about Trump is Amy Gutmann of the University of Pennsylvania.