Yale Daily News

University President Peter Salovey last month was unanimously elected to the board of directors of the Association of American Universities.

Composed of the heads of 60 American and two Canadian universities, the association lobbies for higher education in Washington. In October, Salovey was nominated and unanimously elected by the association’s members to the group’s 11-member governing body. In this capacity, Salovey will gain new access to congressmen and White House policymakers.

“I will certainly be interested in priorities that reflect my goals for Yale but at the same time are likely shared by other campuses,” Salovey told the News. “For example, how can the [association] be effective in championing the positive role that research universities play in society, how can the [association] be effective in communicating the value of basic research, what can the [association] do to ensure that federal and state programs that support students’ ability to afford college are enhanced and of course the issue around a sensible immigration policy.”

The association’s board includes the president, chairman, a former chairman, a vice chairman and seven other directors. Eight of the board members, including Salovey, serve three-year terms with an optional additional term. Other directors include the president of the University of Southern California, the president of Vanderbilt University and the chancellor of the University of Virginia. Salovey is currently the only Ivy League president serving on the board.

The governing body proposes policy positions to the 62 member universities, adopts policy positions on behalf of members, approves the association’s budget and crafts its agenda.

“The [association’s] board is responsible for managing the organization … similar to the University board,” said association Vice President for Communications Pedro Ribeiro. “What are the priorities of the organization — that’s really what the board will look for, what the board will decide.”

Salovey is not the first Yale president to serve on the board of the association. Former University President Richard Levin served from 2002 to 2008.

In addition to the association’s two annual meetings, board members regularly travel to Washington, D.C., to speak with congressmen about issues on the association’s agenda. In the past, board members have lobbied the Department of Education, the National Institutes of Health, the National Science Foundation and other government organizations.

Recently, the association has spoken out against provisions of the House Tax Reform Bill that call for taxes on nonprofit, private universities’ endowments and eliminate subsidies for student loans. The group also filed an amicus brief against Trump’s travel ban and urged Congress to pass legislation to protect Deferred Action for Childhood Arrival recipients. Throughout its history, the group has been an advocate for federal funding for research.

In addition to the Association of American Universities, Yale is a member of several other higher-education organizations, such as the Association of American Colleges and Universities and the Science Coalition. A portion of the University’s lobbying budget is paid to these organizations, many of which employ their own lobbying firms to advocate for the interests of higher education in Washington.

Salovey’s election to the board is part of a larger vision to serve as “a presence in Washington.” Since his first address as University president at the freshman assembly in August 2013, Salovey has stressed an outward approach to education access.

“This morning I worry about whether the American dream is still possible and whether education is still the best ticket to socioeconomic mobility,” Salovey said in the 2013 address.

And months later, he joined 100 other university presidents at the White House to discuss access to universities and colleges despite socioeconomic barriers with former President Barack Obama.

But for the two years that campus was rife with controversy, Salovey stayed relatively silent on federal issues.

That is, until the election of President Donald Trump. As Trump issued a rollback of DACA and announced new immigration bans, Salovey shifted his focus back to Washington, expressing his commitment to advocate in the Capitol in emails to the Yale community and penning a direct letter to Trump calling for protections for DACA recipients. Salovey has also said he will consider traveling to Washington more often in order to increase Yale’s lobbying clout.

According to long-time Yale administrator Sam Chauncey ’57, who served as special assistant to former University President Kingman Brewster between 1963 and 1977, Yale’s presidents have lobbied in Washington since the late ’60s, when Brewster traveled to the Capitol to voice his concerns over a bill that outlawed mandatory retirement. Later in his tenure, Brewster increased the lobbying trips from just once to four times a year.

Brewster eventually resigned from the Yale presidency to become ambassador to the United Kingdom after he was nominated for the position by former U.S. President Jimmy Carter in 1977.

Levin had similarly close ties with Washington. As a professor of labor economics, Levin testified before Congress on several occasions about economic issues, Chauncey said.

Just a week and a half after former President George W. Bush took office in 2001, Levin and his wife, Jane Levin, stayed at the White House and joined the first couple at Sunday church services. In the midst of his presidency, Levin was appointed to the Iraq Intelligence Commission, which examined the intelligence reports that prompted the 2003 invasion of Iraq. He served on Obama’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology, and, later in 2010, Levin was rumored to be a contender to replace Larry Summers, an economic advisor to Obama.

Over the course of his career, Salovey has served on the Social Psychology Program Advisory Panel at the National Science Foundation and the National Advisory Mental Health Council of the National Institute of Mental Health. But he does not have the same close ties to Washington as some former Yale presidents. Still, last month, he traveled to the capital to lobby for immigrant rights, among other issues, in closed-door meetings with White House policy staffers and six U.S. senators. Salovey said many of the congressmen have ties to Yale but declined to name them to prevent them from reacting to pressure from the press.

In the first three quarters of 2017, Yale spent $397,000 on lobbying, according to federal disclosure forms.

Hailey Fuchs | hailey.fuchs@yale.edu

Clarification, Nov. 8: A previous version of this article said that Salovey’s professional career has few ties to Washington. In fact, he has served on the Social Psychology Program Advisory Panel at the National Science Foundation and the National Advisory Mental Health Council of the National Institute of Mental Health.