After its first formal University-wide institutional assessment in almost a decade, the Yale Corporation on Aug. 31 published its findings, detailing alumni concerns about free expression on campus and calls from students and faculty members for greater progress in recruiting and retaining professors of color.
A committee of trustees, led by former senior trustee Donna Dubinsky ’77 and current senior trustee Catharine Bond Hill GRD ’85, interviewed more than 100 members of the Yale community, including vice presidents, deans, faculty and staff members, alumni and others. Over the phone and in Woodbridge Hall, Betts House and Mory’s, the trustees also conferred with more than two dozen students, leaders of the New Haven community, representatives from the University’s labor unions and other university presidents. An executive summary — which did not identify the specific participants — was prepared for University President Peter Salovey, who was briefed on it at the June Corporation meeting.
“[The institutional review is] feedback on the academic priorities that we first announced in 2016 and have been refining since,” Salovey said. “In addition, the institutional review provides insight with respect to what is on the minds of our faculty, students, and alumni. That information is helpful as I consider how to communicate most effectively with various constituencies.”
In a University-wide email on April 30, Dubinsky sent the first and penultimate notice for input from the Yale community, soliciting thoughts within a two-week time span. Participants were asked to identify Yale’s accomplishments, deficiencies and suggestions for its future, among other general inquiries. The University received 254 online submissions in response.
According to the report from Dubinsky and Hill, the institutional assessment was more open than previous iterations, with more interviews conducted and a web form available for written comments. For the first time, the University also published a memo detailing the assessment’s findings, available on Yale’s website.
“[What] we tried to do was synthesize the main themes that came out of the institutional assessment, and then that will guide the Corporation, what the Corporation thinks about,” Hill said.
Since 1998, the Corporation and University president have conducted a periodic assessment of the University roughly every five years. After former University President Richard Levin stepped down, Yale conducted a “listening tour” as part of the presidential search that largely resembled the University-wide review. But the 2018 iteration was the first since Salovey took office and the first formal institutional assessment since 2009.
When Yale began its last assessment, the University was in the midst of its largest-ever fundraising push — the capital campaign Yale Tomorrow. As the University prepares for its next major campaign, the report sheds light on some institutional strengths and weakness that administrators will consider as they make concerted efforts to attract major donors.
“[The assessment] helps the Corporation think about when is the next capital campaign, what should it focus on and when should it be,” Hill said, adding that it also aids general planning for the University’s future.
According to the report, participants felt dissatisfied with how the renaming of Calhoun College and how the fall 2015 racial protests were handled; they were split on the question of renaming. Additionally, alumni were worried about free expression on campus, fearing that self-censorship may imperil an open intellectual environment.
“These alumni felt that Yale should reaffirm its commitment to the notion of free inquiry, even on controversial subjects, as being at the heart of the university,” the report reads.
Members of the Yale community, noting a concern for the campus atmosphere, felt that the University must balance its values of “diversity, equity and inclusion” and its values of viewpoint diversity, open inquiry and free expression.
In a statement to the News, Salovey noted that he frequently emphasizes Yale’s commitment to freedom of speech and academic inquiry to the public, in op-eds in The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal as well as through other statements. He also cited a survey of 872 Yale undergraduates in 2017 that showed that 84 percent of respondents felt Yale should allow a range of opinions on campus to promote intellectual diversity and free speech.
“Just as the University thrives with the strengths of talented engineers and poets, a wide variety of political viewpoints enriches Yale’s learning and research environment,” Salovey said. “I believe that freedom of speech and academic inquiry does not threaten our goal of providing a learning environment where all feel equally a part of the Yale community — a campus on which every student feels he or she belongs here.”
Still, concerns among conservative alumni that free speech is under threat on campus have led Jamie Kirchick ’06 to launch a campaign for an alumni position on the Corporation, arguing that the University’s governing body has overlooked the significance of free speech.
The Yale administration has put up a “kick-me sign” to slanderers, he said, in its bureaucratic responses to campus unrest over racial issues. Kirchick also expressed dissatisfaction with a “growing kind of tolerance and dogmatism” among students at Yale.
Other alumni said they shared Kirchick’s perception, including Charles Van Tuyl ’64, who said he remembers a far more open-minded University than what he now sees in the news.
“I have the impression that there is a suppression of free speech,” Van Tuyl said. “Now, that may just be the news. I haven’t been physically on campus for a long time.”
The institutional assessment report recommended that the University concentrate its resources in other areas as well, including state politics, as Connecticut battles a fiscal crisis. Additionally, participants emphasized that Yale move “thoughtfully but efficiently” in implementing the science and engineering plan, as identified in the University-Wide Science Strategy Committee’s report this past summer. The expansion of Yale College was received positively, among other long-term University initiative, including the development of a new academic plan and ongoing building projects.
Both students and faculty members expressed discontent that the University had made little progress in hiring and retaining a more diverse faculty. Faculty recruitment and retention were often cited as challenges that require attention, along with the needs of dual-career couples.
The Yale Corporation has 17 regular members.
Hailey Fuchs | firstname.lastname@example.org