David Zheng

At a Jan. 22 faculty town hall to discuss the future of the Jackson Institute for Global Affairs, computer science professor Michael Fischer asked University administrators why Yale would create a school of global affairs rather than simply establish a department.

In response to Fischer’s question, University President Peter Salovey explained that there is not a clear distinction between schools, departments, institutes, centers and programs at Yale, two faculty members who attended the meeting recalled. They added that after Salovey’s comment, Vice President for Global Strategy Pericles Lewis said that one of the reasons is that a school can carry a donor’s name while departments are rarely given a namesake. The two faculty members requested anonymity to speak candidly about the town hall. Salovey did not respond to request for comment on Thursday. Fischer declined to comment for the story.

In an email to the News on Thursday, Lewis said that faculty members may have misunderstood his comment. He meant that people are “more enthusiastic about donating to a school than a new department or program,” Lewis said. In November, University Provost Ben Polak’s Advisory Committee on the Future of the Jackson Institute published a report recommending the creation of “an intentionally small school, with a focused mission and close interaction among faculty, fellows, and students.” Lewis told the News in January that the new school would likely be named the Jackson School for Global Affairs. But, Thursday, he clarified that there has been no decision about what to name the school.

According to three people familiar with the negotiations, by fall 2018, Yale had already begun conversations for a $100 million donation from the institute’s namesake, John W. Jackson ’67, unbeknownst to students, faculty and administrators whose feedback was solicited for the project.

Yale has long maintained that it would never name a residential college after a living donor, a decision that dissuaded financier Stephen A. Schwarzman ’69 from giving to the University in 2008. But, for the first time, Yale may trade the name of a school for a major gift, likely hundreds of millions of dollars.

With the potential Jackson School of Global Affairs on the horizon, Yale must now find a balance between projects that will drive donations and those that will fuel University research and teaching. How much of the University’s push to transform the Jackson Institute into a school is driven by faculty and student demands? And to what extent is it a product of administrators’ private conversations with potential donors?


In 2009, the University established the Jackson Institute for Global Affairs, thanks to a $50 million gift from ex-pharmaceutical businessman and philanthropist, Jackson, and his wife, Susan.

According to Polak, at the time of Jackson’s donation, Yale promised to assess whether the institute should be converted into a professional school by 2020. If the University’s highest governing body, the Yale Corporation, decided against it, the University would again consider whether to convert the institute to a school akin to Harvard University’s Kennedy School or Princeton University’s Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs in 2030. In April 2017, the University formed the provost’s advisory committee to fulfill the requirement in contract documents with Jackson, Polak explained. In a statement to the News, Vice President for Development Joan O’Neill wrote that her office also formed a separate advisory committee at the time of the institute’s founding comprised of both alumni and nonalumni “willing to provide both strategic advice to the director and financial support to the Institute.”

According to three individuals, two of whom spoke under the condition of anonymity to speak candidly, members of the University Cabinet — a key advisory body for Salovey — were told in spring 2017 that there was high interest among potential donors for the school of global affairs.

“I have heard in broad terms that there are donors who have been cultivated for the project,” Dean of the Divinity School Greg Sterling said.

In fall 2018, the University was working on a gift agreement with Jackson, three individuals with knowledge of the situation said. They added that Jackson is “planning to donate” a figure upward of $100 million — more than half of the funding required, according to the provost’s advisory committee.

But in an interview with the News on Thursday, Lewis denied that Yale was working on a gift agreement with Jackson in the fall. He added that potential donors and the University probably would not sign an agreement until April. Lewis declined to specify the timeline of the University’s ongoing negotiation with Jackson, noting that administrators cannot comment on individual conversations with potential donors.

“Whenever we are raising funds for an ongoing institute, we are in conversation with donors, but it’s not the case that we entered negotiation before doing the report,” Lewis said. “We’ve started to talk with various donors — not only the Jacksons — [but] we won’t finalize anything until after trustees have a chance to weigh in.”

Still, one of the three anonymous individuals claimed that the University’s ongoing conversation with Jackson involved “meetings, reviews, numbers and documents.” Another one of the three individuals said administrators discussed how much Jackson would donate, how those gifts would be used and how Yale plans to raise the rest of the funds necessary for a new school. Jackson could not be reached for comment, despite multiple calls and voicemails.

Lewis said that the status of donations did not affect the decision of the provost’s advisory committee to recommend transforming the Jackson Institute into a school of global affairs. In an email to the News, O’Neill said the Office of Development was not involved with the committee in any capacity.


According to Yale School of Management professor and Chair of the Provost’s Advisory Committee Judy Chevalier, the committee gathered data on the Jackson Institute’s enrollment, admissions and course content to inform the committee’s report on the Jackson Institute’s future. In addition, members of the committee talked to deans, students and faculty members of other public policy schools, including those at Brown University, Harvard University, Tufts University and Princeton University, Chevalier said. She explained that the committee also reached out to the institute’s undergraduate and master’s degree candidates and interviewed Yale faculty members and professional school deans.

But, to many of Yale’s top administrators, the feedback following the release of the report seemed to be solicited in haste. According to three individuals with direct knowledge of the situation, the University Cabinet, an advisory body for Salovey, did not discuss whether the University should create a new professional school and, if so, which school would maximize Yale’s educational and social impact. Instead, the discussions centered around the size of a global affairs school, faculty appointment structure and the distinguishing factor for the school at Yale compared to those in peer institutions, the individuals said.

“The Jackson Institute was discussed at the cabinet meeting and [although] no questions were off limits … [we] didn’t talk about whether the school should exist,” Sterling said. “And the deans had a more private discussion later and … we decided to write a letter to support [the creation of a new school].”

The letter — which was signed by all but two professional school deans — was delivered to Salovey and Polak in December. When asked what the content of the letter was, SOM Dean Ted Snyder said that the deans “expressed support for the committee’s bottomline recommendation to create a school of global affairs.” In addition, the letter underscored the need to make use of strategic assets unique to Yale, such as the ability to work across schools and the strength of its professional schools, Snyder said.

Following the publication of the provost advisory committee’s report in November, the University held two town halls to gather faculty feedback on the recommendation to create a school of global affairs. Per the minutes of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences Senate meeting obtained by the News, FAS senators also discussed the potential conversion of Jackson to a School of Global Affairs last December. According to Chevalier, these meetings featured a presentation from her and a Q&A session in which attendants could ask questions about the committee’s report.

In an interview with the News in January, Lewis said that the committee’s findings were “well received at both town halls and the Faculty of Arts and Sciences senate meeting.” But in interviews with the News, three members of the FAS Senate — who requested anonymity in fear of retribution — said that many members of the senate were skeptical over whether transforming the Jackson Institute into a school was a good idea.

According to the minutes of the FAS Senate meeting, history professor Jennifer Klein said that she was concerned that faculty with joint appointments may be forced to take on the “agenda” of Jackson and leave behind that of their own departments. Economics professor Steve Berry noted that it would take time to build enthusiasm among faculty members about holding appointments at the new school of global affairs, per the FAS Senate meeting minutes. Economics professor John Geanakoplos also claimed in the meeting that the University needs to “beware of new activities that are donor-driven but not fully funded in perpetuity.”

Klein and Geanakoplos did not respond to requests for comment in January.

Six faculty members who attended the FAS Senate meeting or the town halls said that the meetings barely included conversations about whether the school of global affairs should exist. Instead, the discussion seemed to predispose that the school would eventually be created and the attendees focused comments on logistical issues for creating a new school, such as how joint appointments would work, the anonymous individuals said.

In an interview with the News, Lewis said that faculty members were allowed to discuss whatever they wanted to at the town hall and senate meetings. He added that out of around 20 anonymous comments he received through the online portal, only two argued that there should not be a school of global affairs.

The University planned to host a town hall in November to gather student feedback on the committee’s recommendation to create a school. But in an email sent to undergraduate global affairs majors obtained by the News, the town hall was cancelled because the “date/time doesn’t seem good for more than a small number of [the students].” While the email stated that a new time will be scheduled in the spring, Director of Student Affairs Lily Sutton told the News on Monday that she does not yet know if the University will definitely be hosting one.

The News interviewed eight current global affairs majors on whether the University should gather undergraduate feedback on the potential transformation of the Jackson Institute and whether the transformation would be beneficial for them. While all eight students concurred that a creation of a school would benefit undergraduate students at the Institute, seven said that soliciting student feedback is critical to the University’s impending decision.

“I do think student feedback is quite important as the decision to become an independent school is particularly salient for undergrads majoring in global affairs who, should the decision go through, may feel a bit more separated from the rest of Yale College,” Ariq Hatibie ’20 said. “Of course, all students at Jackson would have valuable input to give, having taken their classes and being close to the faculty.”

Emily Kaplan ’19 added that global affairs majors have important perspectives to add because they are the ones who have “enjoyed and benefited” from the Jackson Institute’s offerings.

On Thursday, Lewis told the News that Chevalier’s committee interviewed a number of students when assembling the report and added that he regrets that Yale has yet to host a town hall for students.


According to Lewis, the Corporation could potentially vote on the recommendation to convert the Jackson Institute to a new degree-offering school this weekend. While there is currently no proposal to vote on the committee’s recommendation in the Corporation meeting agenda, trustees may propose to vote after discussing the November report, Lewis said.

In an email to the News earlier this week, Salovey said that the Corporation would likely take longer than one weekend of deliberations before voting on the issue. But five individuals close to the situation called transforming the Jackson Institute to a school a “done deal” and noted that all parties involved in making that decision — including key administrators, the Corporation and Jackson — wanted to create a school of global affairs.

But on Thursday, Lewis said it is “totally unfair” to call the University’s decision a “done deal” because the Corporation has yet to approve the committee’s recommendation and raise funding for a new school.

“We have had some initial discussions about significant gifts that might help support the cause, but we by no means have finalized any gifts or agreements,” Lewis said.

Still, if the Corporation were to decide against a new school, Lewis said that it may cost Yale gifts from major donors that the University had courted for the project over many years. Before the Corporation decides on whether to open its first new school in decades, Yale must ask itself whether it’s willing to lose those dollars.

Serena Cho | serena.cho@yale.edu