David Zheng

As dozens of students stood in solidarity, carrying a sign saying “Ethnic Studies is our studies,” at the Asian American Student Alliance 50th anniversary gala dinner on Saturday, University President Peter Salovey was forced to respond to student activists face-to-face for the first time.

When confronted with the question of why Yale was opening a professional school in global affairs just as 13 faculty resigned from the Ethnicity, Race & Migration program citing a lack of institutional support, Salovey said comparing ER&M’s lack of departmental status and the new school was “sort of comparing apples and oranges.”

Earlier that day, Salovey announced the creation of the Yale Jackson School of Global Affairs and committed to raising at least $200 million needed to open the school in fall 2022. Fielding questions from the audience, Salovey explained that ER&M’s designation as a “program” is not a status marker, but rather a description for an interdisciplinary group of faculty members working together on similar topics.

As one of the biggest projects Salovey has undertaken under his presidency, the new school for global affairs will be a major priority for the University’s next capital campaign. According to Salovey, the Yale Corporation’s decision to convert the Jackson Institute for Global Affairs to a degree-offering school came after years of reviews and deliberations across the University. From spring 2017 to last November, the Provost’s Advisory Committee on the Future of the Jackson Institute — an eight-member committee led by Economics professor Judy Chevalier ’89 — examined data from the Jackson Institute and its counterparts, interviewed students, faculty members and senior fellows and visited peer institutions before recommending “an intentionally small school” for global affairs.

But in interviews with the News, many students and faculty members argued that Yale’s decision to create a school for global affairs was driven by donors’ enthusiasm to give for the cause, rather than student and faculty members’ need for more resources. In contrast, ER&M — one of Yale’s fastest growing programs with 87 students in the major — has often been neglected by the University administration, despite repeated requests for increased support, according to its students and faculty.

In an interview with the News last month, American Studies professor Matthew Jacobson, one of the faculty who withdrew from the ER&M program, said the University administration has “made their priorities clear” with “broken promises, lack of support and underappreciation” for ER&M.

But in a statement to the News, Salovey argued that Yale’s major projects and initiatives are not driven by donors, but instead, set by “the insight of key relevant faculty.”

“We are very fortunate to have donors who find certain of those opportunities to be of particular interest to them — and who have good relevant insight to share with us,” Salovey said. “… It has been my experience that major donors aren’t looking to steer the ship, but rather to ensure is successful voyage.”

In an email to the News, University Provost Ben Polak said he is “very pleased by the philanthropic support we are receiving for Jackson precisely because it goes towards a key academic priority.” Polak emphasized that Chevalier’s committee has spent over a year honing a vision for the future of the Jackson Institute, with input from faculty members, students, staff and alumni.

In February, Chevalier said in an email to the News that “the funding [was] really not [her] committee’s concern,” though she suspects that there are donors with “substantial enthusiasm about Yale developing its strengths in global affairs.”

But in an interview with the News in November, Polak said the formation of the advisory committee was due to a requirement in the Institute’s founding documents. When the Jackson Institute was first founded in 2010 with a $50 million gift from Susan Jackson and John Jackson ’67, the University committed to assess whether the institute should be converted into an independent professional school by 2020. Had Salovey and the Board of Trustees decided not to convert the institute to a professional school, Polak would have conducted another similar review by 2030.

In interviews with the News over the past few months, several administrators, faculty members and students said the feedback following the release of the report was solicited in haste. Meanwhile, the University’s quiet decision to open the school, as well as enthusiasm from potential donors to support the project, have been open secrets for months among senior administrators, even before Saturday’s announcement. The University Cabinet and the Faculty of Arts and Sciences Senate barely discussed whether the University should create a global affairs school, according to three members of the Cabinet and members of the faculty.

And even prior to the Corporation’s vote last weekend, Yale moved quickly in soliciting gifts from potential donors for the new school. In February, 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. According to three of those individuals, Yale was already working on a gift agreement with Jackson in fall 2018, with Jackson “planning to donate” a figure upward of $100 million, or more than half of the funding required. According to the 2009 gift agreement between Yale and Jackson, Jackson committed to donating at least $40 million in 2014, to be adjusted by the Consumer Price Index, if Yale decides to create a school of global affairs.

Still, in an email to the News, Director of the Jackson Institute Jim Levinsohn emphasized that the new school was created to help students “better understand the global challenges they’ll face.”

“Right now, our world is tackling trade wars, threats to long-standing international alliances, a changing world order, and millions living in extreme poverty,” Levinsohn said. “Look, I’m hugely grateful that Yale donors want to support this effort, but at its core, it’s simply the right thing to do.”

Yale School of Management — the University’s youngest professional school — was created in 1973.

Serena Cho | serena.cho@yale.edu