The decision of 13 professors to withdraw from the Program of Ethnicity, Race and Migration in late March came as a dismaying shock. Although I’ve known for quite a while that both ethnic studies and faculty of color at Yale have been subject to administrative neglect, this drastic action, although fully warranted, was unexpected. After all, less than a month ago, Yale’s ER&M program was seen as one the best of its kind, well-respected amongst peer institutions. Now, it faces an uncertain future.
Interestingly enough, it seems that the only predictable aspect of this debacle was University President Peter Salovey’s response. At the beginning of April, on the topic of the faculty withdrawals, Salovey told the News that he “regret[s] their decision to withdraw from the [program] … in this manner.” Then, this past weekend, Salovey chose to announce the creation of the Yale Jackson School of Global Affairs and committed to raising $200 million over the next few years in order to fund it. When asked why Yale was creating such a school immediately after the resignation of 13 faculty from ER&M, Salovey claimed that comparing the creation of the new school to ER&M’s status was “sort of comparing apples and oranges.”
Salovey’s words were far more than disheartening: They were pathetic. And unfortunately, these two examples are by no means anomalies. They are emblematic, rather, of a larger pattern.
Whether it’s flip-flopping on the renaming of Calhoun College, failing to address campus rape culture or poorly managing run ins with Students Unite Now and Local 33, Salovey’s record has left much to be desired. When I initially pitched this article, I wanted to title it “Sack Salovey”, framing it as a sort of petition to the Yale Corporation: “Please get rid of this incompetent dolt. His inability to effectively handle these issues has not only harmed the student body, but also Yale’s reputation and capacity to function as a world-class university.” But after doing some more research, I quickly realized that Salovey is not the actual problem. He is merely a symptom of it.
It’s far too easy to blame our current difficulties on those who hold the spotlight. Just consider the way in which Americans tend to credit or blame the U.S. president when it comes to our country’s economic performance, nevermind the fact that executive policy has little tangible impact on the economy. In the wake of the ER&M resignations, for instance, I’ve heard numerous cries of “F*ck Salovey!” echoing throughout campus. And while I certainly sympathize with the sentiment, I find this anger somewhat misdirected. Although Salovey has a significant amount of power and autonomy as president of Yale, he is largely subject to the whims of alumni and donors, as well as to the trustees who represent them. It is in this way that the Yale president is merely a reflection of their wishes.
If we want to see large-scale reform instead of the lethargic incrementalism that usually accompanies student activism, we need to demand a seat at the table. More so than anyone else, the current faculty and students of Yale, those most affected by the University’s policies, ought to be dictating the direction the University takes. At the risk of sounding sanctimonious, I firmly believe that the legitimacy of a governing body is entirely dependent upon the consent of the governed. The solution is simple: Yale faculty and students should be the ones with representatives on the Yale Corporation.
This opinion shouldn’t be considered radical. The vast majority of Yale students and faculty already have the ability to vote in U.S. elections. Claiming that we don’t possess the requisite wisdom to select suitable trustees — whilst also arguing that our alumni somehow do — is patently absurd. Those who currently reside at the University have a far better understanding of the problems it faces than our long-gone alumni. Furthermore, there already exist institutions of higher education that promote a similar type of self-government; Antioch College and Deep Springs College both come to mind. To be sure, these schools are incredibly small compared to Yale, but their models can easily be adjusted.
If Yale’s alumni and trustees genuinely care about the well-being of this University and its community, they should ponder the validity of their supposed expertise. To avoid these recurring PR disasters and maintain Yale’s efficacy far into the future, Yale students and faculty need to be granted a voice on the Yale Corporation. A more prosperous and equitable University awaits.
Ian Moreau is a sophomore in Pierson College. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org .