Yale Daily News

Yale’s alleged investments in Puerto Rican debt and a shortage of funds for conference travel topped the docket of Monday’s Graduate Student Assembly meeting, which featured University President Peter Salovey as a rare guest.

According to Salovey, he typically sits down with the GSA — an elected body of students from the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences — once per year to discuss issues important to graduate students. Live-tweeted from the beginning, Monday’s gathering allowed graduate students to question Salovey directly, notably about Yale’s alleged investment in Puerto Rican debt and what those investments could indicate for students connected both personally and academically to the island. In addition, students questioned Salovey on issues more specific to the graduate student community, including student-advisor relationships and safety in New Haven.

In an email to the News, Salovey wrote that he has already begun discussing the issues raised in the meeting with various University leaders like GSAS Dean Lynn Cooley and Provost Scott Strobel.

“I valued the opportunity to speak with GSA members about the state of graduate education in this country, university life, Yale’s academic priorities, and university operations,” Salovey wrote. “My wife, Marta, and I both participated in student government when we were conducting our graduate studies at Yale, so I appreciate deeply the importance of such forums.”

GSA President Lucylle Armentano GRD ’21 said these meetings facilitate conversations between Salovey and members of the graduate community.

In an email to the News, Armentano wrote that while she cannot speak for other GSA members, she appreciates Salovey’s candor.

“I was personally impressed with his openness and his willingness to really engage with us around some difficult issues,” Armentano wrote. “We have already been able to get connected with other folks. It will help us to talk following this meeting, which is exciting.”

According to the GSA’s Twitter feed, Salovey said that “whether Yale owns the debt or not doesn’t influence whether the debt will get restructured.” He said that he wants to separate out the debate of “whether the endowment should own bonds for Puerto Rico from the need for legal mechanisms to help with the burden,” according to the tweets.

“I do not make the investment policy. My wife is Puerto Rican, and I care deeply about our family and the people on the island,” Salovey said according to the live Tweets. “The situation on the island is not good, and is stressing people there every day.”

Students also brought up issues closer to campus, such as a lack of available funding students can use to travel to conferences. Currently, graduate students can use two main sources of funding for travel: grants from the MacMillan Center and Graduate Student Assembly Conference Travel Fellowships. In response to student concerns, Salovey acknowledged the importance of conferences for networking — pointing to his own field of psychology as an example — and told the assembled students that if CTFs need to be expanded, that notion should be entertained.

Other attendees brought up issues of student safety. According to the tweets, while New Haven’s crime rate has dropped dramatically since Salovey first arrived 39 years ago, the University is, “not all the way where we need to be,” and needs to invest more in blue phones, lighting and safety apps.

Salovey and the assembled students also discussed the accessibility of Yale’s buildings, student-adviser relationships and the future role of the humanities at the University, which has placed a large emphasis on STEM fields in recent years. According to Armentano, the minutes of the meeting will be posted within the next few weeks.

According to GSA Vice Chair Ryan Petersburg GRD ’21, the graduate student representatives who spoke to Salovey addressed major University issues in “productive ways that appeared to impress our President.”

He added that Salovey openly responded to administrative matters.

“The President responded to our questions directly and with respect, making sure to clarify when prompted and rarely, if ever, avoiding the sentiment of the questions,” Petersburg wrote in an email to the News. “He also seems keen in continuing the conversation, and I greatly appreciate this initiative.”

According to Armentano, the GSA also has a steering committee that meets every other week with Cooley and Associate Dean of Graduate Academic Support Richard Sleight. The GSA meets on alternate Mondays in the Watson Center, from 6:30 to 8 pm.

Valerie Pavilonis | valerie.pavilonis@yale.edu