A tale of two presidents: Salovey plans collaboration with Harvard’s newest leader
As Claudine Gay takes on Harvard’s presidency, the News looked into the work of the Yale and Harvard presidents — and the moments that bring them together.
With Claudine Gay set to take the helm at Harvard University this year as the school’s newest president, University administration is looking forward to future collaboration with their counterpart in Cambridge.
Last month, the Harvard Corporation, the governing board of the University, announced that Claudine Gay would replace Lawrence Bacow as the 30th university president. Gay, who will be Harvard’s first president of color and second female president, will officially take office on July 1. Yale University President Peter Salovey expressed support for Gay’s election, and anticipates beginning a working relationship with her in the coming weeks.
“I think she’s going to be a wonderful leader for Harvard, and I think she’ll be a great partner for us here at Yale,” Salovey said.
Salovey said that historically, he has often met with the Harvard president in an official capacity. As members of the Ivy League, Salovey and Gay will be expected to meet twice a year with all six other Ivy League university presidents. The meetings first involve discussing athletics across the schools, and then also include an “open discussion of issues facing higher education.”
Both schools are also part of other higher education organizations. They are members of the Association of American Universities president’s group, a group which consists of 65 universities in the United States and Canada. Presidents in the group talk about the specific challenges facing “the best [research universities] in the country,” Salovey said, both public and private.
In addition, both Salovey and Gay will serve on the Council on Funding Higher Education group, which focuses on undergraduate education.
Yale and Harvard are also part of the Tanner Foundation advisory board, a small group dedicated to community charity philanthropy that also includes the likes of Princeton, Stanford, Cambridge, Oxford and the University of Utah.
“When you add all that up, that’s at least half a dozen formal interactions as part of larger group interactions that we’ll have every year,” Salovey said. “But then, there’s always things to talk about.”
Salovey said that the presidents of the two universities also work with each other in unofficial capacities, such as collaborating to engage in advocacy in Washington D.C. on issues such as immigration reform and the funding of research and Pell Grants. He added that the universities might collaborate academically through a joint program or by discussing student issues such as COVID-19 policy or mental health.
“We’ll one-on-one consult each other around challenges that we’re both facing,” Salovey said.
But Gay’s presidency may very well have no effect on the state of Yale. Henry Chauncey Jr. ’57, a former University administrator who served as secretary of the University from 1971 to 1981, told the News that a new shift in the relationship between both schools was unlikely.
Chauncey said that Harvard and Yale are structured as two “totally different” institutions, which means that the presidents of both schools do not quite have the same job.
Harvard’s schools, he said, operate as quasi-independent organizations and tend to raise their own money. Yale, on the other hand, is a centralized University — which means that its president has more say in the matters of each school.
“The president of Harvard doesn’t tell the Dean of the [Harvard] Business School what to do,” Chauncey said. “The president of Yale can, if he wishes to, tell the [Dean of the School of Management] what to do.”
It is this contrast in school structure that makes Salovey and Gay unlikely to form a relationship based on shared responsibilities, according to Chauncey. It would be more likely for Yale’s president to connect with the president of a school such as Princeton University, he said, because Princeton has the same centralized administrative system as Yale.
He recalled former Yale president Kingman Brewster Jr., who had a close friendship with Harvard’s then-president Derek Bok during his term. The two’s relationship did not influence the direction of either school, he said, because they had very different responsibilities on their respective campuses.
Prior to becoming president-elect, Gay received broad support from many campus organizations, including the Coalition for a Diverse Harvard. The Coalition is a collection of alumni, current students, employees and faculty from Harvard and Radcliffe who fight for racial justice, diversity, equity and inclusion at Harvard and in higher education overall.
Jeannie Park, co-founder and current board member for the Coalition for a Diverse Harvard, explained to the News what the Coalition pushed for in the selection of Harvard’s next president.
“As we have in other searches for key Harvard leaders, the Coalition for a Diverse Harvard urged the committee to make issues of equity and justice paramount in the selection of a new president,” Park wrote in an email to the News. “These issues include the environmental impacts of the university, its legacy of slavery, the still-insufficient diversity of its faculty, staff, administrators, and students, labor practices, the need for a safe and affirming environment for all members of the campus community, and deficiencies in the academic program.”
Overall, Park said that Gay was a perfect fit for the role of president. She expressed hope that, as president, Gay would commit to establishing an ethnic studies department as well as academic programs on race and ethnicity that would reach all of Harvard’s schools, as Harvard falls behind its peer institutions in these departments.
And Yale seems to fall behind as well. This month, the News reported that in light of increased diversity, equity and inclusion efforts, Salovey was seeking to diversify the University’s faculty body as well as posts at the “highest ranks” of the president’s administration. Less than half of the current Yale cabinet is female, and only about a quarter of these roles are occupied by people of color.
Gay received her bachelor’s degree in economics at Stanford University.