What do alumni want in Salovey’s successor?
Following the announcement of University President Peter Salovey’s departure, the News spoke to nine alumni about Salovey’s time in office and their hopes for Yale’s next president.
Tim Tai, Senior Photographer
Following University President Peter Salovey’s announcement that he plans to step down June 30, the News spoke to nine alumni about their thoughts on his tenure and what they want to see in the next president.
All nine alumni who spoke to the News reflected positively on Salovey’s 11-year term. Four alumni said that they were surprised to learn of his decision.
“It is heartening that Peter will remain an integral part of the Yale family by returning to the classroom, continuing his research and writing, and assisting with the raising of philanthropic funds to support Yale,” Jerry Henry DIV ’80, former chair of the Yale Alumni Association board of governors wrote in an email to the News. “The next president must be an inspiring leader who, like Peter, is a good listener and a strong communicator, and one who continues to elevate Yale’s role as a leading international research institution building on Yale’s strengths.”
Alumni praise Salovey’s fundraising and DEI efforts, pandemic response
Alison Fitzgerald ’90 said she was surprised to hear that Salovey was stepping down and lauded Salovey’s fundraising efforts surrounding the University’s five-year “For Humanity” capital campaign, which launched in October 2021.
Fitzgerald listed substantial growth in the endowment, the opening of two new undergraduate residential colleges and the creation of the Jackson School of Global Affairs as highlights of Salovey’s tenure.
“He and the development team have raised so much of the money already that he has set up the University for great success in the campaign,” Fitzgerald told the News. “After thinking about it, it makes sense that he would step down now. He will have been the President for 11 years when he leaves. That’s a very long time to be in that role. It’s a very difficult job and Salovey has really accomplished a lot.”
If Salovey departs this summer as intended, he will exit the presidency with over two years of the capital campaign remaining — it is not set to end until June 2026, and the University has not yet met its $7 billion fundraising goal.
Henry told the News that he admired the expansion of the residential college system that occurred during Salovey’s presidency.
He also expressed appreciation for Salovey’s focus on fostering diversity, equity, inclusion and belonging within the Yale community, as well as his efforts to make the University more accessible.
“From his first day, President Salovey focused on establishing ‘a more unified Yale,’” Henry told the News. “As a professional school alumnus, that really resonated with me. I greatly admire his efforts at helping every school — students, faculty, staff and alumni — to be more closely connected and collaborative within the broader university.”
Henry added that he hopes to see the next president continue working toward Salovey’s academic and DEI-related priorities.
Under Salovey’s leadership, the University formed the President’s Committee on Diversity, Equity and Inclusion in January 2020, chaired by Kimberly Goff-Crews ’83 LAW ’86, University secretary and vice president for university life, and Gary Desir MED ’80, chair of internal medicine and vice provost for faculty development and diversity.
The committee also launched an initiative to recruit and maintain more diverse faculty members following long-time community advocacy for increased diversity among Yale’s faculty. Earlier this year, Salovey pledged to prioritize diversity when filling six high-ranking positions. The appointment of Megan Ranney as the dean of the School of Public Health marked the first time in University history when more than half of Yale’s deans were women.
Salovey’s “Belonging at Yale” initiative includes many of the efforts led by the Committee on Diversity, Equity and Inclusion, including a focus on hiring, as well as goals to improve “intentionality” and improved communication among University leadership about Yale’s values. Under new University guidelines, each academic and administrative unit at Yale is now required to create its own DEI report.
However, students have questioned the success of Salovey’s Belonging at Yale initiative, claiming that DEI work has often fallen on students of underrepresented backgrounds. This approach, students previously told the News, places the burden on them, which they said can dissuade students from becoming more involved in Yale DEI initiatives. Additionally, students previously told the News that they have grown frustrated with slow progress on these efforts.
Sandee Couch SOM ’20, vice president of the Yale Club of Dallas, also praised Salovey’s DEI initiatives and emphasis on “diversity and bringing in more people of different backgrounds.”
She also told the News that she appreciated Salovey’s “high emotional intelligence,” particularly given the president’s role in shaping University culture.
“A president sets the tone of the entire community at Yale in a lot of ways,” Couch told the News. “The ability to lead with emotions and with thoughtful consideration, to me, is what someone like the president of Yale needs to have.”
The COVID-19 pandemic was among the foremost challenges to Salovey’s administration, according to Fitzgerald, Henry and Couch, as well as Gregory Wolf ’92 and Ben Spencer ’89.
Acknowledging the difficulty of the situation, the five alumni all spoke highly of Salovey’s response to the pandemic. For Henry, Salovey’s “clear and frequent communication” with the University community during the pandemic was particularly important.
Priorities for the next president
The alumni that the News interviewed said they hope Yales’s next president prioritizes University fundraising and affordability for students, among other initiatives.
Fitzgerald and Henry both emphasized the importance of a president who is able to fundraise effectively and advance Yale’s financial position, as well as continue to promote diversity and belonging on campus.
“In today’s higher education environment, university presidents must be effective fundraisers,” Henry wrote in an email to the News. “The next Yale President must ensure that the For Humanity capital campaign goals – monetary and alumni engagement – are achieved.”
Fitzgerald also told the News that he hopes Salovey’s successor will understand the difficult social and cultural atmosphere faced, according to Fitzgerald, by current undergraduates.
“I hope the next president is able to understand the tough environment that undergrads struggle with when it comes to discussing controversial issues and mental health,” Fitzgerald said. “Hopefully the next president will be a calming presence, like Salovey.”
Yale’s mental healthcare options and policies have been a source of student frustration in recent years, especially in regard to mental health-related leaves of absence. This past year, the mental health advocacy group Elis for Rachael sued the University in a class-action suit that resulted in significant changes to Yale’s leave-of-absence policy.
Couch added that she hopes Yale’s president will focus on affordability. During Salovey’s tenure, Yale College’s tuition has increased. Most recently, the Yale College term bill rose roughly 3.9 percent from $80,700 to $83,880. In 2021, the University expanded financial aid by removing the student income contribution, an amount the University previously subtracted from student financial aid awards based on the predicted share a student could contribute to their own tuition.
Student debt data from the Yale Office of Undergraduate Admissions notes that although 12 percent of undergraduate students in the class of 2021 borrowed a student loan — including those provided by Yale and by the federal government — 88 percent of those students graduated with no student-loan debt. The students who did graduate with debt had an average student loan indebtedness of $14,383.
“The Ivy League, especially Yale, sets the tone from a lot of our other universities,” Couch said. “So student debt has been such a big topic for a lot of people [and] making sure that we make it affordable to all is definitely something that should be on the agenda.”
What role do alumni play in presidential selection?
The power to name Yale’s next president lies with members of the Yale Corporation, which is composed entirely of alumni. The Corporation, also known as the board of trustees, is the University’s highest governing body. Among the 16 alumni on the Corporation are 10 “successor trustees” appointed by the current board and six “alumni fellows” nominated by the Alumni Fellow Nominating Committee, which includes a current fellow of the Corporation, and voted on by eligible alumni.
The presidential search committee is composed of eight Corporation members, as well as four faculty members, who have not yet been named.
Of the eight Corporation members on the committee, only two of them — Ann Miura-Ko ’98 and Michael Warren ’90 — are alumni fellows who were selected by University alumni. Kaela Heaslip, senior director of communications and marketing for the Yale Alumni Association, wrote to the News in an email that the AFNC is composed of individuals who complement and expand the areas of expertise of Corporation members.
“The rigor of the AFNC research and vetting processes has resulted in the selection of outstanding individuals from diverse backgrounds as candidates on the Alumni Fellow ballot each year,” Heaslip wrote to the News.
David McNamara ’78, who served as the vice president of the Yale Club of New Haven for the last 10 years, referred to Salovey as an “outstanding president with a big heart” but expressed frustration with the presidential selection process. McNamara told the News that the search committee, which includes members of the Yale corporation, often “seems like a secretive organization.”
McNamara said that he was disappointed by the selection process for the Corporation, which has come under fire in recent years after the Corporation’s unilateral decision to scrap the alumni fellows petition process, which once allowed alumni to get on the trustee ballot without an AFNC nomination.
McNamara also told the News that he believes the Corporation should have a student member. He also said that he would like the minutes from Corporation meetings to be made public. Currently, meeting minutes are not made publicly available until 50 years after a given meeting.
The Corporation encourages students, faculty and alumni to submit recommendations to the presidential search committee throughout the search process through an online confidential form.