On the first of September, the Yale College Council passed a resolution condemning the presidential search committee’s failure to include students in the selection process, calling for either at least one student from each Yale school or a student advisory committee — a selection of students elected by the broader student body — to be added to the 12-person search committee. This was matched by similar resolutions from the Graduate Student Assembly and Graduate and Professional Schools Senate. The Yale Corporation’s decision to exclude students from the deliberation process denies the student body due influence in determining the direction of our University.
The need to add students to the search committee stems from a wider democratic principle — that people should have agency in selecting who will make the high-level decisions in the organizations that they are a part of. Yale’s presidential selection committee is wholly unrepresentative of the student body at Yale. The most recent graduate on the committee graduated Yale in 2003, when I, and many other students, were not even born. This gerontocratic group of faculty and alumni, who are far removed from the ordinary life of today’s students and recent graduates, should not be the only ones entrusted with selecting our next president or Salovey’s replacement.
The University has adopted limited measures to incorporate the voices of students in current president Peter Salovey’s replacement process, announcing yesterday a webform to submit suggestions and listening sessions where administrators will listen to students. However, these measures were cobbled together last minute during students’ classes and no students will be in the room where deliberations actually happen. As such, there is no way for Yale students to actually know that their input will be considered.
The Yale Corporation’s failure to substantially include students is especially shameful because, as the people who actually live through student life, Yale’s students can provide an essential perspective on what being a student at Yale is like, what it lacks, and consequently, what Yale’s priorities should be.
It is easy to think that students wouldn’t have anything to meaningfully contribute to discussions about Salovey’s successor. After all, a large amount of the president’s role is often ceremonial, involving fundraising. Salovey played a key part in raising five billion dollars in Yale’s recent For Humanity campaign, for instance. Are Yale students really best placed to know who will be able to market Yale to donors most effectively?
Probably not. That’s what the other 12 search committee members are for. Adding a student advisory committee does not come at the expense of including other members of the Yale corporation who will be able to ensure that whoever replaces Salovey is an effective chairperson and marketer of Yale.
A further objection to directly involving students in the process is that, even if students were to be added to the presidential search committee, whoever we select would be arbitrarily chosen, and our interests may not align with the broader student body’s. This is true in a sense. Whatever student we choose, even if elected by the student body, would not align with every student’s views on every issue.
However, this is not a unique problem to the presidential search process, but a broader one faced by any form of representative democracy. We could similarly ask how the eight members of the Yale Corporation will represent all alumni, or how the four faculty delegates will represent all of Yale’s professors. It is better to have some representation of students and their lived experience on the Presidential Search Committee than none at all.
What a student body can do is ensure that whoever replaces Salovey pursues policy that aligns with the interests of the students at Yale. Throughout his term, Salovey set the tone for high-level policy across Yale. Salovey’s priorities in his presidential term were accessibility and diversity, equity and inclusion. In this, Salovey built the new residential colleges Pauli Murray and Benjamin Franklin to expand Yale’s class size, increased the number of students eligible for Pell financial aid grants, was instrumental in renaming Calhoun College to Grace Hopper College and pledged to contribute $140 million dollars to New Haven over six years in 2021.
Students should have a part in shaping their Yale experience. Students, especially student representatives, have the ability to consider the long-term trajectory of Yale, beyond immediate measures such as air conditioning or free laundry. Involving students in the search process could also help with the next president’s fundraising mission. When our generation becomes recent alumni, we will also become more likely to donate if we feel represented by the president and leadership of Yale.
There is clear precedent for involving students in the presidential search process from Yale’s peer institutions. When selecting their 30th president, Harvard formed a student advisory committee which played an active role in the search process. Salovey’s successor will need to consider how to navigate the Supreme Court’s recent rulings on affirmative action, the extent to which they will maintain Salovey’s policies of accessibility and inclusion and where to distribute Yale’s ever-growing endowment. Whatever agenda the next president pursues, the Yale student body should have a role in setting it.
ANDREW ALAM-NIST is a sophomore in Grace Hopper College and represents the college as a senator in the Yale College Council. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.