Editor’s note: Led by two co-presidents, the Editorial Board is an independent body of the Yale Daily News, separate from the newsroom. The Editorial Board is composed of 10 undergraduate students who represent a variety of backgrounds, interests and perspectives. No members may be editors or writers for the News. We publish editorials with the approval of at least two-thirds of our members and groups of three or more members can author dissenting pieces as relevant.
After Peter Salovey’s announcement of his decision to step down as University President this coming June, the Editorial Board encounters the gravity of the upcoming search for his replacement. In this time of change, reflection and possibility, it is imperative that the next president reflect — in background, vision and policy—a commitment to the principles of service, knowledge and equity that ground our university.
The Editorial Board looks at the presidential search process as one representing vital questions of not only the power and importance of student input but also of administrative transparency and of Yale’s ability to actualize the ideals centered in its mission statement. We call on the presidential search committee to pursue a transparent search process with a set of criteria centered on diversity, on truth, on strengthened bonds with the city of New Haven and in an ethos of public service.
The Editorial Board believes that student opinion should be regarded and sought out in the presidential search process, including by requiring the search committee to participate in student town halls, recognize and liaise with a student advisory committee and publish a comprehensive feedback summary.
According to Salovey, the search process is being run by a group of trustees and faculty, led by senior trustee Joshua Bekenstein ’80, and is expected to conclude by June 30, 2024. On hearing of this process, it is natural for us, as Yale students, to consider what our role should be.
The Editorial Board believes that students should be able to voice their thoughts directly to the search committee with some guarantee of reception and consideration. Town halls, or “listening sessions,” as Bekenstein calls them, are what we hope is just the start of a more robust system for soliciting and incorporating student input. Additionally, the Editorial Board believes that the search committee should formally recognize a student advisory committee as outlined in a resolution passed by the Yale College Council in conjunction with the Yale Graduate Student Assembly and Yale Graduate and Professional Student Senate.
We expect the search committee will regularly meet with those students and empower them with the resources and opportunities to adequately seek out, summarize and voice the opinions of the student body. Relatedly, we expect that the search committee will listen to student advisors’ suggestions and recommendations. Finally, as a measure of accountability, the presidential search committee ought to publish a summary of all feedback received from the student advisory committee with a detailed account of how this feedback was incorporated into the search process.
It is equally crucial for us, as undergraduates, to interrogate the importance of the University president in our daily lives so as to evaluate what we can, and should, demand with a greater student voice.
Salovey’s administration has been repeatedly credited for its fundraising efforts and the expansion of the university endowment during his tenure. While these might seem disconnected from student life, stewardship of the endowment allows for investments in science, technology and the humanities, which includes expansion of faculty positions and physical infrastructure. Additionally, the principles and methods by which the Investment Committee chooses to steward the endowment has wide-ranging impacts on student life initiatives and the city of New Haven.
Moreover, the University President sits on the Yale Corporation, deciding faculty and administrative appointments as well as university regulations. They act as a representative of the university to the media, politicians and world leaders. They have the power to set a public agenda for the university, shaping its educational and occupational practices and cultures.
Historically, Yale’s presidents, through their singular vision and influence, have had varying impacts on the world outside Yale’s walls, ranging from overseeing massive land acquisition in New Haven to choosing to support radical civil rights activists such as the Black Panthers.
Given the vital role of Yale’s president, it is of key importance that the process by which the search committee selects a president be as clear and transparent to the student body as possible.
Despite Bekenstein’s public statement, the actual criteria by which the committee members are guided and by which the president is selected are kept under wraps. Students are even left to wonder whether these criteria exist in any formalized structure. If the presidential search committee creates or uses such criteria, they should make these available to the public. In the absence of this, the committee should release a clear policy statement, outlining the methods of evaluation they will use in their search and selection processes.
It is only with clear, concrete knowledge of selection criteria that the student body and other stakeholders can bring to the attention of the trustees disregarded topics of importance to the student body.
As it stands, the selection process itself is opaque and nebulous. Guidelines and best practices should be made available for accountability. If a candidate with some disqualifying professional or personal history is nominated, the presence of clear guidelines can help uphold the integrity of the selection process. Other accountability measures that safeguard confidentiality, such as an explanation of interview processes, remain necessary for Yale’s stakeholders to have faith in the selection process.
With transparency and accountability in mind, the Editorial Board recommends that the presidential search committee take principally into account the following criteria: a commitment to diversity and inclusion, evidence-based scholarship, improved relations with New Haven and public service.
Given the recent abrogation of affirmative action by the Supreme Court, Yale’s president plays a more critical role than ever in centering diversity and inclusion among the University’s top priorities. Not least among these must be fostering an admissions process that centers equitable opportunity. Such a project not only involves diversifying the racial, religious and ethnic makeup of our student body, but also requires increased outreach to public schools, particularly in areas often neglected by recruitment efforts. Our future president’s vision should include policies and programs that safeguard and encourage inclusivity, making sure that every student and faculty member at this school feels that they are heard, valued and cared for. The Editorial Board thus calls on the selection committee to prioritize a commitment to justice, equity and diversity in the selection process. These key principles are essential if the University wishes to continue honoring its devotion to light and truth.
Yale’s principal mission lies both in the production of knowledge through “outstanding research” and “scholarship,” as well as in the dissemination of truth. In the face of seismic shifts in the global scientific and technological landscape, including the aftermath of the COVID-19 pandemic, the ongoing threat of a climate crisis, and the recent popularization of artificial intelligence language models, Yale must reckon with its commitment to upholding science despite its rampant politicization. In an increasingly polarized world plagued with disinformation, the capacity to navigate such fraught terrain while remaining steadfast in dedication to the tenets of truth and science is a key skill that the next president of Yale should command. This may manifest as the implementation of evidence-based protocols and policies surrounding matters such as vaccination and masking despite the contentious discourse which envelops them.
This may look like a president who addresses questions of campus or public importance directly and with clarity and transparency. A commitment to truth does not necessarily equate to constantly having all the answers, but is characterized by a dedication towards an active search for such answers, and a willingness to hold evidence-based scholarship over mercurial public sentiment.
The Editorial Board also expects that the presidential search committee will prioritize candidates who will take a sincere interest in the city of New Haven. Admittedly, the president’s primary role is to lead the University and not the city. However, the president’s vision for Yale must include awareness of its impact on New Haven, and they must be a leader committed to strengthening the relationship between the two entities. Yale is the largest employer in New Haven and controls about 22 percent of the entire assessed property value in the city, on which it does not pay a dime in taxes.
The new president cannot change the centrality of the University to life in the Elm City, but they can shape the conversation around Yale’s relationship with New Haven by choosing which issues to address and which stakeholders to engage. Our next president must work to foster a culture of intentional, productive engagement with the city and its leaders. Reckoning with the University’s past and growing tensions with the city will not be easy or painless, but the tenacity to take on and learn from such challenges is a quality essential to a strong president. For instance, in the 1970s, A. Bartlett Giamatti — friend of New Haven — was appointed president to help repair Yale’s frayed relationship with the city.
Finally, Yale’s wavering commitment to public service should also be emphasized in the current process. The University, and especially the College, have been plagued by a culture of pre-professionalism. Academic pursuits and extracurricular activities are driven by the pursuit of jobs at investment banks, management consultancies, defense contractors, and similar firms. It is little surprise that a university administration driven by wealth and prestige is graduating countless students driven by the same. The University’s stated mission requires that Yale prioritizes public service when selecting students and when selecting its highest leadership. The Editorial Board hopes to have a president who not only preaches, but has consistently and authentically practiced, the ethos of service. The best metric of a successful administration is not the growth of our endowment but instead the talent and character Yale projects into communities across the world.
The search for and selection of the next president of Yale University is one of utmost importance — for students, for faculty members, for all other Yale stakeholders and for New Haven. With this in mind, the presidential search committee has a duty to proceed with an openness to student input and a commitment to transparency of criteria and process, guided in their search by the principles of diversity, truth and service.