Ellie Park, Photography Editor

As the University’s Presidential Search Committee searches for Yale’s next leader, community members and experts in higher education have urged the University to consider diversity while making its selection.

Of the eight Ivy League institutions, all but Yale and Princeton currently have female presidents. Harvard University inaugurated its first Black female president, Claudine Gay, on Sept. 29. Nemat “Minouche” Shafik became the first woman and person of color to serve as president of Columbia University when she began her term on July 1. Sian Leah Beilock became Dartmouth College’s first female president on June 12. 

Of the 23 presidents to head Yale in its 322-year history, all have been white. And except for Hanna Holborn Gray, who served in an interim capacity from 1977 to 1978, when then-president Kingman Brewster Jr. resigned to accept a position as the U.S. ambassador to Britain, they have all also been men.

Amid high presidential turnover nationally, Yale’s presidential search may be the chance for increasing diversity in the University’s highest office.

President and senior consultant at Academic Search and former president of Susquehanna University Jay Lemons wrote to the News that he hopes the “changing of the guard” at Ivy League schools will open doors for people from underrepresented groups.

Lemons also wrote that at his own search firm — which has completed over 2,200 executive searches, including over 685 presidential searches over the last five years — many search committees have expressed interest in compiling pools of diverse candidates.

“It is thrilling to see a new generation of extremely diverse and talented leaders emerge to lead our oldest and most widely respected institutions,” he wrote. “The good news, from what I see … is that there remain significant numbers of persons willing to tackle these tough jobs and even better, that there are exceptionally talented persons from underrepresented populations in these pools.”

An increasingly diverse campus

Vice President for Alumni Affairs and Development Joan O’Neill told the News that she hopes the University will choose a candidate that mirrors the diversity of Yale’s broader community. 

She added that “there are a lot of good women leaders out there.” According to the University’s most recent data from the Office of Institutional Research, roughly 46 percent of Yale students identify as men and approximately 52 percent identify as women. Furthermore, the office’s most recent data about racial and ethnic diversity indicate that 24 percent of Yale students — 31 percent of undergraduate and 19 percent of graduate students — are underrepresented minorities.

“I want the most qualified person,” O’Neill noted. “This is a great time for Yale to embrace the diversity of our community.”

Chair of the Library Council and co-chair of the For Humanity capital campaign Nancy Marx Better ’84 told the News that she understands there is “tremendous interest” in choosing a female president. 

She added, however, that she ultimately believes the next president must be willing to handle the “tremendously challenging, complicated and difficult role.” Randolph Nelson ’85, who also co-chairs the campaign, told the News that the search for Salovey’s successor should be an “open and fair process” that considers “diverse backgrounds.”

“I assume the search committee is going to be working very hard to identify a number of very strong candidates who are women and diverse and people of color,” Better said. “But at the end of the day, I think what we all want is a great president, and I just don’t know that you can put very specific limitations on what that person would look like.”

James M. Jones GRD ’70, a professor of psychology, Africana studies and director of the Center for the Study of Diversity at the University of Delaware, wrote to the News in an email that he believes that the “commitment to advancing DEI” is “important.”

Jones, a recipient of this year’s Wilbur Cross Medal — the highest honor awarded to alumni of Yale’s Graduate School — added that he views demographic status as less important than social identity.

“I would expect any search would value including a range of candidates who would carry forward an inclusive and creative agenda for Yale,” Jones wrote. “There is no simple set of characteristics that satisfy all of this but the search process needs to be creative and committed to DEI. I think the [next president] should have a visionary and effective track record in meeting goals for creating a campus that incorporates the perspectives and focus of a diverse community in which excellence continues to be a hallmark of the Yale brand.”

“Progress is despairingly slow”

Danielle Melidona, senior analyst in the Education Futures Lab at the American Council on Education, wrote to the News that, at present, the demographics of college and university presidents do not reflect the identities of their student populations. She added, however, that high turnover provides an opportunity to diversify the presidential role. 

She also told the News that those in charge of choosing an institution’s leader play a significant role in ensuring that colleges and universities continue to diversify.

“With such significant anticipated change in leadership, there is opportunity for more women and people of color to ascend to these top roles,” Melidona wrote to the News. “Even as opportunities are created and pathways widened, governing boards, search firms, and search committees play an important role in ensuring the continued diversification of the presidency can be realized.”

Melidona added that although the higher education sector has made concerted efforts to diversify its ranks in the last several decades, the Council’s findings in its American College Presidents Survey shows that “progress is despairingly slow.”

It is therefore “critical,” she said, for institutions to “standardize search process disclosures and prioritize communication” and transparency.

Davarian Baldwin, professor of American studies at Trinity College and author of “In the Shadow of the Ivory Tower: How Universities Are Plundering Our Cities,” argued that Yale could find itself in “crisis” if it failed to adequately prioritize diversity in its search for a new generation of leadership. 

He noted the opportunity for Yale to capitalize on the “calls and claims for DEI” in a “shrinking higher education market.”

“There is waning public confidence in higher education, there’s a backlash against diversity, equity inclusion projects, there’s shrinking enrollments,” Baldwin said. “People see it as a crisis, but I see it actually as a possibility. What if [Yale] became that kind of institution fully aligned with our attempts to carve out a marketplace for itself, but in line with its principles as laid out in our state charter, and in its mission?”

But Brian Rosenberg, president emeritus at Macalester College and president in residence at the Harvard Graduate School of Education, wrote to the News that DEI considerations are already an important component of various leadership searches.

He also wrote that beyond direct racial and gender considerations, such considerations might also present themselves in a search process when committees consider candidates’ track records and “commitment to DEI in their previous work.”

“Consideration of racial and gender diversity is currently playing a significant role in leadership searches and will continue to play a significant role for the foreseeable future,” Rosenberg wrote. “It will take a long time to address the historical lack of diversity in these positions. Having a diverse group of leaders within higher education matters, especially as the population becomes increasingly diverse.”

A gap in role expectations

Executive Director of Yale’s Education Studies Program Mira Debs GRD ’13 told the News that she anticipates diversity, equity and inclusion considerations to play a “really important” role in the search for Yale’s next president amid “concerted efforts” at other colleges and universities to hire more diverse candidates.

She added that she believes the question that follows is what environment on campus and in the alumni community would allow for diverse candidates to succeed.

“It’s notable that Columbia, Dartmouth, Harvard and Penn have all appointed women to be president of their universities in the past year,” she said. “We’re definitely seeing universities make concerted efforts to hire more diverse candidates than in the past.”

However, both Debs and Melidona noted a pattern among women and people of color in leadership roles in higher education: they often face more difficulty in their roles, with shorter tenures and higher expectations. 

In thinking about literature on the tenures of K-12 superintendents, Debs — who teaches Foundations in Education Studies — told the News that tenures, especially those of women and people of color, are decreasing. She said that it remains unclear whether the trend of short tenures in K-12 will manifest at the collegiate level.

On a similar note, Melidona wrote that in its 2023 American College President Study, the American Council on Education found a 10-percentage point gap between white presidents and presidents of color when asked whether their institutions’ search processes gave them a realistic impression of challenges they would face in the role.

Furthermore, the report states that roughly 54 percent of women of color and that roughly 48 percent of men of color anticipate leaving their roles within the next five years. The report calls this result a “cause for concern.”

“These broader findings indicate a gap between what presidents think they are hired to do, versus what the expectations of their governing board or management may be,” Melidona wrote. 

President Salovey will officially step down from his post in June 2024.

Benjamin Hernandez covers Woodbridge Hall, the President's Office. He previously reported on international affairs at Yale. Born and raised in Dallas, Texas, he is a sophomore in Trumbull College majoring in Global Affairs.