Ellie Park, Photography Editor

The Yale Presidential Search Committee’s Student Advisory Council members shared generally positive sentiments about Maurie McInnis’ GRD ’90 GRD ’96 appointment and expressed hope that the president-elect will proactively communicate with students. 

The search for the University’s 24th president included the addition of SAC, the first of its kind in a Yale presidential search. Council members were tasked with gathering information from across the University and then sharing that information with the search committee. 

After obtaining the input of over 2,000 Yale students, faculty, staff, alumni and New Haveners and sorting through 128 nominees, the Yale Corporation named McInnis as the new president Wednesday morning. The News spoke with four students on the SAC about the recently announced appointment. 

“We fought tooth and nail to get some sort of representation so that students had some sort of voice that was formally recognized by the Presidential Search Committee,” Julian Suh-Toma ’25, outgoing Yale College Council president and ex-officio SAC member, told the News. “At the very least, knowing that [the search committee] had read about what students across the University — and not just in the College — cared about, that’s important.”

Suh-Toma said that although he considers the SAC a first step to student inclusion in Yale’s presidential search, he hopes that any future search will embed more direct student representation in the process.

He added that although he was not surprised by McInnis’ appointment, he was pleased that the University chose its first female president to serve in a non-interim capacity. 

Suh-Toma also said that he suspects McInnis’ challenges will include issues regarding free speech. He hopes she will seek the input of student groups involved in these issues in recent months, as well as faculty and administrators, to “understand the landscape of Yale’s leadership” that Suh-Toma believes will be a marked difference from that of Stony Brook University.

“As a University, we’re at a critical juncture where there’s really important and ongoing conversations around free speech,” Suh-Toma said. “It’s going to be interesting to see how she tries to relate herself to both students and faculty when it comes to advocating for human rights and for freedom of expression on campus.” 

Echoing Suh-Toma, SAC secretary Benjamin Schafer GRD ’27 wrote to the News that he believes McInnis assumes her duties at a “critical juncture” of Yale’s history. He added that he looks forward to working alongside the new president to share the insights SAC gathered.

Jim Zhou GRD ’24 wrote in an email that he was excited by Yale’s “historic milestone” that McInnis’ appointment represents.

However, Zhou wrote that he has reservations about McInnis’ standing on free speech, adding that he believes it is “crucial” that the new administration upholds and strengthens the University’s free expression values.

Some faculty from Stony Brook have raised concerns about McInnis’ record on campus free speech. McInnis, who currently serves as president of Stony Brook, faced criticism following the arrests of nine Stony Brook students on March 26 during a pro-Palestine protest at the university’s Administration Building. On March 27, a group of students and faculty members arranged a sit-in protest in response to the arrests. In the ensuing weeks, more than 600 Stony Brook faculty members signed an open letter calling for McInnis to revise Stony Brook’s free speech policies and increase administrative transparency.

“Yale’s dedication to strong free expression, as outlined in the Woodward Report, is a fundamental institutional value,” Zhou wrote. “Her track record at Stony Brook raises concerns about her commitment to these principles.”

McInnis wrote to the News that there is an “obligation to safeguard students, faculty, and staff from disruptive and obstructive behaviors that go beyond allowed reasonable time, place, and manner restrictions,” a commitment that was tested this past year. She said that she is “fortunate” to have the Woodward Report, which she said underscores academic freedom and freedom of expression as a “bedrock principle” at the University.

Chrishan Fernando GRD ’25, president of the Graduate and Professional Student Senate, told the News that, like Suh-Toma, he was not entirely shocked that McInnis had been chosen as Yale’s president, given her service to Yale as a trustee and other leadership experience in higher education.

Fernando said that although he does not know much about McInnis, he looks forward to learning more about her and added that from his conversations with McInnis at least twice this year, he has no reason to suspect that she will not listen to student concerns. 

“Especially at this time Yale needs a president who is willing to personally engage with students as much as they possibly can, so I hope that she’s the president who can really do that,” Fernando said. “I feel like that’s the position everybody’s at right now … we’ll need to learn more about her and be willing to listen to what she has to say and also watch how receptive she is of student opinions.”

Yale’s search committee announced the creation of the SAC on Oct. 2 after growing student demand for representation in the Presidential Search Committee’s deliberations. The SAC comprised 15 elected students from across the University: four graduate, four professional and four undergraduate students. The presidents of the Graduate and Professional Student Senate, the Graduate Student Assembly and the Yale College Council served as members ex-officio to the SAC.

On Jan. 29, Joshua Bekenstein ’80 announced a synthesis of the qualities that students, faculty and staff had voiced during the Presidential Search Committee’s listening sessions and through anonymous web forms. The summary also included information from the SAC’s report that the News obtained in full the day of the announcement. 

The SAC report contained data from over 1,800 student responses and discussed topics not explicitly mentioned in Bekenstein’s announcement, including free speech and academic freedom, student mental health and diversity, equity and inclusion. 

Although Yale’s last presidential search in 2012 did not include a formal student body akin to the SAC, the YCC at the time created a report on student opinions about the presidential search process.

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.