Woodbridge loyalists question Salovey's leadership
One afternoon last fall, four of Yale’s most generous alumni joined former University Secretary Sam Chauncey ’57 and Chief Investment Officer David Swensen GRD ’80 for lunch at the Racquet and Tennis Club — an exclusive, all-male social club on Park Avenue. The net worth in the room hovered in the billions.
But the Yale loyalists — which also included Sandy Warner ’68, Nicholas Brady ’52, Vernon Loucks ’57 and Charles Johnson ’54 — had not gathered to reminisce about their bright college years. Instead, the six men convened to discuss concerns about University President Peter Salovey’s leadership and his ability to head Yale’s upcoming capital campaign, the University’s next major fundraising push.
“The general consensus of the people at the meeting was that Peter had shown some real signs of weakness,” Loucks said.
These six alumni have footed the bill for several of Yale’s most ambitious projects and served as right-hand men to previous University presidents. Johnson, the biggest donor in University history, gifted the $250 million that funded the construction of the two newest residential colleges, while Brady, a former secretary of treasury, endowed the Brady-Johnson Program in Grand Strategy with Johnson in 2006. Warner, a former chairman of J.P. Morgan Chase & Co., is one of the longest-sitting members of the Corporation. Chauncey served as special assistant to former University President Kingman Brewster between 1963 and 1972. Loucks was a senior fellow of the Yale Corporation in the 1980s and 1990s. And Swensen, the University’s highest-paid administrator, is renowned for inventing “the Yale Model,” now the mainstream model used in endowment management worldwide.
In interviews with the News, Loucks, Warner, Johnson and Chauncey described their accounts of the meeting. Swensen did not respond to multiple requests for comment. Brady declined to comment on the private lunch. Salovey also declined to comment on the meeting.
While the group discussed the University’s upcoming major projects, including the creation of the Yale Jackson School of Global Affairs, much of the conversation focused on how Salovey has handled past controversies, such as the 2017 decision to rename Calhoun College. According to Loucks, the discussion centered on whether a change in leadership is necessary, given that Salovey has not articulated a clear vision for Yale.
Johnson told the News that he attended the gathering to discuss candidates for the Yale Corporation. But Loucks and Warner both agreed that such conversations were incidental to the main focus of the meeting.
Warner said he attended the lunch to meet with “longtime friends” and answer their questions about the University’s current affairs. Meeting with alumni to discuss concerns about Yale is “part of an everyday diet for a Corporation member,” he explained. But Chauncey and Loucks both told the News that they had never been to a meeting like the one at the Racquet and Tennis Club, where several of Yale’s biggest names discussed their concerns about University leadership.
According to Loucks, while all six men at the gathering shared similar criticisms of Salovey’s leadership, Warner was “more hesitant” to criticize the president because he is “in a different position and is a sitting member of the Corporation … and has to continue to be a part of that.”
“[The current University administration] does not have a solid vision and that bothered everybody,” Loucks said. “They don’t have a good sense of where they are going and the strength to pull it off, and that’s not a good position to be in when you are going after a lot of money in a new campaign. That’s the job of the president. … [The goal has] never been articulated in a way that ties everything together and says where we are going as a university.”
But the group, which does not have authority over the University leadership, has since paused its considerations.
According to Warner, the six men left the fall meeting without a conclusion on what their next steps should be. When asked whether the Yale Corporation — which has the power to fire a sitting University president — has confidence in Salovey, Warner said last month that “the view of the Corporation has been and continues to be that Peter is our leader.” There is “work to do in some areas,” but the University is “in the process of getting it done,” he added. But Warner declined to specify what those areas of concern are.
According to Loucks, Warner said at the meeting that the Corporation is unlikely “to be supportive of anything that would result in [Salovey’s] ousting.” Still, Loucks said he knows from his private conversations with former and current members of the Corporation that several are concerned about the University administration’s lack of direction and vision. Warner told the News that it takes internal debate to develop one collective view formally espoused by the Corporation.
In an interview with the News last week, Salovey, countering the group’s concerns, said he has been articulating his visions for the University since his inauguration in 2013. But 40 interviews with current and former trustees, deans, administrators, faculty members and alumni underscored the uncertainty surrounding the current administration’s goals for the University.
Now, six years into his presidency, Salovey is preparing to launch his first major fundraising push. But as Salovey embarks on the project that will define his legacy, many members of the University community remain confused about the direction Salovey is steering Yale.
IN LEVIN’S SHADOW
When Yale began searching for a new president in 2012, Salovey was frequently mentioned as then-University President Richard Levin’s most likely successor. He had held almost every senior position in the University administration, including dean of Yale College, dean of the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences and provost.
While the presidential search that led to Levin’s appointment in 1993 took 10 months, the University appointed Salovey after just 65 days. According to two individuals with knowledge of the situation, Salovey received an offer to be president of Dartmouth College in the midst of Yale’s own search.
“If your top candidate is offered a position elsewhere … of course it’s going to change the Corporation’s view about … what the best strategy is,” former trustee Francisco Cigarroa ’79 — who was a member of the search committee that appointed Salovey — told the News. “But just because somebody else is recruiting a candidate doesn’t mean that we are going to make that candidate our top candidate as well.”
Cigarroa added that Salovey’s commitment to be “really inclusive in developing strategy and making decisions” for the University impressed members of the search committee. Many students and faculty members told the committee that they wanted the next University president to have “emotional intelligence” — a term coined by Salovey himself — Cigarroa explained.
Once Salovey took the helm of the University, many of his early goals echoed those that Levin had already announced. At the freshman address in August 2013 — the first speech he gave as president — Salovey vowed to make Yale more accessible. During his tenure, Levin quintupled the University’s annual financial aid budget, raising it from $24 million to $120 million. Moreover, several of the priorities Salovey laid out in his October 2013 inaugural address — including improving the University’s relationship with New Haven and making Yale “a global and more unified university” — were projects that had defined Levin’s presidency. In the address, Salovey also presented a few new goals, such as increasing research and teachings about Africa as well as encouraging collaboration among units and departments across the Yale community.
Shortly after his inauguration, Salovey also announced “seven critical ambitions” to make Yale more unified, innovative and accessible. The ambitions, bold and imprecise, left much to be said about what Salovey would concretely do to improve the university he had inherited. The goals included making Yale the “most committed to teaching and learning,” “shar[ing] more broadly Yale’s intellectual assets with the world” and diversifying the student body.
Indeed, Salovey’s early goals for the University were broader and more ambiguous than what Levin envisioned in the early days of his presidency. Unlike Salovey, in his inaugural address in October 1993, Levin identified two specific goals: improving Yale’s relationship with New Haven and making Yale a global research university. Levin told the News that many of the projects and investments throughout his presidency were specifically undertaken to advance these two goals.
“[Levin] mastered his own vision for Yale … [and] it seems to me [that] he has left a unique imprint on the face of the University,” history of art professor Mary Miller, who succeeded Salovey as dean of Yale College, said in an interview with the News. “There are the years before Levin and after Levin.”
Two years into his presidency, Salovey was in the midst of developing and refining his goals and priorities for Yale. But on the night before Halloween in 2015, an email from Silliman College Associate Master Erika Christakis and an alleged “white girls only” party at a Yale fraternity unleashed a series of racial controversies that catapulted Yale into the national spotlight.
From October 2015 to February 2017 — when the University announced the renaming of Calhoun College — Salovey published at least 13 statements in response to heated discussions about race and free speech on campus.
According to School of Management Dean Ted Snyder, the months Salovey spent debating whether to rename Calhoun exacted an opportunity cost. By focusing on the “issues of the day,” the University missed opportunities to “think about the long-run health of the institution” and develop its academic priorities, Snyder said.
In November 2016, Salovey finally announced that Yale is “in a position to move forward on the strategic academic investments.” In the University-wide statement, he identified faculty excellence, the sciences, arts and humanities and social sciences as priorities for investment and explained that while the descriptions these categories are “of course, not comprehensive,” they are meant to “provide a sense of our overall academic focus … and to serve as a starting point.”
But the approach Salovey took to identify specific areas for investment diverged from that of his predecessors. In fact, Salovey removed much of his own agency in the process by assembling committees of faculty members and administrators — such as the University Science Strategy Committee, University Humanities Committee and University-wide Committee on Data-Intensive Social Science. He then delegated to those committees the task of identifying specific and achievable academic objectives that can be pitched to donors by to those committees.
According to former Vice President for Development Inge Reichenbach — who coordinated the University’s previous capital campaign, Yale Tomorrow — Levin’s strategic planning process “was less formal … and a little bit more direct.” As his capital campaign came around 10 years into his presidency, Levin had a clearer idea of which major projects to pursue, and Levin himself identified areas for investment in consultation with deans, Reichenbach said.
Reichenbach added that it is the University president’s responsibility to “pull all [the committee recommendations and plans] together and articulate how [the smaller-scale projects and initiatives] add up to an overarching vision” for Yale.
Chauncey — a longtime administrator who served as special assistant to former University President Kingman Brewster between 1963 and 1972 and secretary of the Corporation from 1973 to 1982 — agreed that the ways in which former presidents like Brewster, A. Whitney Griswold and Bartlett Giamatti developed academic priorities were “much closer to the Levin model than the Salovey model.” While Salovey’s predecessors also commissioned committees, those committees were tasked with implementing a plan that the president had already decided on, Chauncey explained.
Still, in an interview with the News last week, Salovey said his collaborative approach allows him to make full use of the expertise on Yale’s campus. His strategic planning method — which he described as “both top-down and bottom-up” — will produce achievable and targeted objectives for the University in the next decade, Salovey argued.
He emphasized that leading by force is no longer an effective strategy for running a global research institution and said collaboration is key to running what he admitted to be an already crisis-ridden university. Towards the end of Levin’s presidency, many faculty members criticized him for establishing Yale-NUS College without adequately soliciting their feedback.
“A more collaborative style — yes, it takes longer — but I think it’s necessary,” Salovey said. “At the end of the day, I want everybody to feel like they were heard. … What we are doing … will change the University in the next decade and position it for decades beyond that. We’ve got to get it right. The way to get it right and the way to make sure that the campus is all marching in the same direction is to use a collaborative method.”
A LACK OF DIRECTION
Still, interviews with professional school deans, faculty members and alumni revealed that many members of the University community remain confused about Yale’s direction under Salovey’s leadership.
Political science professor and chair of the humanities program Bryan Garsten told the News that Salovey does not “have a sense of one driving mission” for the University, unlike Levin during his tenure. He added that while it is difficult to get all members of the Yale community behind one vision, it “would be healthy” to articulate the University’s priorities and visions more proactively.
Treasurer of the Class of 1963 Mike Freeland ’63 echoed Garsten’s remarks. He told the News that many alumni feel that the University “is running Salovey, rather than the other way around.” Many alumni members are reluctant to donate to Yale because they think Salovey’s goals are unclear, Freeland explained.
And even in Salovey’s inner circle — the University Cabinet, which includes all professional school deans and functions as a sounding board for the University president — there remains discontent with a lack of clarity in Yale’s strategic institutional direction. Yale Divinity School Dean Greg Sterling said he and several of his decanal colleagues share concerns about the fact that the University lacks an overarching vision. While the University administration has developed an academic plan, it has yet to announce a vision that will connect the constituent parts of that plan together, Sterling explained.
“We have a strategic plan [at the Divinity School] and we live and die by that,” Sterling said. “Some of those are pretty big goals … that would change the school. I don’t think Yale has that as a university right now. I couldn’t tell you what those goals are for Yale University. … Yale needs a vision. I would say certainly among the deans, yes, we are concerned about that.”
He added that while Levin’s “very decisive” leadership style brings faster progress, forcefully driving an agenda can create backlash among administrators and faculty members. Although Salovey’s collaborative approach may leave some wondering about the lack of changes at the University, it builds consensus and moves everybody along together, Sterling said.
“Enterprises with great resources should have aspirations that make the status quo unacceptable,” Snyder said in a statement to the News. “While Yale continues to progress on many fronts, a relevant question is whether these steps have generated excitement, momentum, and an overarching sense of purpose.”
A BATTLE YALE CAN’T WIN
In an interview with the News last week, Salovey said confusion about the direction of the University could, in part, be a result of the “recency effect” — when more recent information is better remembered and thus receives greater weight when forming a judgment.
“They ask themselves, ‘What’s happened in the past few months?’ and say, ‘Well, nothing seems to have changed,’” Salovey explained. “So they wonder whether we are making progress. But all you have to do is walk up the Science Hill and see a big science building getting finished. That’s an enabling project for our science strategy.”
In November, Salovey accepted the University Science Strategy Committee’s recommendations — which identified five “top priority” areas for STEM investment — and announced that Vice Provost for Research Peter Schiffer would lead the implementation of the committee’s findings. In an email to the News on Wednesday, Vice President for Communications Nate Nickerson said Salovey’s biggest accomplishments in science and engineering include renovating the Wright Laboratory, creating the undergraduate neuroscience major and teaching labs at the Sterling Chemistry Laboratory.
Still, many faculty members said there remains a major disjunction between what Salovey has promised and the current state of Yale’s STEM departments. Since November, the University administration has not released further guidelines or updates on how the recommendations of the University Science Strategy Committee report will be carried out. Meanwhile, many faculty members, alumni and administrators have voiced doubts on how Yale will compete against other universities that have traditionally excelled in the sciences, expressing concerns about the ongoing dearth of resources and the lack of clarity in Yale’s plans to enrich its science program.
Sterling, the dean of Yale Divinity School, emphasized that the University must select a few areas in which Yale can excel and clarify how its STEM departments will compete with their counterparts at other institutions. He added that while Yale should strengthen its sciences to remain a world-class institution, the University must also maintain its comparative advantage in the humanities and arts.
Yale Alumni Association delegate and Vice President of the Yale Club of Silicon Valley George Chen ’77, who conducts interviews with Yale applicants for the Yale Alumni Schools Committee, also emphasized the importance of capitalizing on Yale’s strengths. Persuading students who are interested in science and entrepreneurship to choose Yale over universities that have traditionally had a stronger STEM program is not only difficult, but often futile, Chen explained.
“[Yale] seems to be chasing things it cannot win,” Chen said.
Computer science professor Michael Fischer said Yale’s investment in STEM still falls far below what is needed for Yale to remain competitive with its traditional peer institutions. Similarly, mechanical engineering professor Juan de la Mora noted that the number of graduate students in his area of research, fluid dynamics, has greatly decreased due to a lack of resources and funding. Regardless of the intent, University administration seems to be letting research in the field die rather than restructuring the program and increasing support, de la Mora said.
Moreover, the School of Engineering & Applied Science has failed to name a new dean more than two years after the school’s former dean, Kyle Vanderlick, announced her resignation from the post. Unlike other professional school deans, the dean of the SEAS — which is both a school within the University and a division within the Faculty of Arts and Sciences — lacks the authority to independently set the school’s budget. According to FAS Dean Tamar Gendler, while the school made an offer to a candidate in February 2018, the candidate eventually “decided to remain at their home institution, for a range of academic and personal reasons.”
And five out of 10 John C. Malone professorships — which were created in 2011 when business mogul John Malone ’63 donated $50 million to the SEAS — remained empty until earlier this year.
While giving a PowerPoint presentation at a SEAS faculty luncheon Dec. 12, the acting dean of the school, Mitchell Smooke, said that Malone professorships may be taken away, three SEAS faculty members told the News. They added that Smooke instructed faculty members at the meeting to accelerate the search for faculty to fill the endowed professorships and avoid such a situation. Many faculty members inferred that Malone was upset because for almost eight years, the University had failed to recruit faculty members for half of his professorships, the three individuals said. While all three faculty members were present at the luncheon, they requested anonymity to discuss confidential matters discussed at the meeting. Smooke did not respond to request for comment.
“If Salovey’s goal is STEM, why hasn’t he filled all the Malone professorships?” one of the anonymous SEAS professors asked. “If Salovey’s goal is STEM, what are the accomplishments he can speak to after six years?”
In March, computer science professor Holly Rushmeier and physics professor Hui Cao — both of whom were already faculty members at the University — were appointed to the professorships. SEAS departments are currently conducting a search to name three more Malone professors, Salovey said in an interview earlier this year.
Salovey declined to comment on his conversations with a donor, but said “any donor who donates professorships [gets] great pleasure out of seeing them filled.” Still, Salovey added that most donors also want their professorships to be reserved for the best candidates and recognize that recruiting leading scholars in the field requires time.
In an interview with the News, Salovey also acknowledged that the University has faced challenges in “strengthening exciting areas of engineering that is already attracting a lot of students.” Yet he also noted that Yale must “pick our shots” to successfully expand the sciences and said administrators and faculty members must have time to mull over their strategic investment plan and “come to a consensus.”
GEARING UP FOR THE CAMPAIGN
As Yale gears up for the next capital campaign — which is likely to launch in 2021 — University administrators have been solidifying relationships with prospective donors and identifying intersections between the University’s needs and donors’ interests, according to Vice President for Development Joan O’Neill.
Salovey has a tough act to follow. In the last capital campaign, the University raised a record $3.88 billion, which many attributed to Levin’s clearly articulated vision.
“We earned their confidence from having succeeded in the early projects, like rebuilding the campus and improving our relationship with New Haven,” Levin explained. “That made it easier to convince people that [Yale] should move on to [its] next priorities. … It fit nicely to go global after having improved our local relations.”
But for Salovey, his campaign also comes on the heels of controversies that have thus far defined his presidency.
The News surveyed all 1,301 individuals listed in the Alumni Leaders Directory — which includes Yale Club officers, class officers, regional directors and reunion chairs — and gathered responses from almost 250 alumni. The survey results suggested that alumni are less willing to donate to Yale compared to the early 2000s.
According to the survey, 24.5 percent of the respondents believe that alumni are “unenthusiastic” to donate compared to the 2000s, while 7.5 percent believe that they are “very unenthusiastic.” On the other hand, only 12.9 percent and 5.8 percent of the respondents said alumni are “enthusiastic” and “very enthusiastic” to donate, respectively. The remaining 49.4 percent of alumni said they “don’t know” how enthusiastic alumni are to donate compared to the 2000s.
According to documents obtained by the News, Yale raised a total of $49.6 million in gifts and new pledges in the first quarter of the silent phase, which ran from July 1 to Sept. 30, 2018. The number lagged behind the amount that Yale raised in the same months in 2017 and 2016 as well as in 2004, when Levin embarked on the silent phase of his capital campaign. Beginning with the second quarter, the Yale Office of Development ceased to release University-wide donation statistics to members of the Yale Cabinet. But according to two individuals with knowledge of fundraising statistics who added up gifts and pledges received by each budget planning unit, Yale raised around $183 million — a number both said is “concerning” given the fact that this quarter is usually the most successful time of year for Yale. The individuals requested anonymity to speak candidly about confidential matters.
In a statement to the News, O’Neill said “April is shaping up to be a record month” for Yale’s fundraising. Yale’s donors are energized, and their generosity is energizing Yale, O’Neill added. According to Warner, this month, Yale signed the gift agreement with John Jackson ’67 for the new professional school for global affairs.
Still, several Yale alumni have chosen to donate to their alma mater’s competitors, often in areas in which the University has historically lagged. While business mogul and CEO of The Blackstone Group Stephen Schwarzman ’69 gave $150 million to Yale in 2015 to transform the Commons into a student center, he donated $350 million to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology to establish a new college for computing and artificial intelligence last October.
Following the announcement of Schwarzman’s gift to MIT, Rushmeier, then chair of the Department of Computer Science, sent an email to the department’s faculty members Oct. 15 and lamented that “catching up [to MIT] is going to be tough,” according to a copy of the email obtained by the News.
In the same month, Joseph Tsai ’86 LAW ’90, a co-founder of Alibaba Group, made a major gift to Stanford University’s Neurosciences Institute. While the exact size of Tsai’s gift remains undisclosed, Stanford announced that the university raised nearly $250 million in total and changed the name of institute to the Wu Tsai Neurosciences Institute in honor of Tsai’s lead donation. Establishing a neuroscience institute that integrates research across the Yale School of Medicine and the FAS is one of the five major goals recommended by Yale’s University Science Strategy Committee.
“It’s very interesting to see how philanthropy has developed,” Warner said. “It used to be that the affiliation of the donor to the University was paramount. But today’s new generation is attracted by the impact of the project, irrespective of the campus.”
WHO REMAINS IN SALOVEY’S CORNER?
For now, Yale administrators disagree on the effectiveness of Salovey’s leadership style. In an interview with the News, Loucks, who was at the meeting at the Racquet and Tennis Club last fall, emphasized that he and other attendants are trying to “repair a ship without a rudder” out of their love for and loyalty to Yale. Under Salovey’s leadership, many administrators, faculty members and alumni have voiced their concerns about the University president’s seeming lack of vision behind the scenes.
But many Woodbridge loyalists remain in Salovey’s corner. In an interview with the News, Dean of Yale College Marvin Chun said “where we are headed is very clear” and explained that ongoing construction projects across campus are visible signs of Yale’s progress. James Attwood ’80 — who is a member of a task force that is helping plan the campaign — said the University president “has clearly laid out a well thought out vision” and has cultivated consensus around it.
“Every day, I wake up thinking about the primary goal of my presidency: to ensure Yale’s place as a great global research university that puts its students’ education at its center,” Salovey said. “Our academic investments — powered by the inspiration of our faculty and the passion of our students and alumni — are building on our historic strengths, and they will change our world for the better.”