The newly named CEO of New Haven’s largest corporation promised Thursday to continue the policies of his predecessor—from an improved relationship with New Haven and with labor unions to a controversial new relationship with the authoritarian government of Singapore.
The corporation, Yale University, announced Thursday afternoon that Peter Salovey will be its new CEO.
That makes him the most important business leader in New Haven, overseeing the city’s largest employer. It also puts him in the hot seat in a growing debate over Yale’s decision to form a joint university with Singapore.
In remarks to a crowd gathered at Yale’s Hall of Graduate Studies, then in remarks afterwards to the Independent, Salovey (pictured acknowledging applause) indicated that he plans to continue the path set forward by Rick Levin, who retires next spring after completing a celebrated 20-year run as the Ivy League university’s president. (Click here for a story and interview with Levin about his departure.)
It took the Yale Corporation barely two months to choose Levin’s successor, a remarkably quick turnaround in the practice of selecting university presidents. Senior Corporation Fellow Ed Bass (no relation to this reporter) claimed Thursday that the university “considered” 150 applicants in that time.
In quickly choosing Salovey rather than conducting a truly broad search, the university’s provost and a known and respected quantity on campus, Yale opted for continuity rather than change. It didn’t follow the lead of peer institutions like Harvard, Princeton, and Brown by selecting a female CEO. Yale temporarily chose a woman, Hannah Gray, to run the institution in the 1970s, but only on an interim, “acting” basis.
The presidential selection could also be seen as response to a desire in the Yale community for Levin’s successor to have a strong academic background. Salovey came to Yale in 1981 as a graduate student in psychology. He has chaired the department, served as dean of the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, and as Yale College dean and provost. He is seen as a popular and approachable figure on campus.
Salovey will become the university’s 23rd president when he takes office on June 30, 2013.
University officials made a point of reserving front-row seats at Thursday’s 2:30 p.m. announcement for New Haven Mayor John DeStefano, Board of Aldermen President Jorge Perez, and West Haven Mayor John Picard, whose city has become more involved with Yale since it opened its “west campus” there. The announcement took place inside the jam-packed common room of the McDougal Graduate Student Center.
In remarks at the event, Salovey promised to “work tirelessly” on the legacy Levin gave him, including a “model partnership with New Haven” and a shining example of labor-management cooperation.
An “Experiment” Abroad
Afterwards, he was asked about the new Yale-National University of Singapore (NUS) liberal arts college is creating in conjunction with the government of Singapore. (Click on the play arrow at the top of the story to watch his answer.) Yale has come under intense criticism among faculty and among human rights advocates for the partnership for several reasons: because of Singapore’s record of suppressing freedom of speech, because the actual terms of the deal have remained under wraps, and because initial comments from officials suggest to critics that the new university will cooperate with the government of Singapore in limiting public political criticism. (Click here to read more about that.)
Promoters of the project have called it an important next step in Yale’s emergence as a global university under Levin’s stewardship. They see Yale advancing a form of “constructive engagement” that helps emerging economies develop liberal institutions of higher learning that in turn help promote democracy.
“We’re fairly far along with Singapore at this point. I think what we need to do is embrace this as an experiment in liberal education,” Salovey said. “What can we learn from Yale-NUS that we can bring back to Yale and export around the world?”
Faculty critics in particular have pressed Yale to release details of the arrangement with Singapore. For instance: When Yale starts exporting its brand, what will the brand stand for? At first NUS graduates will receive a degree that it states comes directly from NUS, in partnership with Yale, not from Yale itself. But what happens down the line? Discussion has centered in some quarters about whether the deal includes an exit provision after, say, seven years that would allow Singapore to find a new partner if Yale won’t confer official Yale degrees on NUS graduates.
“I think we’ll want to talk more about it on another occasion,” Salovey responded when asked if the deal contains that provision. “Let me just say we are going to work closely on a partnership that pays attention to the many things that people worry about.”
Corporation Senior Fellow Bass was asked the same question at Thursday’s event.
“I really can’t talk now about details,” he said.
He was asked if Yale at some point will release details of the deal with SIngapore.
“I’m not going to talk about it,” he responded, and walked away.
“Nobody knows the answer to that question,” said a leading campus critic of the Singapore deal, philosophy and political science professor Seyla Benhabib. “The terms of the agreement have never been made public. We’ve been calling for the terms of the agreement the terms of the financial agreement to made public. The faculty is incredibly concerned about it.”
She noted that only the Yale faculty, not the Yale Corporation, can confer official Yale degrees.
Benhabib had a suggestion for how Yale’s incoming president should handle the issue.
“I would like to see a more open and honest discussion about what the exact terms are,” she said. “I’d like to see an honest and open discussion about the costs—not just in terms of money, but in terms of faculty time and focus and involvement. It is just not clear to me what it is that Yale in New Haven is getting from Yale and NUS, beyond the fact that it is preoccupying our very talented faculty.”