I had been at Yale a grand total of seven days when an email landed in my inbox from Richard Levin. Since the email came in at nine in the morning, I was probably still asleep. I recognized the name Richard Levin, if faintly. I knew he’d been the guy in the beginning of Camp Yale who, during his welcome remarks at Woolsey, had welcomed me and my parents into “the Yale family!”
In the email, Levin announced that he would be stepping down at the end of this academic year, and I thought it was pretty cool that the president was leaving. I thought it was cool that he was leaving because I was going to be here at Yale for the transition, and maybe that would be interesting to see. As a new kid on the block, I had some critical distance from the situation, and I wanted to see how the exercise of choosing a new head would play out. Maybe there would be some dramatic episodes during the selection process or after a controversial pick.
Ultimately, not really. The Yale Corporation decided to tap Peter Salovey, an insider whom evidently everyone loves, to replace Levin. He seems super qualified and super smart, but I thought they were going to hire Hillary Clinton! Come on! It’s Hillary!
Levin, I’ve learned, was a highly successful president, and proved to be a startlingly effective turnaround artist—not that Yale necessarily had to be turned around, but perhaps set back on track. Apparently, the university was not in the best shape before he took over. “Most colleges and universities, even the big, powerful and well-endowed ones like Yale,” wrote the New York Times in 1991, two years before Levin took over, “are being forced by budget problems to concede that they can no longer be all things to all people, their unspoken goal for decades.” Forget that. Levin restored Yale’s financial stability, greatly improved its facilities, and, according to a Nov. 8 article in the Times, “raised its academic standing.”
Given that Peter Salovey plays double bass in a band called the Professors of Bluegrass, I’m inclined to believe that he’s just as awesome as everyone says. But my feelings on the presidential transition have mostly consisted of indifference. To me, the president is this vague administrator perched atop a tall totem pole of officials. I hang out with my FroCo, but I have yet to speak to my college’s master. Sometimes my college dean sits down to dinner with my friends and me, but the president of the university is operating about 10 rungs above my pay grade, and I don’t really foresee us ever interacting. And let me be clear: that’s totally fine with me. There is a whole network of helpful administrators administrating on issues pertinent to my life, and so far, I have found that I have good access to them.
I wasn’t disappointed with the decision to go with Salovey. In fact, this is probably the perfect thing for Yale right now—a steady presence at the helm guiding the university as it encounters a host of new issues. All I’d say is that by selecting Salovey, the Yale Corporation essentially said they wanted more of the same. And that’s also totally fine with me. Levin seems to have left things in good shape, and I’m confident Salovey will keep it that way.
Even if it had been Hillary, which would have excited me initially, I still don’t think I would have stayed interested in the selection process. The president is just too distant from me, his decisions too far removed. Peter Salovey can do his thing, and I’ll do mine.