“Dear Peter…”

More advice from the alumni

The Yale Alumni Magazine recently conducted a survey of our Reader Panel, asking for advice for Yale’s next president. Below is a sampling of the counsel we received for Peter Salovey.

To add your own advice, scroll to the end of the article and add a comment.

In a world badly fractured by divisions of race, religion, nationality, and political affiliation and along any number of other axes, it would be an enormous gift if Yale could produce leaders capable of bringing people together, and motivated to do so. It sounds so simple, perhaps trivial to some and naive to others, but imagine the good that could come from a truly united world.
—Ralph Jahnige ’59

I would like to see Yale become known for leading in interdisciplinary applied research on what I will call “very hard socio-technical problems,” for example (just as suggestions):

  • mitigating the negative impacts climate change;
  • ending war and human-on-human violence, bringing peace to more of the world;
  • as the developed world’s population ages, figuring out how to enable people to live independent, productive lives for longer.

Yale could foster work on these problems by establishing interdisciplinary research centers or by hosting interdisciplinary conferences on these topics. I stress “interdisciplinary” because though these problems are fundamentally social and political, I think that engineers and scientists would also have ideas to contribute. As a psychologist and software designer, I have the engineer’s optimism that if enough bright minds and creative energy were put to work on these problems, much progress could be made.
— Jeff Johnson ’74PhD

Don’t try to be Rick. In my mind, Rick Levin was an outstanding president in every way. However, Peter will not succeed if he tries to be a clone of Rick. He needs to bring his own new and fresh ideas to the table.
—Hugh Scott ’71

Keep the Levin tradition going. Don’t copy the politically correct path of most other schools. Maintain the liberal arts and the Western canon. Explore the possibility of undergraduate majors in business and communications. Find additional ways to support Yale’s leadership in a cappella singing. De-emphasize winning intercollegiate sporting events and instead promote sportsmanship and broader participation in athletics. Don’t recruit student athletes by sending “likely” letters.
—Roberts W. Brokaw III ’72, ’72MA

As a history professor at a flagship research university, I want to underscore to the president Yale’s status as a model for the rest of the nation, and, of course, the world. Given this, any initiatives I hope would be pursued in as deliberate a manner as possible, calling upon whatever wisdom and expertise can be of assistance, including the wisdom provided by a study of history. Computer technology, for instance, has proven to be boon and bane. Currently many universities are keen to substitute traditional classroom teaching with online offerings, often with decidedly poor results. Merely processing students in the cheapest way possible could very well ultimately lead to a university’s eventual foundering and possible dismantling, as there will naturally be more economical ways than a traditional university to process students. Use technology only when it contributes to the strengthening of the educational program or access to it.
—Garret P. Simpson Olberding ’92

Reward professors more for teaching undergraduates. The “research is my real job” culture of the university is poison to the core mission of Yale.
—Beau Weston ’86MAR, ’88PhD

Pay more attention to the athletic department—specifically the varsity football team. Back in the late ’50s to early ’60s, partly due to the efforts of Chicago alumni, we had a football team we could be proud of. Other teams (e.g. Harvard) somehow manage to field consistently good and well-coached teams, and we continue to fall short. I’m not suggesting we need to be Alabama, but it would be nice to be competitive. And the desire and effort need to start at the top.
—John L. Hedden ’58

1. Do not overextend the Yale brand. International presence is important, but the core is in New Haven.

2. The alumni are a valuable resource in many ways, from promoting the brand to advising undergraduates to providing intergenerational continuity. I know Yale gets this, but we are not a “piggy bank.” In recent years, there has been too much emphasis on fund-raising–related events. Pay attention to the social network and the other stuff will be much easier.

Other than that, Rick did an absolutely outstanding job and we are all proud to be graduates of Yale!
—Seth David Model ’79

Emphasize teaching over research—publish or perish has been the bane of the serious academic for the last half-century. Thorough knowledge of a subject or field is far more valuable than dozens of papers no one reads. Eschew political correctness. It has stifled open discussion and challenging perspectives. Equality of opportunity is the test, NOT equality of outcomes. In my time we had both practicing Communists and (horror of horrors!) real conservatives who did not think government could or should do everything on the faculty. The dialogues and contests between them helped us to think for ourselves, to challenge orthodox beliefs (or to uphold them) and to explore new intellectual landscapes. Yale should strive to attract serious scholars, not doctrinaire ideologues, and empower them to challenge the bland intellectual conventions of today’s pablum press. You have a great challenge, sir, Yale has fallen far behind by its rigid adherence to the fashionable radicalism of the late twentieth century.
—Karl Ziebarth ’59

I want President Salovey to just continue doing things the way he has been doing them. He is tremendous in the way he has gotten to know the students, especially the athletes, and I would hope that he allows our coaches to recruit the same as their competitors at the other Ivy schools.
—Donald Scharf ’55

Don’t be so quick to send the Yale name, etc., to foreign-based Yale-related universities. American educational excellence is one of our fewer and fewer unique societal attributes. I’m not so sure that a, say, Asian “Yale” will do anyone much good in the long run.
—Robert Schechter ’70, ’74MD

Get rid of the secret societies. They have no place in a meritocratic, democratic institution. And fraternities as well if they still exist.
—Bill Felstiner ’51, ’58JD

The strongest advice I would give to you is to remember Yale’s core mission: to educate leaders for the future.

For too many, “higher education” in general has become little more than a four-year vacation from the challenges of the real world, dumbed down with remedial and impractical courses and subsidized by others, in the hopes that the credential of a degree will be a winning ticket to a brighter future without ever actually having accomplished anything.

It is all well and good for young people in their teens and early twenties to discover themselves, to take “enrichment” classes, and to partake in undergraduate sports and social activities, but the faculty and the administration have a duty to these young people to prepare them to be leaders, not simply to facilitate their self-guided discovery.

As the new titular leader of Yale University, you have no more important mission ahead of you.
—David L. Applegate ’75

I am sure that Dr. Salovey will receive much good advice on the paramount mission of Yale, its academic programs. And no doubt some will offer their thoughts on such tertiary matters as athletics, as well. But I’d like to take a moment to remind the incoming Yale president about the importance of Yale’s role in the New Haven community. Given Yale’s position in New Haven, it is vital that the university be ever-mindful of the impact of its policies on the city and surrounding area. This means more than just encouraging faculty to reside in New Haven, useful though that can be, or fostering Dwight Hall-style volunteerism, which is wonderful but only a fraction of what Yale can do. Instead, as an institution Yale must double and redouble its efforts to engage the city and its residents. It must be an agent of positive change. It must be seen in all of New Haven’s neighborhoods as a good neighbor and an ally. This requires a university-wide commitment to the city of New Haven.
—Mark Santangelo ’91

Please make the elimination of sexual harassment on campus a priority. It’s somewhat better now than five or ten years ago, but it’s not good. And Yale should be an exemplar on this, not merely OK.
—Warren Bierwirth ’73

Please encourage our juniors to study abroad. It helps Yale attract international students as well as expose our students to the world. There is still so much misunderstanding between countries and we can go a long one in changing that.
—Nancy Edwards ’88

Three thoughts:

1) You have big shoes to fill, so don’t try. You’re not hired to be the next President Levin, but the first President Salovey.

2) Don’t waste time and effort worrying about your legacy. Focusing on legacy is just another type of egotism, and positive results are at best incidental. Do what’s right, and what’s best for Yale, and the legacy will take care of itself.

3) Build a capable team, then trust them.

Good luck!
—Jeff Rubin ’82

Don’t yield to pressure to diminish the liberal arts.

Equal scholarships and financial aid to women despite the tendency to bias for football players.
—J. H. Berg ’83MPPM

The Yale School of Nursing, the first school of nursing in a university setting, celebrates 90 years next year. We are hopeful that you will participate in our celebrations. We are appreciative of your support of YSN throughout the years and hope that you will continue to support our important mission. The health of our nation and the transformation of healthcare in this country benefits each and every day from YSN alumnae/i.
—Luc R. Pelletier ’82MSN

My request would be to pay special attention to the digital world and Yale’s future standing in that world. From our web presence, to our communications, to our social networking, and on to brand strength in general, Yale—as all institutions—now exists in the virtual as well as the real world. Yale should lead, and declare its intent to be recognized globally for its embrace of digitial possibilities. Take some risks.
—Robert Massie ’70

Beat Harvard in football without sacrificing academic integrity.
—Gordon Gerson ’58

As Yale has concluded that it wishes to become a global university, it must pay careful attention to this aspiration in the selection of faculty members, administrators, and resource allocation. Coming from Spain, which is one of the ten largest economies in the world, Yale’s footprint here is extremely modest, and we don’t seem to be on New Haven’s radar screen. I wonder if other Yale Clubs around the world might echo my comments.
—Chip Levengood ’64

Diversity: in faculty, staff, students, classes, views.
—Max Saltonstall ’02

To remain excellent, it is imperative that Yale continue past president Levin’s efforts to enhance its science, technology, and mathematics domains. To compete with Harvard, Princeton, and Stanford, Yale must work diligently to close the now wide Nobel Prize gap.
—James P. Rhoads ’56

Full disclosure: I’m a proud alumnus of the Yale Lightweight Crew, and was on some good teams. And I’m now a secondary-school teacher and rowing coach. BUT: collegiate sports in this country are badly out of hand. Two recent alumni of the small school where I work, both of them good students and good athletes, went to Ivies as recruited athletes and proceeded to give up their respective sports partway through freshman year because of the coaches’ demands on their time. In the 1970s, when I was a Yale athlete, it was already a handful to train and study in the same life. Athletes give up more time now than we did then. It’s nutty and against the ostensible purpose of higher education. I think the wise university president will do everything that he or she can to dial back the prominence of intercollegiate athletics. Keep the sports, but recruit less; forbid twice-a-day training, except during vacations; and treat athletics more as a worthy and inspiring amusement than as a calling.
—Howard Runyon ’79

Re-build a core curriculum of required courses (history, economics, political science, etc.) to insure that every Yale graduate is at least moderately well educated. Shake off the shackles of PC-think that have befogged the university for so long. Defrock the bogus centers of learning, e.g., gender studies and race studies. Restore basic standards of decency and morality to the campus by, e.g., eliminating mixed-gender housing and cracking down on under-age drinking.
—Michael W. Steinberg ’74

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