Yale University President Richard C. Levin today announced that he will step down at the end of the current academic year, after 20 years of service. He has served his institution longer than any other president currently in the Ivy League or the 61-member Association of American Universities.
Levin had a clear vision and set of objectives for Yale when he became President in 1993, and they have been realized. In his two transformational decades, Levin has:
advanced Yale’s schools and academic programs and, particularly, strengthening science, engineering, and medicine at Yale,
transformed Yale’s physical campus with the largest building and renovation program since the 1930s,
built partnerships with the City of New Haven to create a new model for how universities can be leading citizens for their host communities, and
re-envisioned what it means to be a university in a globalized world, and then expanded Yale’s international activities accordingly.
In later years, Levin also introduced major initiatives in the areas of sustainability and the arts, with comparable success and impact. He also spearheaded a dramatic expansion of Yale’s financial aid programs to ensure accessibility to Yale for students regardless of their family’s financial circumstances. One of Levin’s earliest priorities was to transform Yale’s historically difficult relationship with its labor unions. His tenure has seen a change in this relationship from contentious to collaborative, with a mutual commitment to job creation and workplace best practices.
Gerhard Casper, President of Stanford from 1992 to 2000 and a former Yale trustee, explained, “A university president is the leading fiduciary for his or her institution who must maintain what is excellent and, simultaneously, be a change agent. Rick Levin has been unsurpassed in both respects.”
Advancing the excellence of Yale’s academic programs
Under Levin’s stewardship, Yale has maintained its preeminence in scholarship across the arts and sciences. Engineering has experienced a renaissance, with Yale assuming a leadership position in emerging fields such as biomedical and environmental engineering. Many professional schools — notably Law, Art, Drama, and Forestry & Environmental Studies — have maintained their best-in-class status, while others — notably Architecture, Divinity, Music, and Nursing — have moved to the top ranks. Entirely new areas of study have been developed where Yale is now recognized as a national leader, including new programs in Biomedical Engineering, Cognitive Science, Computing and the Arts, and Ethnicity, Race, and Migration and a dramatically expanded program in South Asian Studies.
Strengthening science, engineering, and medicine at Yale
Yale is now widely acknowledged as one of the nation’s leading centers for biological and biomedical research. Yale’s School of Medicine is recognized as a research powerhouse. Five new laboratory buildings have been constructed during Levin’s tenure, and over 800 science, mathematics, and engineering laboratories are now active on the campus. Earlier this week, the School of Engineering & Applied Science opened its Center for Engineering Innovation and Design, which will promote collaborative technology development among students from a wide range of disciplines.
In 2007, Levin and his senior team were able to take advantage of an unprecedented opportunity to expand greatly the physical resources available to science at Yale by purchasing Bayer’s 136-acre research campus in West Haven, Connecticut, just seven miles from Yale’s downtown campus. Six research institutes have been established on West Campus, as well as a major core facility in genomics, where Yale has become a world leader in the use of whole genome sequencing for medical diagnosis and intervention. Yale’s West Campus is also the home of the interdisciplinary Institute for the Preservation of Cultural Heritage, established in 2011, which will unite the vast resources of the University's museum and library collections with the scientific and technological expertise of Yale's academic departments to advance conservation science and its practice around the world.
The 2009 opening of the Smilow Cancer Hospital — a state-of-the-art care facility affiliated with the Yale Cancer Center and Yale-New Haven Hospital — has positioned Yale to be one of the country’s major centers for oncology research and personalized cancer treatment, drawing on the expertise of Yale researchers.
Current trustee Indra Nooyi, who is Chairman and CEO of Pepsico, commented, “Rick Levin is simply one of the world’s great leaders. He has been transformational in envisioning how a university should be a leading citizen in its home community, and he has boldly staked out how the leading universities should become global institutions. His example has been a guide for how universities around the world can have a much greater impact.”
Working in constructive partnership with the City of New Haven
Levin believed that universities in general and Yale in particular should set a new standard for engagement and partnership with their host communities. As a long-term and committed citizen of Yale’s host city, Levin moved quickly to have Yale model institutional citizenship. Beginning in the first year of his presidency, Levin initiated partnerships with neighborhood associations and other organizations throughout the city, encouraged each of the University’s schools and major programs to develop outreach programs, started a still-thriving Public Service Fellowship that places Yale students in internships with the city government and non-profit organizations, and launched the New Haven Homebuyer Program, which subsidizes home purchases throughout New Haven by Yale faculty and staff. In less than two years, the Homebuyer Program arrested the decline of home prices and lowered vacancy rates in New Haven’s middle-class neighborhoods, so that the subsidy was eliminated in these neighborhoods and focused instead on stabilizing lower-income neighborhoods near the campus. Over the past two decades, more than 1,000 faculty and staff have purchased homes; more than three-quarters have been first-time homebuyers, and approximately half have been members of minority groups.
In the mid-1990s, at the invitation of New Haven Mayor John DeStefano, Yale bid successfully on the purchase of a substantial number of key downtown properties that had been held in receivership by the FDIC. This began a period of dramatic investment by Yale that has transformed downtown New Haven. Today, downtown New Haven is a thriving hub of restaurants and both local and national retail businesses, attracting thousands of visitors annually. Yale was also instrumental in securing for New Haven a professional tennis tournament and launching the International Festival of Arts and Ideas. In 2010, in support of DeStefano’s School Change Program, Yale committed to the New Haven Promise program, funding college scholarships for all New Haven high school graduates earning a B average, completing 40 hours of public service during high school, and maintaining 90% attendance.
Expanding Yale’s engagement with the world
Perhaps Levin’s most distinctive contribution has been his leadership role in the internationalization of higher education. Convinced that a 21st-century education requires students to develop the capacity for cross-cultural understanding, Levin greatly expanded the presence of international students enrolled in Yale College. This development, begun in the mid-1990s, was accelerated in 1999 when Yale announced that it would practice need-blind admission of foreign students and award those students financial aid on the same terms it offered American citizens. A few years later, Levin initiated a dramatic expansion of the number of overseas opportunities offered to undergraduates. Yale College was the first of its peers to guarantee an international work or study opportunity to all students, and the first to enable any student on a need-based scholarship to go abroad with financial support.
International and area studies programs have expanded greatly, with dozens of new faculty positions created. The MacMillan Center for International and Area Studies has grown dramatically in the last two decades, and now serves as a thriving hub for international and global research. In 2010, Yale launched the Jackson Institute for Global Affairs, to sponsor teaching programs on contemporary global issues for undergraduates and for graduate and professional student — creating a new major in Global Affairs, and providing a new home for Yale’s master’s program in International Relations.
Yale’s India Initiative has allowed the University to become recognized as one of the world’s leading centers for the study of South Asia, a position Yale has long enjoyed with respect to East Asian studies. The Yale World Fellows Program has become one of the most coveted educational opportunities for rising young leaders in countries around the world, with over 3,000 applicants each year for 15 fellowships.
Over the past decade, Yale has established scores of research and teaching partnerships with institutions abroad, including large research operations in China; new clinical partnerships from Argentina to Uganda; and the Yale-University College London Collaborative that brings together researchers from both institutions in such fields as cardiovascular medicine, engineering, and oncology to achieve results neither could obtain independently. The Yale School of Management has joined with 21 business schools around the world to establish the Global Network for Advanced Management.
In addition there are policy collaborations such as the Global Health Leadership Institute, which operates in five African countries and elsewhere around the globe; and the China Law Center, which has made major contributions to legal reform and legal education in China. Levin has personally led initiatives to provide leadership education for the heads of universities in China and India and senior government officials from China, India, Japan, and Mexico, among other countries.
Lastly, in 2013 Yale’s innovative educational partnership with the National University of Singapore will introduce a new model of liberal arts education for a global audience when Yale-NUS College opens its doors. Yale-NUS College is a bold teaching and learning initiative that will introduce a rigorous, highly original liberal arts curriculum and pedagogy in Asia. Already, 40 newly hired faculty members have been working closely with Yale and NUS faculty to develop courses and experiences that will give students a contemporary, cross-cultural perspective within the context of the liberal arts tradition.
Levin has been a mentor for university presidents around the world as they have envisioned their own pathways to internationalization. Since its inception, he has been the Chair of the Global University Leaders Forum, and he was one of the founding presidents of the International Alliance of Research Universities.
John Pepper, the former Senior Fellow of the Yale Corporation who served as Chairman and CEO of Procter & Gamble and came back to the University after his retirement to work for Levin, observes, “The remarkable vision that Rick Levin brought to his presidency, his ability to make the right strategic choices, and his capacity to inspire broad consensus on worthwhile goals have brought the University’s impact and contribution to an extraordinary level. It was impossible to imagine in 1993 that so many advances on so many fronts would have been forthcoming, and I don’t believe they would have been made without Rick’s leadership.”
Renewing Yale’s campus
Levin also spearheaded rebuilding Yale’s physical assets, overseeing the most comprehensive renovation and expansion of Yale’s campus since the construction of its residential colleges in the 1930s. Seventy percent of the campus has been either significantly or comprehensively renovated, and the campus has grown by 53% from 11.2 million to 17.1 million square feet.
Early in his tenure Levin formed planning groups involving faculty and staff for the physical renewal of their particular areas of the campus. Since that time, Yale has invested more than $5 billion in renovation and new construction. All 12 of Yale’s residential colleges housing undergraduates have been comprehensively renovated. Prominent new buildings include Cesar Pelli’s Malone Center for Engineering, Robert Venturi’s Anlyan Center for Medical Research, Charles Gwathmey’s Loria Center for the History of Art, and Michael Hopkins’ Kroon Hall, housing the School of Forestry & Environmental Studies. A dramatic new facility to house the Yale School of Management, designed by Norman Foster, is under construction.
Much of the renewal of campus facilities during Levin’s tenure involved the restoration of some of the most architecturally distinctive buildings on campus, including Paul Rudolph’s Art and Architecture Building, Louis Kahn’s Yale University Art Gallery and Egerton Swartwout’s Gallery of Fine Arts building, and Eero Saarinen’s Ingalls Rink.
Levin also has been widely acknowledged as a leader in the area of sustainability. In 2005, he committed Yale to a 43% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2020, and, despite a significant expansion in Yale’s physical footprint since 2005, the effort remains on track. Levin successfully encouraged all of the other Ivy League schools to follow with their own commitments to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and he took the effort overseas by eliciting commitments from most of the universities participating in the Global University Leaders Forum. Levin was also instrumental in the founding of the ClimateWorks Foundation and its network of regional foundations and best-practice organizations. ClimateWorks, which has received over $1 billion in funding, works globally in support of efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
One of Yale’s most distinctive assets is its four professional schools of the arts (Art, Architecture, Drama, and Music) and its two world-class art museums (the Yale University Art Gallery and the Yale Center for British Art). Working with the arts deans and museum directors, Levin implemented a comprehensive plan for the renewal of these programs and their facilities, which has been nearly completed. When the expanded Yale University Art Gallery fully re-opens in December 2012, it will set a new global standard for teaching museums. The vibrant programs at these four schools and two museums have also helped downtown New Haven become a significant cultural destination.
Dramatic expansion of Yale’s financial aid initiatives
One of Levin’s driving passions has been ensuring that the most outstanding students have access to a Yale education, regardless of their financial situation. In Yale College, families whose annual income is below $65,000 do not have to make any financial contribution to their child’s college education. Levin's initiative to end binding early admission, allowing all early applicants in need of financial aid to apply to other schools and compare aid offers, was hailed as a bold move.
Doctoral students in Yale’s Graduate School of Arts & Sciences now pay no tuition and receive an annual living allowance of at least $27,300. The financial aid program at the School of Music supports 100% of those students’ tuition costs. All of Yale’s professional schools have had their financial aid budgets increased substantially during Levin’s tenure.
Exceptional fundraising and financial stewardship
To fuel these initiatives, Levin has proven himself an exceptional fundraiser. Over the past 19 years, he has led the effort to secure over $7 billion in gifts to Yale, including the $3.89 billion that was raised in the Yale Tomorrow campaign from July 1, 2004 through June 30, 2011.
Over the last 20 years, the performance of Yale's endowment has been the best of its peers, thanks to the remarkable investment management of David Swensen and his team. The endowment stood at stood at $3.2 billion when Levin took office and now stands at $19.4 billion.
Linda Lorimer, who was a trustee member of the Presidential Search Committee that selected Levin in 1993 and who was the first administrator he recruited for his leadership team, said, “Rick has been an inspirational leader and mentor for all of us fortunate to work with him. My fellow Officers and I have benefitted immeasurably from his vision, his wisdom, his support, and his friendship. ”
An eye for talent
Levin’s ability to attract and develop exceptional leaders has been widely noted. His last three provosts were recruited, respectively, to the presidency of MIT and vice chancellorships at Oxford and at Cambridge. Other senior Yale administrators during Levin’s tenure have become the presidents of Duke, Carnegie-Mellon, Wellesley, and Swarthmore. His deliberative but engaging leadership style has guided Yale through a number of institutional challenges; his fiscal acumen, guided by his economics training, has placed the University on exceptionally sound financial footing; and his deep understanding of the academic enterprise — within a changing economic, technological, and cultural environment — has set Yale on a path that both honors tradition and embraces new opportunity.
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The motivation for all of these programs and initiatives has been the President’s dedication and deep devotion to Yale University, and its faculty, students, staff, and alumni. As he has made clear in both his actions and his writings, he is an ardent supporter of the essential roles that the research university and the liberal arts model of education play in creating, sustaining, and advancing society. Levin recognized that Yale University, with its deep service traditions and broad institutional resources and reputation, must continue to demonstrate, through its priorities and commitments, the positive force that the modern university can be in the world. His presidency has been guided and formed by that belief.
In an era when university presidents have been criticized as not being spokespersons for public issues of consequence, Levin has been an important voice in national debates on public support for science and technology, on immigration reform, on the international engagement of the United States, and on greater access to higher education through financial aid. The changes in patent law enacted in the 2011 America Invents Act are based on the recommendations made by a committee of the National Academy of Sciences that he chaired from 2000 to 2004. And just as he regularly has encouraged Yale students and graduates to participate actively as citizens, he has done the same: He currently serves on President Obama’s Council of Advisors on Science & Technology, and in 2004 he was appointed by then-President George W. Bush to the Commission on the Intelligence Capabilities of the United States Regarding Weapons of Mass Destruction.
Throughout the last 20 years, Levin’s family has been his anchor and support. His wife, Jane, who was his undergraduate classmate at Stanford, has been for the last 14 years the Director of Yale’s Directed Studies Program for freshmen and has been a major partner and contributor to his presidency. Committed New Haveners, the Levins remained in their family home in the East Rock section of New Haven instead of moving into the Yale President’s House because they wanted to stay a part of their neighborhood. The Levins’ four children and seven grandchildren are sources of great pride and joy.
Once Levin steps down at the conclusion of the 2012-2013 academic year, he plans to take a year’s sabbatical leave. During his sabbatical, he hopes to write a book reflecting on both higher education and economic policy.
Levin ’74 Ph.D. is the Frederick William Beinecke Professor of Economics.