‘We’re in this together,’ President-elect Salovey tells staff

Just days after the School of Engineering & Applied Science (SEAS) opened its Center for Innovation and Design in Becton Center, which allows passers-by to watch as Yale’s engineering students work on their projects, School of Art Dean Robert Storr and SEAS Dean T. Kyle Vanderlick had a conversation about how the students in their two schools might merge their creative talents and interests at the center.

This is just one example of the kind of collaborative spirit that President-elect Peter Salovey hopes will define the Yale community in the years ahead, he told a full audience in Battell Chapel at a Jan. 29 Town Hall — his first since being named Yale’s next president.

Such “transcending of traditional boundaries,” Salovey noted, is something that makes the University — with its relatively small geographical size and its diversity of academic talents — unique.

At the Town Hall gathering, Salovey echoed the four themes he outlined at the announcement of his appointment as the University’s 23rd president last November: inviting audience members to join him in the common mission of creating “a more unified Yale, a more innovative Yale, a more accessible Yale, and a more excellent Yale.”

“Your work is critical to what we do,” Salovey told the staff members. “Every one of you works in service to Yale’s mission of teaching and research.” He also acknowledged the “incredible service” of Yale staff members, adding, “I don’t think we pause enough to celebrate it, and I think we should.”

Salovey noted that in his long experience at Yale — first as a graduate student and later as a department chair, Yale College dean, and provost — he has relied equally on the support of staff members, faculty, and students. He told his audience that he believed the lines between those groups should be less distinct.

“A more unified Yale moves beyond academic activities to a more unified community of people who work here,” he commented, noting that closer working relationships and increased interaction between faculty, staff members, and students would benefit all of those groups. Furthermore, he said, he is interested in ways to diminish current boundaries between specific units, departments, and divisions, saying, “We talk too much about the main campus and Science Hill, or the medical school. We need a more interconnected Yale.”

He called upon staff members to think creatively and innovatively even as they conduct routine duties, adding, “I think innovation is part of our DNA. Yale has an entrepreneurial spirit.” He cited the University’s efforts to promote interactive learning in all introductory science courses and the new Yale-National University of Singapore as just two examples of innovation, calling the latter initiative an “experiment” that would not only meld Eastern and Western academic traditions but could also help “to improve what we do in New Haven and improve education around the world.”

Salovey touted the University’s generous financial aid policies and its Open Yale Courses for making Yale accessible, adding that he believes even more can be done to share the University’s rich resources with the wider community.

“Imagine if you could go to a website and take a tour of the Yale University Art Gallery with curators talking to you,” he said, noting that separate interactive tours could be designed for adults and children.

The President-elect said he also envisions the University becoming more accessible to New Haven citizens and “those who want to work here.”

To create a “more excellent Yale,” Salovey commented, means “We can’t be complacent.” He cited an ambition to raise the University’s science and engineering programs to the level of its renowned humanities and arts programs, and said he also hopes to heighten the work experience of Yale staff members.

“I want Yale to be more than just a job for you,” he told staff members. “I want it to be a career path. I want Yale to be a place where your excellence is developed and rewarded.”

Salovey told his audience that staff members offered more than 20,000 discrete comments about their work experience during the University’s recent workplace survey, and said that they reveal a shared ambition among staff members for a more unified Yale.

Salovey enlivened his Town Hall address with anecdotes drawn from his more than 30 years on campus. He opened his talk with a humorous tale about how he was called into the Yale College Dean’s Office and told that his 1992 “Psychology and the Law” class — which attracted more than 1,000 students to Battell Chapel — better not turn into a circus. While Salovey was relaying that admonition to his class and had just uttered the word “circus,” an organist in the chapel began playing a circus tune, he recalled. In another class there, four students ran naked down the aisle, he said.

“After those humiliations, it’s great to be in the position I am now,” Salovey quipped. “I won’t say ‘vindicated,’ but that word crosses my mind.”

Salovey said that he is interested in hearing the thoughts and suggestions of all members of the Yale community and that a new President-elect website will be launched that will allow people to write to him, either openly or anonymously.

Watch Salovey's Town Hall meeting: