Both tradition and innovation mark the inauguration of President Peter Salovey

Calling students its “greatest treasure,” President Peter Salovey described Yale in his Inauguration Address as “a research university that proudly and unapologetically focuses on our students. That is who we are and what we aspire to be.”

Calling students its “greatest treasure,” President Peter Salovey described Yale in his Inauguration Address as “a research university that proudly and unapologetically focuses on our students. That is who we are and what we aspire to be.”

In his speech before a packed Woolsey Hall on Oct. 13, the new president also outlined his goals to explore pioneering teaching technologies; to make a Yale education accessible to more students; to forge even stronger town-gown ties; and to develop a more global and more unified university. Read the full text of his speech.

A meeting of processions

The series of rituals marking the induction of Salovey as Yale’s 23rd president began when two processions set out across campus. One, headed by Salovey, came from the Law School and included Yale faculty and delegates from educational institutions around the globe. Banners, music, and the ringing of bells heralded its approach. The second — headed by Margaret H. Marshall, senior fellow of the Yale Corporation — came from Woodbridge Hall, home of the President’s Office. These marchers were current and former fellows and officers, including Yale’s 22nd president, Richard C. Levin.

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When the two groups met on Old Campus, Salovey joined Marshall at the head of the Woodbridge Hall procession, symbolically marking his transfer from the faculty to the administration.

Delegates from far and very near

The merged processions then entered Woolsey Hall, with the delegates from other educational colleges and universities marching in order of their institution’s founding. Heading the line were six institutions older than Yale: The University of Oxford (1096), Université de Paris II–Panthéon-Assas (1200), University of Cambridge (1209), University of Copenhagen (1479), Harvard University (1636), and College of William & Mary (1693).

Representing Oxford and Cambridge were Andrew Hamilton and Alison Richard, respectively; both were serving as Yale provosts when they were tapped to become head of their respective institutions. Two other individuals who left the Yale provost’s post to head another institution were also on hand: Susan Hockfield, former president of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and Judith Rodin, former president of the University of Pennsylvania, who was representing the Rockefeller Foundation, where she is now president. The previous day Richard, Rodin, and Hockfield had joined Hanna Holborn Gray, former provost and interim Yale president 1977–1978, at a seminar on university leadership.

The parading dignitaries also included Yale staff member Molly Simpson, who had been asked by the president of Warren Wilson College (1894) to represent her alma mater at the ceremony. “It was a great feeling to be walking down the middle of Elm and then College streets, in this long line of regal-looking, robed people,” she recalls. “As we reached Woolsey Hall, I looked back to see that the procession extended the full two blocks back to Elm. Spectators were all smiling and snapping pictures. There was a large group on one College Street lawn wearing Salovey moustaches — a big hit with those ‘in the know.’” 

As the dignitaries took their seats to the booming notes of Woolsey’s Newberry Organ, there were myriad styles of academic costume on view: robes, hoods, and headgear of varied shapes and (sometimes vibrant) colors. One delegate’s gown had golden chains draped across the shoulders; another wore a mushroom-shaped cap, the “stem” circled with strips of fluttering white fabric.

Links to history

After Marshall welcomed the assembled, Yale Chaplain Sharon Kugler offered an invocation,calling upon “our god of all names, our source of truth” to bless the new president: “May his visions and hopes reveal themselves as a courageous response to your longing for a healed world.  Bestow upon him a wisdom that endures, an energy that renews and a sense of justice that is reflective and steadfast.” Read the full text of the Invocation.

Salovey was seated onstage in the red-cushioned chair that once belonged to Yale’s first chief officer, rector Abraham Pierson (1701-1707). Although it’s unclear exactly when the custom began, Pierson’s chair has been used at Yale inauguration ceremonies for centuries as a tangible link to the university’s founders.

Another long-standing inauguration custom is the presentation of symbols of office to the new president: the 1701 charter establishing the collegiate school that would later become Yale; the university seal, which dates back to 1722; and four keys  — to Connecticut Hall (the oldest building on campus), Dwight Chapel, the Harkness Tower gateway, and Sterling Memorial Library (signifying that Yale was founded with a gift of books).

Salovey also for the first time donned the President’s Collar, which he will wear henceforth at important events both on and off campus. Marshall placed the collar over Salovey’s shoulders, while it was fastened in back by Kimberly Goff-Crews, university secretary and vice president for student life.

Inaugural firsts

While traditional in many ways, Salovey’s inauguration also featured some new components. Thanks to new technologies, for example, individuals and Yale alumni clubs throughout the world could watch a livestream of the ceremony on the Yale YouTube channel. The online audience were also treated to pre-ceremony videos, including “A new robe for a new president” and “ ‘Presidential and personable’: Some perspectives on Peter Salovey.”

Two of Salovey’s presidential peers — Drew Gilpin Faust of Harvard and Tan Chorh Chuan of the National University of Singapore (NUS) — also offered him their congratulations on behalf of the assembled members of the Academy.

“I come to you from the humble place of learning that more than three centuries ago educated several of the enterprising young men who helped found Yale,” said the Harvard president, drawing laughter from the audience. The laughter became even louder when Faust added mischievously: “Yale and Harvard have long shared a sort of sibling rivalry, equal parts spirited competition and mutual admiration. Today is no day to talk about the rivalry — no time to mention, even in passing, that our recent encounters on the football field have ended with the Old Blue feeling just that.”

Noting that the late Yale president A. Bartlett Giamatti once said, “Being president of a university is no way for an adult to make a living,” Faust said: “For the enticing adventures that await him, it’s hard to imagine someone better prepared than Yale’s new president. … May President Salovey enjoy a tenure inspired by the music of discovery, informed by the wisdom of the ages, and infused with the satisfaction of advancing Yale’s highest ideals.”

Tan Chorh Chuan told the assembled that, hearing that Salovey played bluegrass music, he had to look up the term and find an example of the genre on YouTube. “I discovered it was a form of country music which draws from many traditions — Appalachian, Irish, Welsh, Scottish, English, and jazz. Thus, it is distinctly American and international, just like Peter and this institution,” he said.

The NUS president also offered Salovey congratulations on behalf of his fellow educators “in the full confidence that he “will lead Yale wisely and with great energy and success to pursue truth and light to the benefit of Yale, New Haven, the United States, and the world.”

Yet another new component to the inaugural service was a “Poem for the Day” by Yale professor Elizabeth Alexander. She chose to read her work “Allegiance,” about Prudence Crandall, who established a controversial school for African-American girls in the 1830s. The poem contained the line: “Learning is the one perfect religion.”

“Our Educational Mission”

Salovey began his Inauguration Address, titled “Our Educational Mission,” by declaring: “With great joy, excitement, and hope, I accept the leadership of this university.”

He noted that many of his former teachers and mentors were present in Woolsey — most notably Richard Levin “who led the rebuilding of our campus, extended its reach to all corners of the globe, and simultaneously strengthened the collaboration with our host city.”

“The present moment of transition arrives at a time of uncertainty for all our country’s colleges and universities, including Yale,” said Salovey, adding: “It is a sorrow to those of us who believe so deeply in it that some in our country can neither see nor accept the transformative power of a liberal education — how it teaches critical thinking, instills the joy of learning for learning’s own sake, exposes students to cultural and artistic experiences, transforms an individual’s identity, nurtures aspirations to give back, and enriches life.”

As Yale’s president, Salovey said, he will “support, expand, and celebrate basic and problem-driven research in the fields of today, and those of tomorrow” while maintaining a focus on Yale’s teaching mission. “Professor Jim Rothman, who was awarded the Nobel Prize earlier this week, embodies this identity and aspiration,” the new president said. “On Monday, [Rothman] departed swiftly from the press conference, where he was extolled for his groundbreaking work unlocking the secrets of cells, to teach two seminars. A future Nobel laureate may have been sitting in a classroom with him that very afternoon.”

“As we move forward,” he continued, “Yale must remain an institution of world-renowned research and scholarship, and of uplifting arts; of inspiring galleries, museums, and library collections. But above all, Yale University should always be celebrated for our commitment to teaching at every level, in every classroom — in our undergraduate college, in graduate education, and in each of our professional schools. We have found our distinct place in the great constellation of excellence, and we should embrace it.”

Among the other goals that Salovey set forth in his address were:

Embracing a revolution in teaching and learning: Salovey noted that throughout its history, “Yale has been at the forefront of educational innovation. … [J]ust as the composition of our faculty and the diversity of our student body have changed, our approach to teaching must continue to evolve as well. Yale must be exemplary, distinctive, and forward-looking.”

Expanding access to a Yale College education: “Our college is among the smallest of our peer schools,” said Salovey, “and I believe we must expand access to undergraduate education by building two new residential colleges. … We are turning away brilliant, hard-working, and committed applicants who would invigorate our campus and improve our world through lives of leadership and service.”

Strengthening the town-gown partnership: “Our city and university are forever coupled; our destiny is shared,” said Salovey, adding that, “Yale’s collaboration with our host city in the last 20 years is an innovative model that has inspired other urban colleges and universities.” He called for New Haven and Yale to bolster the local economy “by putting our innovative, entrepreneurial inclinations to work,” pointing as a model to the existing “new businesses, technology, public policy ideas, and services imagined by Yale faculty, staff, and students, and pursued collaboratively with partners here in New Haven and throughout our state.”

Developing both a global and more unified university: Salovey pointed out than 900 faculty members are pursuing research and scholarship overseas, Yale-NUS College is “providing opportunities to develop novel approaches to liberal education in an international context,” and there is a growing number of international students on campus. “We have created the foundation for Yale as a truly global university,” he said.

Noting that 11 of the world’s fastest growing economies are in Africa, Salovey said, “This is the moment to bring scholarship and teaching about Africa at Yale into sharper focus.

“Working collaboratively, we can foster new directions in research on Africa, identify new partnerships with those on the continent, and strengthen our recruitment efforts, all while emphasizing teaching and learning. … A greater focus on Africa is just one example of how we aspire to unite research with teaching and learning …,” said Salovey.

He added: “Our task — even while we grow in size, even while we commit to being a more diverse faculty, staff, and student body; more cross-disciplinary; and more global — is to retain Yale’s focus on the ties that bind us together, the sense of being a small, interdependent community, but one with an impressively broad scope. This intimacy and shared sense of purpose is what generates Yale’s distinctive spirit. It also allows us to aspire to make the university even more unified.”

Spreading his arms out to the audience, Salovey concluded by saying, “I wish each of you could stand here and take in the incredible view from this podium. I see all of you — Yale faculty, alumni, parents, staff, students, and friends — and I feel grateful and privileged to have such partners charting the future with me. …

“You have bestowed on me the greatest honor that a Yale faculty member and alumnus could possibly receive: the opportunity to serve as the university’s president. I cherish this trust, and I acknowledge my need for your help to fill my years as president with urim v’thummim, lux et veritas, light and truth.”

Following the ceremony, the new president walked with his wife, Marta Elisa Moret, and colleagues to Hillhouse Avenue, which had been blocked off to traffic and where hundreds of Yale faculty, staff, students, and friends had already gathered to enjoy an afternoon of food, music, and fun.

A musical celebration of the sights and sounds of the Hillhouse Avenue block party — part of the activities surrounding the inauguration of Peter Salovey as Yale's 23rd president. (Produced by Patrick Lynch)
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