Lorimer to retire as Yale vice president in the spring

Linda Koch Lorimer, Yale’s vice president for global and strategic initiatives, is retiring from that position in April 2015, President Peter Salovey has announced.

Lorimer, who has given “29 years of extraordinary service to Yale,” first from 1978 to 1987, and again since 1994, will continue as a senior counselor to the president on a part-time basis through December 2016, helping with special projects and providing the strategic leadership of Yale’s growing online education activities. She will continue to oversee the Office of Digital Dissemination and Online Education.

“It is almost impossible to capture the breadth and depth of Linda’s contribution to the life of this institution,” Salovey said in his announcement to the Yale community. “As a vice president, Linda has guided an amazingly diverse set of departments — from the Office of International Affairs to campus security, public affairs, the Yale Press, and the AYA; and she leaves every unit stronger. As secretary to the Yale Corporation for 18 years, she worked with the trustees to introduce substantial improvements to Yale’s governance.”

Lorimer told YaleNews, “When arriving at Yale 40 years ago, I could not have imagined how this wonderful place would become so much of my life — and shape it. I have been given a remarkable set of opportunities. … Most importantly, there has been the chance to serve — and serve a place that truly matters. 

Enthusiastically called Yale’s “utility infielder” by A. Bartlett Giamatti during his Yale presidency, Lorimer has come to play more positions over time for the university, on the field and behind the scenes, than nearly any other Yale leader in modern times. Her impact can be found as an architect of Yale’s revitalized engagement with its hometown, New Haven; in the scale of global programs; the scope of sustainability initiatives; the reach of digital dissemination projects; the re-envisioning of diverse sets of key university priorities such as alumni relations, campus security, and religious life; and in the fine-grained details of matters from campus signage to the design and location of the visitor center, and much more.

“A visionary and an implementer”

Current and past university leaders, upon learning of her plans to retire from full-time service, expressed admiration for Lorimer’s talents and gratitude for her leadership. “Linda is a leader who is simultaneously a visionary and an implementer,” according to Margaret H. Marshall, the retired chief justice of the Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts and the senior fellow of the Yale Corporation. “She has the rare combination of being equally and highly skilled both at laying out strategic frameworks and in executing their details.”

“The major projects Linda led — establishing Yale’s partnership in the development of New Haven and internationalizing the university — were, like the aircraft carrier her father commanded, large and complex,” said President Emeritus Richard C. Levin. “Without the power of command and control, and using instead brilliant strategy, diplomacy, charisma, and attention to detail, she mobilized hundreds of faculty, staff, and students and inspired them, in their myriad independent ways, to advance these common objectives. The results are that Yale became and remains the paradigm nationally for both local and global engagement.” 

Linda K. Lorimer ’77 J.D.

Provost Benjamin Polak reflected, “Before I became provost, I knew she was very, very good, but I had no idea: She is simply amazing. The first time I saw her in a meeting, I was in awe. I am still in awe. She has extraordinary peripheral vision. Some people can see round corners. Linda can see though a labyrinth. Her dedication to Yale is legendary. Her energy is infectious. And her wisdom is irreplaceable, which is why I am hoping that she will still continue to advise and mentor me for many years to come.”

From Virginia to New Haven, two times

The only woman both to be elected a trustee of Yale and to serve as an officer of the university, Lorimer first came to Yale in the Yale Law School in 1974, following her graduation from Hollins College in Roanoke, Virginia. In law school, her studies focused on higher education, civil rights, and nonprofit law, presaging a professional career in universities and related service in national and global higher education associations.

After earning her J.D. from Yale in 1977, she worked as an associate for Davis Polk & Wardwell in New York City for a year, but was soon recruited back to campus by José Cabranes, currently a Judge of the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit, who was then serving Giamatti as Yale’s first legal adviser to the president.

Cabranes knows Lorimer’s work not only as her supervisor then, but also as a successor trustee of the university from 1987 to 1999 and as an ongoing close observer of Yale. “I can say without a shadow of a doubt,” he says, “that Linda Lorimer is unique — as a university administrator she has no equal. Whatever the problem or challenge may be, Linda gets the job done and always with the best interests of the university front and center. She gets things done quickly, she gets things done well, and done with Yale spirit and elegance. And, when grit and courage are required, during crises of every kind, she has both in full measure.”

After five years in the general counsel’s office, Lorimer was named an associate provost in 1983, the youngest person in Yale’s history to serve in that role. Her primary responsibilities in the Provost’s Office were for Yale’s schools of the fine and performing arts, the art museums, and numerous academic departments. In 1984, she also served as acting chief of human resources and worked to create Yale’s first professional human resources office.

In 2008, Lorimer was awarded a Yale Medal, the highest honor given by the Yale Alumni Association (AYA). She is pictured here with Ellen McGinnis ’82, then chair of the AYA, and President Richard C. Levin.

In 1987, Lorimer was called to be the president of Randolph-Macon Woman’s College in Lynchburg, Virginia. The first woman president in the college’s history, she led a turn around for the college, restoring financial stability, building fundraising capacity, developing staff, expanding enrollment, and strengthening the relationship between the college and Lynchburg. Lorimer simultaneously became a leader among liberal arts college presidents, serving as chair of the board of the Association of American Colleges and Universities.

During her time at Randolph-Macon, she maintained ties with Yale and took on a new leadership role with the university when she was elected an alumni fellow of the Yale Corporation in 1990. During her time on Yale’s governing board, Lorimer helped focus the university’s attention on the need for sustained and vigorous partnerships with New Haven. She also served as a trustee member of the presidential search committee in 1992–1993 and helped to identify Levin, then dean of the graduate school, to be the leader to transform Yale as it approached the beginning of its fourth century.

As it turned out, Lorimer was helping to hire her own future boss. The soon-to-be president has said that he was so impressed by Lorimer after they had a one-on-one interview in July 1992, that he thought, “If I am so lucky as to get this job, I am going to bring her back to Yale.”

Levin successfully recruited her to return to New Haven full-time. His first hire, she was appointed secretary of the university and became his top adviser. In an early 1994 interview with the Yale Alumni Magazine, the new president said of Lorimer: “She’s a person capable of putting three times the effort of normal human beings in the same amount of time. She’s already made a tremendous impact.”

A stronger New Haven

As the university secretary, Lorimer had administrative responsibilities for Yale’s engagement with New Haven. She set out immediately to catalyze a renaissance for New Haven in partnership with city government, local residents and organizations, and to call on support from state and federal officials and from the Yale alumni network. This New Haven initiative put into practice Levin’s call for the university to be a leading urban citizen and Lorimer’s own prior advocacy that Yale and its people become much meaningfully involved in the life of the university’s hometown. 

The Office of New Haven Affairs was Lorimer’s creation, and she chose to locate it in a Temple Street storefront to signal that the university and its administration were part of the city. In her first year, she visited a different New Haven public school every month, taking time to listen and learn what mattered most across city neighborhoods. Under her leadership, the university established the Yale Homebuyer Program, which remains the largest and most generous such employer-assisted homeownership program of any university.

President Richard Levin, New Haven Mayor John DeStefano, Lorimer, and Bruce Alexander meet to discuss Yale’s role in spurring the New Haven renaissance. (Photo by Michael Marsland)

Another early program, the Presidents’ Public Service Fellowship, which continues to provide full-time summer community service opportunities for students in Yale College and the graduate and professional schools, signaled that Yale would encourage people across the university to do their part in the city’s revitalization. Lorimer met with academic deans and key directors of administrative departments to help them initiate community programs with New Haven.

A long-time advocate and patron for the arts — she is serving currently, for example, as co-chair for the 50th anniversary celebration of Long Wharf Theatre — Lorimer made culture a key part of the New Haven initiative. The university partnered with the city to save the Shubert Theatre and was an early champion for the nascent International Festival of Arts and Ideas, soon to mark its 20th anniversary. 

During the early years of Yale’s re-engagement with the city, Lorimer led the purchase of key properties in the Park-Howe-Dwight area with community support, and galvanized many parts of Yale to join in a comprehensive partnership with the greater Dwight neighborhood that supported key initiatives, including the development of a full-service grocery store on Whalley Avenue.

Lorimer also oversaw the expansion and further professionalization of the Yale police and security departments. Her recommendations in 1994 to the Yale Corporation resulted in the expansion of the blue phone and the night transportation system as well. She likewise led the university to expand and improve its strategic communications, with the reorganization of the Office of Public Affairs and Communications, a unit that she has supervised throughout her service as a university officer. 

A hallmark of many of Lorimer’s accomplishments in the Yale administration is that she has taken on a priority assignment, set forth a vision, established an organizational structure to implement it, and then helped recruit new leaders to carry the work forward. That was the case in her first Yale career, in building a professional human resources department, and it was the case with the New Haven initiative. According to Levin, Lorimer has been one of Yale’s best talent scouts and was the first person to think that Bruce Alexander, an active Yale alumnus volunteer, might be persuaded to work for the university as the first vice president for New Haven affairs. 

A more global Yale

In 1998, after helping Levin recruit Alexander, Lorimer turned her focus from the local to the global. As with the New Haven initiative, she met with every dean, as well as with countless faculty, to gather ideas and shape goals and create the university’s first framework for internationalization. Initially published in 2005, that framework has guided much of Yale’s global activity ever since.

In order to help faculty to pursue their projects outside the United States, and to offer the infrastructure for a massive increase in the number of faculty and students going overseas, Lorimer led Yale to open a new Office of International Affairs. She also created new programs to bring international students and scholars to Yale. Recognizing that the growing cohort of incoming students deserved a place where they could gather and host sponsor programs, Lorimer designed the International Center on Temple Street and increased staffing to go beyond merely processing visas.

President Peter Salovey and Vice President Linda Lorimer at the opening conference of the Yale Center Beijing this fall.

The impact of internationalization has been profound for the university and its people. Need-blind admissions was extended to international undergraduate students, along with financial aid on par with that provided to Yale College students from the United States. Opportunities for study, work, and community service were expanded for all students, and hundreds of new faculty projects have been undertaken. New leadership programs have been established for foreign government officials, environmental professionals, university presidents, young leaders, and business executives. Lorimer also led the planning from New Haven for the new Yale-NUS College in Singapore.

Reducing carbon footprint, expanding online reach

Lorimer has been responsible not only for creating sustainable initiatives — she led the effort to make environmental sustainability itself a successful initiative across Yale. Levin had launched Yale on the path to a 43% reduction in greenhouse gases and turned to Lorimer to engage the collective effort of units across the campus to achieve that goal. She organized and led the team that published Yale’s first sustainability strategic plan in September 2010, setting forth a comprehensive set of goals and objectives to advance sustainability in all areas of campus life. This work, which is ongoing, saw early results including a 16% reduction in campus greenhouse gas emissions, a 24% reduction in municipal solid waste, and 95% composting of food waste under the first three-year plan.

While reducing Yale’s carbon footprint, Lorimer had been leading the expansion of the university’s online educational reach. In 2007 she started the Office of Digital Dissemination, which now supports an ambitious array of online courses and programs for the college and professional schools. Lorimer will continue to help shape the Online Education initiative and lead this effort over the next two years. 

Leadership in the best and worst of times

Salovey observed in his announcement that Lorimer has “been the point person in Yale’s best and worst of times” and led the team for Yale’s Tercentennial.

“The Tercentennial of Yale’s founding provides more than an important milestone or an occasion for self-congratulatory celebration,” Lorimer had stated in a 1996 report that informed the university’s milestone anniversary celebration in 2001. “The Tercentennial should also prompt serious consideration of Yale’s future even as it celebrates its past. The emphasis should be not on the ephemeral but on events, publications, conversations, and artistic productions that may make a lasting impact.”  Three years of planning culminated in a year-long series of exhibitions, publications, and special events that extended from New Haven to around the world.

Lorimer also took the lead on every campus crisis. “For 20 years,” Salovey wrote, “she has directed our responses to natural disasters, public relations challenges, and the thankfully infrequent personal tragedies that have been felt intensely by our whole community. To see Linda at ‘command central’ during a crisis, as I have, is to understand both her exceptional leadership skills and her deep devotion to Yale.”

“No one has done more for Yale in her time, nor done it better”

“I have sought Linda’s wise counsel frequently, often reaching out to her late of an evening or over a weekend,” Marshall observed in comments echoed by many other university leaders. “She is always available, willing to tackle any issue; her enthusiasm, her joy, her laughter flowing through every conversation. Generous and kind, she is beloved by those who work with her.  The pursuit of ‘light and truth’ informs everything that Linda undertakes. Her integrity, her sense of right, is at her core: I think of her as a shining alumna of the Yale Law School, even as she has been far more than a counselor to every part of Yale. 

Summarizing Lorimer’s achievements at Yale, and the university’s gratitude, Marshall said, “Linda is recognized as one of the foremost leaders of higher education: More than once a trustee of a different institution has remarked, ‘I wish we had a Linda Lorimer.’ How fortunate Yale has been to have Linda as ours.”

“President Bart Giamatti once said about Linda: ‘No one has done more for Yale in her time, nor done it better.’ This statement is still true, amplified by the extraordinary record of two additional decades of service to our university,” Salovey concluded in his announcement. “Linda has been a builder and an innovator, but she has most particularly been a steward of the university. For nearly three decades, she has helped hundreds of faculty and scores of deans to advance their projects, address their challenges, and imagine how to make Yale stronger.”

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