2019 Reunions

Peter Salovey, President of Yale University
June 4, 2019
President's Update

Good afternoon! And welcome back!

Marta and I are delighted to take part in reunions. It is one of our favorite times of the year. I meet your families and hear about your accomplishments. And I love being here among so many familiar faces. Marta and I have already spent time with many of you. This evening, we will stop by a few more classes to say hello!

It is my honor to thank the reunion committees and the gift committees for their efforts over the years since your last reunion. I know you work hard year after year to make reunions special for your classmates and a great success!


For over three centuries, Yale alumni, faculty, and students have contributed immeasurably to the world through courageous leadership, public service, spectacular discoveries, and illuminating scholarship. Our university has overcome times of uncertainty and great challenge in our nation and our world.

We have remained rooted in our confidence in the transformative power of a liberal education, in the knowledge that the robust and free exchange of ideas is essential to our democracy, and in being committed to improving the world through research, scholarship, and education.

Today, I am excited to speak with you about all the ways we are building on 318 years of commitment to adding to the sum of human achievement and well-being. And I know some of you have submitted questions in advance. I will address many of your questions throughout this talk, but if I don’t get to your question, please email president@yale.edu.


Since my inauguration, we have made strategic investments that are rooted in our history and focused on our ambitions for the future.

First, we are advancing two university-wide, cross-cutting academic priorities: the excellence of our faculty and the preeminence of a Yale education.

We are recruiting and retaining the very best faculty in every field. And we are making investments across campus to help faculty do their best work—from buildings and facilities, as seen in all the construction around campus, to providing resources for research, scholarship, education, preservation, and practice.

We are reiterating our commitment to the preeminence of our educational programs—increasing multidisciplinary courses and programs, expanding access and affordability, and guaranteeing the expression of diverse ideas.

Second, we are making purposeful choices to enhance our excellence in four priority areas:

  • We are connecting the arts with the rest of campus, allowing the arts to infuse the entire university, through new professorships that span Yale’s schools, offering teaching to more than one program.
  • We are strengthening the connections among the humanities departments and programs, encouraging new and exciting collaborations that explore our world and our place in it.
  • In the social sciences, we are emphasizing data-based, policy-relevant scholarship and research to engage with pressing domestic and global issues, such as crime, extremism, health care, inequality, and migration.
  • We are investing boldly in the sciences and engineering to push the frontiers of knowledge and do our part in making life-saving and life-changing discoveries.

Our goals are to make Yale stronger and build on existing strengths. Each element of our academic strategy also responds directly to a specific domestic or global challenge; it is our responsibility and the heart of our mission to improve the world today and for future generations.

Faculty Excellence

When I first spoke to you and other members of the Yale community about the academic priorities, I noted that our greatest strength is the people who make up our university.

I am sure many of you remember exemplary faculty members—perhaps one whose lectures you can still recall or whose way of seeing the world shaped your own, such as Marie Borroff, Mary Miller, Vincent Scully, John Blum, or Peter Moore. Yale’s preeminent faculty are invaluable teachers and mentors to our students. And beyond this campus, they make critical contributions to our nation and world.

This year, we created a new initiative focused on maintaining the preeminence of Yale’s faculty: We are investing $50 million over the next five years.

This fund will be devoted to the outstanding faculty already at our university, acknowledging that we are in a competitive marketplace with other institutions—all searching out the most talented scholars. Resources will also be used for a university-wide fund to help recruit truly transformative faculty members—those who will change the world and inspire students and scholars within and beyond our university.

This new effort augments our existing $50 million, five-year Faculty Excellence and Diversity Initiative that is helping to recruit a more diverse and superb faculty at Yale. In the first three years of the Faculty Excellence and Diversity Initiative, we have recruited 65 faculty members and welcomed 34 Presidential Visiting Fellows.

Both of these initiatives will strengthen our faculty and benefit our students and our society.

The Preeminence of a Yale Education

As you all know, Yale’s faculty members not only conduct research and scholarship that change the world, they also provide exceptional educational opportunities for students.

Our faculty are dedicated to the principles of a liberal education: Yale is unwavering in our commitment to cultivate a broadly informed, highly disciplined intellect without specifying necessarily how that intellect will be used.

Our world is changing at a rapid pace; technology is altering every aspect of our society. We cannot predict what the job market will be like in 10, 20, or 30 years. Some occupations will disappear, while others will undergo radical transformations.

To prepare for an unpredictable future, our students must be able to think critically across diverse fields. They must have agile minds. They must be able to adapt to various work environments.

When I appointed Marvin Chun dean of Yale College, we began by looking at the curriculum, ensuring that Yale College continues to champion the principles of a liberal education and address new areas of inquiry.

In the last two years, Yale College has introduced four new multidisciplinary majors.

  • Neuroscience, which involves studies that span molecules to minds.
  • Statistics and Data Science, which prepares students to apply data-driven analysis to address questions in many fields, from astronomy to political campaigns.
  • Urban Studies will involve the arts, humanities, social sciences, sciences, and engineering
  • And a combined major in Computer Science and Economics.

Yale College faculty members are committed to teaching students to apply knowledge from many fields to solve problems.

Admissions, Affordability, and Access

I know many of you here care deeply about the success of Yale College and the admissions process.

This year, Yale’s Office of Undergraduate Admissions reviewed 36,843 applications for the Class of 2023. We enrolled around 1,550 students—marking the third year with a larger incoming class due to the opening of Pauli Murray and Benjamin Franklin colleges.

Many of you wrote questions related to the admissions process—in particular, you wanted to know about the admissions fraud scheme. First, let me give you a little background.

On March 12, federal prosecutors announced that they had uncovered a nationwide scheme whereby families were attempting to get their children admitted to highly selective universities based on fraudulent applications. A former Yale women’s soccer coach had given fraudulent athletic endorsements to two applicants, one of whom was admitted to Yale. Yale investigated the allegations. And we rescinded the admission of the student who falsified her application.

On March 15, I announced a comprehensive review of admissions procedures to safeguard the integrity of our practices. Should we become aware of any further improprieties in this process, we will take appropriate action.

I also want to address broader questions related to admissions, donations, and athletics. If we admitted underperforming applicants based on family donations, it would diminish the quality of our core mission and the academic strength that we hold dear. Thus, we take great care to maintain separation between fundraising and the admissions process at Yale. No applicant is admitted according to a formula.

Only students whose applications demonstrate their ability to succeed in the academic and residential components of a Yale College education are admitted.

More importantly, all our academic priorities for educational excellence are built on a commitment to affordability and access.

It is Yale’s responsibility to identify the most talented students in every economic sector of society and of every background, and to bring to our campus those who will benefit most from a Yale education.

The fraud scheme has reminded us that we must continue to be relentless and creative in our ambitions to create a student body that looks much more like our country. Of course, all of our students must be curious, have good character, work hard, demonstrate leadership potential, and be committed to Yale.

Yale under my leadership has recruited aggressively these extraordinary students around our country and the world. As a result of our sustained efforts, this year’s incoming class in Yale College was the most economically diverse in history. Over 1,000 undergraduates across all four years qualified for federal Pell Grants for low-income students; nearly twice as many in the first-year class compared with five years ago. And nearly one in five first-year students was the first in their families to attend college, an increase of 75 percent over the same period.

This year we offered more than $160 million in financial aid. Over 50 percent of Yale College students received need-based financial aid, and the average annual grant was $53,000. Because of our strong commitment to financial aid, 86 percent of the Class of 2018 graduated without debt. For those who took loans, the average amount they owed at graduation was $14,575.

Landmark Investments for Academic Priorities: Humanities and Sciences

As we advance our investments in faculty excellence and the preeminence of our educational programs, we also are working to ensure that our faculty and students have access to facilities that are worthy of their efforts to create knowledge and improve the world. They need laboratories, classrooms, and meeting spaces that inspire them to develop new ideas and collaborations.

When you walk around campus, you see physical changes that reflect our bold investments in supporting our faculty and students to do their best work. The construction around campus also reflects our focus on our scholarship-driven academic priorities, such as the humanities and sciences.

The new science building is going up and will be completed at the end of this summer. This seven-level facility will have state-of-the-art spaces for teaching and research, including a large lecture hall that will host courses in diverse disciplines. And we are already planning additional science buildings.

The transformation of 320 York Street (the former Hall of Graduate Studies), another landmark investment, into the new hub for the humanities is well underway. It will be home to many humanities departments. It will also include a state-of-the-art film screening room that will help students connect to other people and cultures through film. We have raised more than $75 million for the renovation and programs, and the quadrangle is scheduled to open in summer 2020.

The university recently leased 250,000 square feet of space in a biotech building in downtown New Haven at 100 College Street. It is at an ideal location that bridges the university’s medical and central campuses. This action is part of our strategy for the sciences.

In 320 York, the new science building, and 100 College Street, faculty members and students will have opportunities to conduct research and scholarship at the intersection of multiple disciplines.

Landmark Investments for Academic Priorities: Social Sciences

We also are taking a historic step forward in the social sciences. We will be transforming the Jackson Institute into the Yale Jackson School of Global Affairs as soon as we have raised the necessary funds—and we are more than halfway to our goal. This new professional school—the first at Yale since the School of Management was established in 1976—will convene experts from across the university and beyond.

For centuries, Yale faculty, students, alumni, and staff have demonstrated that research, scholarship, and education are essential to the health and well-being of society. Now more than ever before, our world needs creative ideas to help end global conflicts and heal individuals and communities. By establishing the Yale Jackson School, Yale will continue to fulfill its responsibility to teach students to become leaders who will tackle challenges with wisdom, facts, insight, and courage.  

Some of you asked me if Yale encourages diversity of thought. The conversion of the institute into the Yale Jackson School underscores the university’s commitment to diversity of thought. The school will help us bring to our civic and political life the will to engage in difficult conversations based on rigorous research and scholarship.

Let me give you an example. In April, John Kerry, who is teaching at the Jackson Institute, hosted a conference on “Challenges to Democracy at Home and Abroad.” He brought to Yale leaders across political boundaries, including Madeleine Albright, Condoleezza Rice, and Hillary Clinton at the same time. They had a lively conversation and did not always agree. They demonstrated to our students that you can hold rigorous discussions and learn something even if you are speaking with those who are from a different political party and have opposing viewpoints.

The research conducted at the new Yale Jackson School will provide the intellectual foundation for evidence-based policy-making and discussions. Its graduates will become the leaders the world needs to solve the complex dilemmas facing us in areas such as climate change, migration, war, health, and inequality.

This is an important step forward for our academic priorities in the social sciences, which are focused on the application of data-driven research on the great issues of the day.

The Tobin Center for Economic Policy is another vital part of our social science strategy. Faculty of the Tobin Center will advance evidence-based research that will define and inform policy debate. And they will teach students to think critically and apply rigorous analysis to domestic policy issues. The Tobin Center building is scheduled to open in spring 2022, and the center’s programs have started.

Yale’s Unique Approach to Science and Engineering

In the years ahead, the biggest changes you will see at Yale will be in the sciences and engineering. Yale is leading a bold push to advance scientific discovery and innovation on campus—it is already happening on Science Hill, West Campus, and other parts of the university.

The world depends on science and engineering to move humanity forward, to increase the possibilities for today and for future generations. And the world needs Yale’s unique strengths to shape the future.

Yale’s approach to science and engineering reflects our unparalleled preeminence in the arts, humanities, and social sciences. Our science and engineering students are studying and contributing to research next to philosophers, political scientists, economists, architects, musicians, psychologists, and theologians.

Yale does not simply advance technology and create new knowledge, we also study how innovations will alter our society and our environment. For example, just last month, about 130 faculty members and students from computer science, philosophy, sociology, data science, law, psychology, and business came together to discuss the social and ethical implications of artificial intelligence.

Yale can bring together experts from across our campus to understand how artificial intelligence can be designed to benefit our world and to avoid misuse that could harm individuals or our democracy.

The world needs leaders who can bring knowledge and expertise, wisdom and insight, from across disciplines to improve and enrich lives. Yale will continue to educate such leaders.

As you have seen this weekend, Yale is and will always be a place of optimism and ingenuity.

Yale faculty, students, alumni, and staff look at the record of human achievement in the modern age—vaccines and space travel, democracy and civil rights—and we believe we can do even more, go even higher.

I want to thank you for being tremendous ambassadors for Yale. When you serve your communities and direct talented young scholars to our university, you are showing Yale’s value to the world. So, thank you for demonstrating that a Yale education extends far beyond our campus.

As always, it is wonderful to see you, and I hope you will enjoy all the activities planned for this weekend!