Academic Priorities Update – Educational Excellence

Date: 
Thursday, May 9, 2019

To the Yale Community,

Last autumn, I wrote you about recent investments we have made in Yale’s faculty. Our faculty members not only conduct research and scholarship that change the world, they also provide exceptional educational opportunities for our students. Yale is advancing faculty excellence and reiterating our commitment to the preeminence of our educational programs—these are vital parts of our academic priorities in the arts, humanities, social sciences, sciences, and engineering. 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.

As we approach the end of this academic year, I am delighted to share with you the progress we have made on those academic priorities that advance our mission of teaching and learning. Over the last thirty-eight years, I have served Yale in many different roles. In each, I have experienced many changes, but one thing has stayed constant: the centrality of Yale’s students.

Amplifying Academic Excellence, Diversity, and Multidisciplinarity

A Rigorous Yale College Curriculum

When I appointed Marvin Chun dean of Yale College, we spoke about further amplifying the academic excellence, diversity, and multidisciplinarity of the university’s undergraduate educational programs. We knew that such an ambitious goal was possible because of the dedication and expertise of Yale’s faculty. And our work began by looking at the Yale College curriculum.

Yale College introduced the new multidisciplinary Neuroscience major and created the Statistics and Data Science major from the program in statistics, and both majors are thriving. Last year, the first two students graduated with a major in Neuroscience; this year, twenty students are projected to graduate. The major in Statistics and Data Science is seeing significant growth as well; twenty-five students graduated last year, and forty-four are expected to graduate with this major in May.

The Yale College faculty made other additions to the curriculum this year. In the fall semester, faculty members approved the Urban Studies major, which will involve the arts, humanities, social sciences, sciences, and engineering. The faculty also removed impediments to receiving credits toward the language requirement by offering less commonly taught languages, including indigenous languages of the United States. This spring, Yale began offering the “YData” course, which includes seminars exploring how data science is used to analyze electronic sources of text, exoplanet astronomy, and political campaigns. Last Thursday, the faculty voted to approve another new major for 2019-2020: Computer Science and Economics. These developments teach our students to appreciate how multiple disciplines can come together to solve problems and how to explore the connections between people and communities.

Last week, the Faculty of Arts and Sciences reconfigured one of its cross-divisional programs—the Program on Ethnicity, Race, and Migration (ER&M)—to give it authority to make both solo and joint appointments. This change reflects Yale’s dedication to studying and teaching about ethnicity, indigeneity, migration, and race, among the most pressing topics of our time. And it underscores our commitment to providing suitable resources to vibrant intellectual programs that support thriving undergraduate majors. Our faculty’s pioneering scholarship in these areas inspires students to understand the world and their place in it.

Increasing Affordability and Access to Yale College

All our academic priorities for educational excellence are built on a commitment to affordability and access. As a result of our sustained efforts, the current first-year class in Yale College is the most socioeconomically diverse in history. Over 1,000 undergraduates now qualify 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 are 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 receive need-based financial aid, and the average annual grant is $53,000. Because of our strong commitment to financial aid, 86 percent of the Class of 2018 graduated without debt.

We have also worked hard to ensure that students have the tools to succeed at Yale once they arrive. We have expanded two signature Yale College programs that provide incoming students with support to help them transition to college life: First-Year Scholars at Yale (FSY) and Online Experiences for Yale Scholars (ONEXYS). Enrollment in FSY has more than doubled since 2014 and now serves seventy-two students. ONEXYS has nearly tripled since 2015 and now serves about 150 students each summer.

Supporting Graduate Students Across All Schools of Yale

During their studies, our graduate and professional students contribute immeasurably to the university’s excellence in research and scholarship. The $50 million, five-year Faculty Excellence and Diversity Initiative is now in its third year, and a portion of that fund is directed at supporting graduate students in all fields through the Emerging Scholars Initiative. The initiative has provided support for forty-five incoming Ph.D. students and thirty currently matriculated doctoral students. In addition, it has provided sixteen post-baccalaureate research education fellowships for recent graduates to help them gain research and academic experience to become competitive applicants for doctoral programs. Graduate and professional students and post-baccalaureate scholars from across the arts, humanities, social science, and sciences have benefited from this initiative.

This year, based on the recommendations of the University Science Strategy Committee, the graduate school and provost’s office expanded University Fellowship support for students in science and engineering from nine months per academic year to twelve months. Most students funded by University Fellowships are in their first year, so this will give them additional time to find the right advisor.

As with Yale College, many of Yale’s professional and graduate schools have been making strides toward greater access and affordability. This year, the School of Medicine announced it is reducing further the unit loan—how much medical students who receive need-based scholarships are expected to borrow to pay for their education—by 50 percent. Medical students will receive greater financial aid through scholarship funds, rather than loans. The School of Management increased scholarship funding for its full-time MBA program for the eighth straight year and inaugurated the Commonwealth Fund Fellowship in Minority Health Leadership, which fully funds three fellows per year in the MBA for Executives degree program. The Yale School of Nursing began awarding scholarships for students committed to working in underserved communities, and the new Gruber Nursing Fellowship Fund provides tuition assistance for Doctor of Nursing Practice students.

Embracing Emerging Opportunities in Teaching and Learning

In December, I had the honor of dedicating the Poorvu Center for Teaching and Learning. Earlier, in my inauguration speech, I highlighted emerging opportunities to improve teaching, stimulate learning, and advance our mission. The Poorvu Center now provides workshops, consultations, and seminars for thousands of faculty members and students across all schools of Yale. And it introduces faculty and students to new teaching methods, course evaluation approaches, and digital tools. The Poorvu Center focuses on helping first-generation and underrepresented students thrive in their studies. This year, first-generation and underrepresented students visited the center over 5,000 times to participate in peer-mentoring and tutoring programs.

Teaching at Yale is rigorous and inspiring because the university’s faculty members take seriously their responsibility to prepare the next generation of leaders. I am pleased that the graduate and professional schools and FAS have added a number of exceptional faculty members to Yale. For example, this year and next, six tenured faculty members are joining the math department. Four tenure-track and two tenured faculty members are joining the computer science department, and three tenure-track faculty have joined the Department of Statistics and Data Science. The economics department has six new tenured faculty. Moreover, this semester, I had the pleasure of announcing Kerwin Charles as the next dean of the School of Management and Courtney Martin as the next director of the Yale Center for British Art.

A New Innovation Corridor

Thinking innovatively is an important component of educational excellence for students of all levels—and not only in the sciences. The new “innovation corridor” at Yale runs between Prospect Street and Hillhouse Avenue, from Grove to Trumbull Streets, and includes several facilities designed to foster collaboration and discovery: the Yale Center for Engineering Innovation and Design, the Greenberg Engineering Teaching Concourse, and the Tsai Center for Innovative Thinking at Yale (Tsai CITY).

Tsai CITY is the newest addition. Programming has begun, and the building is rising on Becton Plaza and will be completed next spring. Tsai CITY is designed for all students who want to address domestic or global challenges innovatively. Although it will certainly help students create new ventures and become entrepreneurs, it has a broader mandate. Tsai CITY provides students with the knowledge and experience to create and change public policy in their communities, to bring creativity and multidisciplinary approaches to their future careers, and to serve others. It offers students programs, coaches, mentors, and funding to learn to think innovatively, critically, and collaboratively. This year, over 1,300 students have participated in its programs, and it has provided over $100,000 in funding for over 100 projects and ventures.

New Landmark Facilities for the Sciences and Humanities

When you walk around campus, you will see physical changes that reflect bold investments in the sciences and humanities.

The new science building, our nearly $300 million landmark project on Science Hill, 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. Students will be taking classes in the arts, humanities, social sciences, and sciences next to labs housing pioneering research.

The transformation of 320 York Street, another landmark investment, into the new hub for the humanities is well underway. It was planned with student and faculty input and will be home to many humanities departments and have space for graduate students to work and to meet with undergraduates during their teaching terms. It will also include a ninety-seat state-of-the-art film screening room that will help students connect to other people and cultures through film. We have raised $150 million for the renovation and programs, and the building 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 this new space, undergraduate, graduate, and professional students will have opportunities to conduct research with faculty leaders at the intersection of multiple disciplines.

Upcoming Opportunities for Multidisciplinary Scholarship and Research

Yale students can look forward to many new opportunities for multidisciplinary scholarship and research in the coming year. The preeminent faculty of the Tobin Center for Economic Policy will teach students to think critically and apply rigorous analysis to domestic policy issues. We have raised $60 million for this center. The building is scheduled to open in spring 2022, and the center’s programs have started. The first cohort of post-graduate fellows will start work on research in the Tobin Center this summer.

In April, I announced the university is transforming the Jackson Institute into the Yale Jackson School of Global Affairs. The founding of the Yale Jackson School will strengthen the university’s role in educating global citizens and leaders. Students will have new opportunities to work with distinguished faculty members and leading practitioners from government, military, industry, and other sectors. We plan to complete fundraising and open the school in fall 2022; we are more than halfway to our goal.

I am excited about all the ways we are staying true to the first goal I articulated in my inaugural year: “To be the research university most committed to teaching and learning.” I look forward to updating you in the fall and wish you the best for the summer months.

Sincerely,

Peter Salovey
President
Chris Argyris Professor of Psychology