Fall 2019 Academic Priorities Update

Date: 
Tuesday, December 10, 2019

Dear Members of the Yale Community,

We have been moving forward across all areas of our academic priorities, and I am pleased to update you on our work this semester. As you may recall, our efforts are focused on four strategic areas: faculty and students; arts and humanities; sciences and engineering; and empirical, policy-relevant research. Each priority supports our historic obligation to explore the world in all its complexity, create knowledge that benefits humanity, and educate leaders of insight and integrity.

Faculty and Students

Faculty

Last fall, I wrote about the ways we are supporting our faculty—preeminent educators, scholars, and investigators who define Yale. Our strategic investments to help faculty members excel include providing new facilities and other resources for research, scholarship, and teaching. One of our most successful efforts in recent years is the $50 million, five-year Faculty Excellence and Diversity Initiative (FEDI), which Provost Ben Polak and I launched in 2015. In the first four years of FEDI, we have already recruited eighty-four faculty members.

Ben and I are extending FEDI for another half decade with an additional $85 million. By so doing, we are making an emphatic statement about welcoming to Yale the most distinguished scholars, who will bring excellence and help diversify the university, transform their fields, create knowledge to improve the world, and inspire our students to lead and serve all sectors of society. The renewal of FEDI includes funds for start-up packages for faculty members forming research groups and new support for recruiting senior faculty members. To learn more, see the YaleNews story. We look forward to making even more progress with our intensified commitment to the initiative.

Students

To accomplish our boldest plans, we must expand access to a Yale education and attract the most promising students to our campus. In the past five years, we have doubled the number of our entering first-year students who are eligible for Pell Grants, and increased by 75 percent those who are first in their families to attend college. Starting next year, Yale will raise the threshold from $65,000 to $75,000 in annual income for the university’s most generous financial aid awards. This change makes a majority of American families—an additional 1.8 million—with school-aged children eligible for a scholarship that covers all tuition, room, and board.

We are focused on creating an environment of belonging in which each of us can thrive. This strengthens every aspect of Yale and allows us to contribute more significantly to the world. I have asked Vice President and Secretary Kim Goff-Crews to take on additional responsibilities as vice president for university life. She is working directly with deans and other university leaders to ensure that our efforts are strategic and unified.

Humanities and Arts

The arts and humanities are signature strengths at Yale and huge comparative advantages. Our strategy here is to build stronger connections to and within them.

The Humanities Quadrangle, formerly known as the Hall of Graduate Studies, is on-schedule to open in fall 2020. It will be a richly collaborative space for humanities research and teaching at all levels. Thirteen academic units in the humanities will share the renovated building with the Whitney Humanities Center. Of particular student interest will be the updated lounges on the historic first floor and the tower, as well as the two new state-of-the-art film screening and lecture halls.

As this construction work proceeds on schedule, I want to take this opportunity to acknowledge the scholars in the humanities at Yale for continuing to lead the world in their research. I congratulate those who have recently won prizes for their publications. Award-winning works include a history of popular constitutionalism in India, a novel about theater students at a performing arts high school, a study of the literary conceptualization of environmental problems in Africa, and a critical reflection on the idea of the frontier in American history. In the past year, Yale faculty have released books that press at the interpretive and archival edges of their disciplines, including the first cultural history of the witness to genocide, a study arguing the role of Imperial Roman poetry in the definition of rhetoric, a material analysis of colonial Boston, and a retelling of monarchical family politics in the Mughal Empire. This fall, a professor of Old Testament criticism and interpretation at the Divinity School and the author of more than two-dozen books, including the recent What Are Biblical Values?, won the prestigious Burkitt Medal for Biblical Studies.

New faculty members at Yale explore the conjunction of literature and film, the role of archaeology in interpretation of early Christianity, and the sociology and politics of class, gender, race, and sexuality. A constitutional scholar who joined the Law School this academic year has received acclaim for his debut book, The Schoolhouse Gate, a work that promises to reinvigorate the field of education law. And collaborations between Yale faculty and the university collections continue to produce exciting opportunities for public learning and research, including a multiyear project reviving the practice of descriptive bibliography for African American literary studies and an exhibition about the influential French feminist writer Monique Wittig.

This year, as we celebrate the fiftieth anniversary of coeducation in Yale College and 150 years of women enrolled at the university, we recognize the important role the arts have played in ushering in a new era at Yale. When Yale’s School of the Fine Arts (the predecessor of the School of Art) opened its doors in 1869, it admitted both women and men. And the School of Music, celebrating its 125th anniversary, admitted women from the start. The arts continue to lead in expanding educational opportunities—here on campus and around the world. For example, a team of students from the School of Architecture collaborated with the School of Engineering and the MacMillan Center to design the Dreamer Institute, a technology high school for students in Kabul, Afghanistan.

In the coming years, I will focus my energy on finding philanthropic support for professorships that bridge the arts to the rest of the university and continue to work toward building a new facility for drama at Yale. These projects will add even more strength to the arts, sharing them with students and faculty across the university and creating an enriched intellectual environment that can only be achieved at Yale.

Sciences and Engineering

As you know, our boldest strategy involves the sciences and engineering. For too much of the twentieth century, the university underinvested in these areas, even though we had outstanding faculty members working on campus during that time. You have seen the new Yale Science Building, which is now open on Science Hill. We must continue to invest at that level in our science and engineering priorities to complement the existing strengths of our faculty.

The world is ready for Yale to take even more of a lead in blazing new paths of discovery through basic research and in solving pressing global challenges. Our science strategy is targeted and specific. As you know, we are focused on five multidisciplinary areas—along with a set of cross-cutting initiatives—that were identified by a faculty committee last year. Earlier this semester, Scott Strobel, the next provost, provided an update on our progress, and I encourage you to read it. We also are finalizing the plan for Kline Tower and considering the recommendations of the Neuroscience Working Group Report. We have accomplished a great deal together already, and I look forward to all that we will achieve next semester.

Empirical, Policy-Relevant Research

Yale’s social sciences lead the world in method and theory. Our strategy here is to emphasize data-based, policy-relevant social science driving Yale to engage with the great issues of the day, from health care to international security. This strategy will complement our existing strengths in theoretical and qualitative work, taking advantage of the availability of new kinds of data and methods for analyzing such data.

The Tobin Center, for example, will create a focal point for faculty and students interested in domestic policy analysis. And the Yale Jackson School will convene scholarship and teaching in global affairs. As nations retreat from the world, becoming more insular and inward-looking, Yale must step up and step into this breach. We plan to complete fundraising and open the school in fall 2022; we are more than halfway to our goal. Each of these strategic projects will strengthen Yale and will help the university meet its responsibilities to the world.

~

As we wrap up this calendar year, I want to thank you for your contributions to realizing Yale’s academic priorities. We have built a strong foundation for the new year, and I look forward to continuing our work in January.

Sincerely,

Peter Salovey
President
Chris Argyris Professor of Psychology