From the Editor

Twenty years: the recap

Richard C. Levin ’74PhD will be remembered as a Yale president of substance rather than flash, and that is surely what he would prefer. In one of his last official public acts at Yale, a review of his record for alumni who were on campus for reunions, Levin stayed true to form. It could have been a moment for high rhetoric, but he delivered a serious statistical summary. He could have left the stage with fanfare, but instead he left with modesty.

On that hot, humid late afternoon of June 1, the main floor of Woolsey Hall was filled with people fanning themselves with programs for the singing-group performance that was to follow. Levin’s speech was so low-key that it was hard to hear him through the inadequate Woolsey sound system. He also made constant use of the presidential “we.” (In ten years, I’ve never heard him take personal credit for anything Yale has achieved.) But his speech, a summing-up of his 20-year presidency, was notable for sheer factual weight.

A sampling: over the past two decades, 75 percent of the campus has been renovated. Yale has grown 50 percent in land area and 40 percent in built square footage, thanks in large part to the acquisition of the West Campus. (He got a laugh with the line, “We think that this is our Louisiana Purchase.”) The endowment has grown sixfold in nominal dollar terms, or, adjusting for inflation, more than threefold. Yale’s financial aid programs have outstripped the rise in tuition, so that the average Yale College parent pays less, in inflation-adjusted dollars, than was the case 20 years ago.

Students in the New Haven Promise program—the Yale-funded college scholarship for high-achieving New Haven public school graduates—have stayed in school past their first year of college at the rate of 87 percent, almost double the rate for other students. Nine of Yale’s professional schools are ranked in the top five. Yale has raised the percentage of international students (that is, students neither American nor Canadian) in Yale College from 1.5 to 10. And Yale has “gone one further step” in internationalizing by cofounding Yale-NUS College in Singapore, which, he said, “preserves what is best about liberal education” while creating a new curriculum in which Asian and Western traditions will be studied in contrast.

Yale’s international moves, especially Yale-NUS, remain controversial among some alumni. And Levin did not discuss the budget difficulties the university is currently facing. (For more on that subject, see Q&A: Peter Salovey.) But the alumni I spoke with who heard Levin’s speech were unanimously impressed. “He has a lot to be proud of,” said Mark Sigmond ’68. “Very inspirational” was the verdict of Keira Driansky ’03. Chris Porterfield ’58 said, “He’s terrific.”

At the conclusion of his speech, Levin could have taken a bow, probably several bows. Instead, he said that after two decades, he is “quite content to pass the baton to my successor”—and welcomed Peter Salovey ’86PhD onstage, so that the applause that would have been Levin’s became applause for Salovey. Then Levin gave the lectern to Yale’s next president, and the end of a 20-year era became the start of a new one.

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