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Preparing for Yale's Fourth Century
As the University approaches its Tercentennial celebration in 2001, questions proliferate about its future course. In a document prepared for discussion at the semi-annual assembly of the Association of Yale Alumni, from October 24 to 26, the President described "an institution that strives for excellence in all its undertakings," while concentrating on demonstrated strengths.

December 1996
by Richard C. Levin

As Yale approaches the three hundredth anniversary of its founding, it is instructive to reflect on how the University has developed over the course of the past century. Physically, the campus has changed almost beyond recognition. Connecticut Hall, completed in 1753, and eight 19th-century structures on the Old Campus are the only academic buildings that survive from Yale's first two centuries. Other structures built as private residences in the 18th and 19th century have come into the University's possession during the past hundred years, but 90 percent of our square footage was built in this century -- most of it between the world wars and much of it thanks to the extraordinary generosity of the Sterling and Harkness families. We strain to imagine such a radical physical transformation of Yale in the next century.

The academic enterprise has also changed substantially. We have added three new schools -- Forestry, Nursing, and Management, merged the Sheffield Scientific School into Yale College and the Graduate School, and spawned three descendants of the School of Fine Arts -- Art, Architecture, and Drama. The Graduate School, established in 1892, has matured into one of the world's great centers for the education of scholars and scientists. The School of Medicine has evolved from a modest training ground for physicians to a major enterprise of biomedical research and clinical practice that generates more than 40 percent of the University's revenues and expenses. In the Faculty of Arts and Sciences, many new departments and programs have been established. Some have thrived and earned great distinction -- for example, Molecular Biophysics and Biochemistry and American Studies. Other initiatives have been abandoned or supplanted -- for example, the Departments of Education and Industrial Administration.

Amidst all this change in our academic programs, the College described in Owen Johnson's 1911 novel, Stover at Yale, has not entirely vanished. Our undergraduates still value energy, affiliation, and achievement. Athletics, journalism, and political debate still thrive. But with the introduction of the residential colleges in the 1930s, the elimination of racial and religious barriers to admission in the early 1960s, the admission of women in 1969, and the more or less steady increase in the number of applicants over the last five decades, Yale College has become more open, democratic, and meritocratic.

In the many publications celebrating Yale's bicentennial, there is virtually no evidence that the physical and demographic transformation of Yale, or the growth of science and graduate education, were foreseen at the turn of this century. As we enter the next century, we should not presume that we have greater clairvoyance than our predecessors. Some possibilities for improvement are discernible on the horizon, but many remain invisible. This report highlights some changes we can now foresee and describes principles that will guide our response to opportunities yet unseen.

We reach this point in Yale's history against a backdrop of national skepticism about the management and direction of our universities. In newspapers and news magazines, on talk shows, in the halls of Congress, even in some of our most prestigious journals of opinion, we see a number of complaints repeated frequently: the cost of a college education is too high; professors spend too little time teaching; universities should be doing more for the communities that surround them. There is also a pervasive sense, not entirely unjustified, that universities have been slow to adopt productivity-enhancing methods of management that might allow them to deliver their services more efficiently and more responsively. Even within the Yale community, students, parents and alumni question our ability to control costs, the effectiveness with which the University is managed, and the long-term viability of our commitments to costly institutions such as need-blind admissions and the tenure system.

This skepticism has infected public policy. Despite extraordinary achievements in expanding the frontiers of scientific knowledge, and despite the powerful linkages from new scientific knowledge to industrial technology and national economic competitiveness, the Federal government seems disinclined to support the continued growth of university-based research, and the principle, adopted as public policy a half-century ago that universities should recover the full cost of research supported by Federal grants and contracts, has already been significantly eroded. Despite remarkable expansion of access to institutions of higher education, Federal aid to students has failed to keep pace with the cost of education. In 1979, Yale College awarded $6.9 million of need-based grant aid, of which the Federal government paid $1.7 million, or 25 per cent. By 1996, the amount of need-based aid granted to undergraduates had grown to $28.5 million, of which the government supplies $2.0 million, only 7 per cent of the total.

Although Yale is not immune to these broad social forces impinging on the nation's universities, our abundant human and material resources justify optimism as we enter our fourth century. But to maintain and enhance the greatness of this University, we must have clarity about our mission. We must understand our distinctive strengths, for all great universities are not alike, and all should not respond alike to the challenges of the future. In this report I call for a reaffirmation of two important values that distinguish Yale from comparable institutions, identify two areas of distinctive strength, and offer two principles to help us make intelligent decisions as we chart the University's course in the years ahead.

As I observed in my Inaugural Address, Yale is a monument to human achievement. We preserve that achievement in our collections of books and manuscripts, works of art and architecture, objects and artifacts. We foster a capacity to appreciate that achievement by our teaching, and we augment it by our research.

Yale is one of the very few universities in the world with the tangible assets, human resources, and internal culture to make possible simultaneous dedication to the preservation, transmission, and advancement of knowledge. Most of America's 3,000 colleges and universities are devoted primarily to teaching. Perhaps no more than 100 are also major centers of research, and perhaps no more than one dozen of these have the libraries and collections to qualify as major centers for the preservation of our natural and cultural heritage. Yet even within this small group of universities with a common mission, there are characteristics that further distinguish Yale.

Two such characteristics warrant reaffirmation as we develop a strategy for our fourth century. First, among the nation's finest research universities, Yale is distinctively committed to excellence in undergraduate education. Second, in our graduate and professional schools as well as in Yale College, we are committed to the education of leaders.

These values are not merely rhetorical; each requires corollary commitments to policies, programs, and the investment of resources. Let me explore some of these implications.

As at other institutions that aspire to leadership in the generation of new knowledge, faculty in the humanities, social and natural sciences at Yale are hired and promoted with the expectation that they will make important and internationally-recognized contributions in research. But Yale is distinctive in its insistence that members of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences teach undergraduates regularly. We expect undergraduate teaching to be taken seriously, and the example set by respected scholars who excel at teaching creates an environment in which good teaching is valued. The excellence and seriousness of Yale undergraduates rewards the faculty's effort and reinforces its commitment. There is an institutional cost to this; we cannot attract scholars who wish to escape teaching. But the benefit far outweighs the cost.

At the center of the undergraduate experience is a liberal education, which develops a student's capacity to think critically and independently, laying the foundation for a lifetime of learning. But an outstanding undergraduate program must do more than cultivate the intellect, it must provide opportunities for the development of character. Our students participate in an exceptionally rich array of extracurricular activities: athletics, music, drama, publications, political organizations, and community service. To sustain the vitality of these activities we must invest in athletic facilities and equipment, space and resources for undergraduate organizations, transportation and other assistance for students engaged in community service. We must also provide excellent advising, counseling, and career services for our students.

The residential college system is one of Yale's most distinctive assets. Each college is an intimate community of about 400 students -- a liberal arts college within a research university. Because each residential college mirrors the entire undergraduate population, including students of all backgrounds and interests, Yale has been well protected from the social fragmentation seen on many other campuses. Each college offers seminars, hosts speakers, organizes social events, sponsors intramural teams, and provides counseling and tutoring. To make certain that the colleges remain strong centers of campus social and intellectual life, we will invest more than $200 million over the next decade to renovate thoroughly these extraordinary facilities, creating within them additional space for student activities, improving the quality and flexibility of our dining programs, and increasing the frequency of routine maintenance once major capital improvements are in place.

For Yale College to remain attractive to the best undergraduates, we must also invest substantially in the new information technologies that allow our students previously unimagined access to information and ease of communication. We have accelerated the pace of developing a high-speed campus computer network; every student room is now wired for high speed computing, and shortly we will have broad-band video capability in every room as well. We are initiating new programs to encourage the faculty to develop and adopt creative new applications of information technology in the classroom. We must embrace new technology with enthusiasm, encourage experimentation, and seize opportunities to provide remote teaching services, as well as access to our library and museum resources, to students and scholars around the country. We have already made some remarkable advances in the provision of medical services over the network, and we see an enormous potential for our faculty to have educational impact beyond New Haven. At the same time, we must preserve in Yale College abundant opportunity for small group, face-to-face discussion.

Our charter of 1701 charges the Collegiate School with the task of educating youth to be "fitted for Publick employment both in Church and Civil State." From the beginning, we have sought to educate those with the potential for leadership. Three of the last five Presidents of the United States have Yale degrees. Yale has educated more leaders of major U.S. corporations than any other university. From Cole Porter to Maya Lin, few institutions rival Yale's record in producing artistic, dramatic, and musical talent of distinction. Yale alumni served as the first presidents of Princeton, Columbia, Williams, Cornell, Johns Hopkins, the University of Chicago, and the Universities of Georgia, Mississippi, Missouri, Wisconsin, and California. And our record in law, medicine, science, and religion is no less distinguished than in politics, business, the arts, and education.

Of course, academic excellence must remain the most important single criterion for admission to Yale's programs of study, but in our graduate and professional schools as well as in Yale College, we should continue to look for something more -- for those elusive qualities of character that give young men and women the potential to have an impact on the world, to make contributions to the larger society through their scholarly, artistic, and professional achievements, and to work and to encourage others to work for the betterment of the human condition.

To educate leaders for the 21st century we must renew some institutional commitments and initiate others. To give priority to the development of leadership skills, we must sustain our investments in support of extracurricular activities, student organizations, and athletics. We must continue to seek students who can provide leadership to all segments of our heterogeneous American society. And we must continue to provide, to all who qualify for admission to Yale College, sufficient financial aid to guarantee that the cost of a Yale education does not prevent the matriculation of those with the greatest potential for excellence and leadership.

Beyond these commitments, we must recognize that the leaders of the 21st century, in virtually every calling and profession, will operate in a global environment. To prepare our students for leadership, our curriculum needs to focus increasingly on international concerns; our student populations must have strong international representation, and our students should have ample opportunities for study abroad. We have already made great strides in the internationalization of our curriculum. The content of many social science, law, and business courses is far more international today than it was even two decades ago, and enrollment in foreign language courses is at an all-time high. We have many international students in our graduate programs, and we have recently begun to admit a significant number of international students to Yale College. We intend to continue on that course and also to expand the opportunities for Yale College students to study abroad.

Though our perspective must be global, we must not lose sight of the abundant opportunities for leadership here in the city of New Haven. More than 2,000 Yale students, as well as many of our faculty, are actively engaged in volunteer service on a regular basis. This involvement pervades each of our professional schools -- from Medicine and Nursing to Management and Divinity -- as well as Yale College and the Graduate School. We must nurture this manifest sense of civic responsibility in our students, and, as New Haven's largest corporate citizen, we must assume leadership as an institution in community efforts to improve education and health care, revitalize neighborhoods, and foster economic development.

In emphasizing characteristics that distinguish Yale from other leading research universities -- our focus on undergraduates and the education of leaders -- let me not overlook the important tasks which we undertake in common with all leading research universities. Foremost among these are the advancement of human knowledge and the education of the next generation of scholars to carry on that mission. To support research, as well as to preserve our extraordinary collections, we have begun a $46 million program to renovate the Sterling Memorial Library and to relocate our superb Music Library collections to a new facility within Sterling. We have built two major new science buildings within the past seven years, and we are planning to renovate or replace most of the remaining laboratory space. Our graduate students receive superior instruction in the development of their capacities for scholarship, but we must expand and improve the programs that prepare them to be teachers. We must also provide better advice, counseling, and assistance in finding positions both inside and outside the academy. The new McDougal Center in the Hall of Graduate Studies will begin to address these needs.

To be counted among the world's great universities, a certain degree of breadth is required. To retain our position in this select company, we must continue to prepare students for scholarship and practice across a wide range of disciplines and professions, and we must continue to advance knowledge across an equally broad spectrum. In all these activities -- in every division of the arts and sciences and in every professional school -- we aspire to excellence, and in most of them we stand among the world's leaders. No university, however, has the resources to be the best in the world in every area of study. We must strive for excellence in everything we do, but we cannot do everything.

In the preceding sections I have discussed certain values that distinguish Yale and described some of the investments we must make to uphold them in the future. But Yale's distinctiveness derives not only from its institutional values but also from its particular academic strengths. In a university in which excellence is pervasive, two constellations of activity exhibit unusual breadth and depth. Before moving to a discussion of principles that can help guide decisions as we enter our fourth century, it is useful to characterize in broad terms these fields of study in which Yale has, and has the potential to sustain, special excellence.

The first of these is the humanities and the arts, broadly construed to include not only the humanities departments of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences, but also the fine arts schools, and our library and museum collections. I would include the Law School under this heading, given its distinctive emphasis upon grounding the study of law in its philosophical and social foundations.

Yale is arguably the premier university in the world in the humanities and the arts. Four humanities departments (English, French, Comparative Literature, and History) were rated first in the most recent National Research Council rankings of the quality of faculty. In art, drama, and music, Yale's professional schools compete primarily with specialized schools and conservatories, rather than other university-based schools, and yet the Schools of Art and Drama stand at the very top of their peer groups, and the Schools of Music and Architecture rank among the leaders. The Law School's preeminence is widely recognized, and only one other school in the nation can rival the breadth and depth of our library and art collections.

Yale's excellence in these subjects is not unconnected with its strength as an undergraduate institution. Exposure to some of the world's leading scholars in the humanities, to the richness of our collections, and, for the very talented, to musicians and artists of distinction, makes Yale College especially stimulating. We should be mindful, however, that it has taken decades to establish Yale's eminence in this constellation of activities, and that maintaining our distinction will require effort and investment. We must continue to employ the highest standards in making faculty appointments, and we must be willing, in an era when many universities aspire to leadership, to make highly competitive offers to attract and retain the best, in these fields as in others. To retain our competitive advantages in attracting fine arts faculty and students we must provide more resources for financial aid. We must find ways to house our art collections that would make more of the objects accessible, and our library collections must be protected from deterioration. Over the past two years, we have developed an ambitious plan to provide new or renovated facilities for the Schools of Art, Architecture, and Drama, the Department of the History of Art, the University Art Gallery, and a newly consolidated Arts Library.

Yale's second great constellation of academic strength resides in the biological sciences and medicine. We are among the handful of centers in the nation and the world that have assumed leadership in the basic biological sciences, the understanding of human health, the treatment of human disease, and the education of scientists and medical practitioners. We consistently rank among the nation's leaders in grants awarded by the National Institutes of Health, and our M.D. and Ph.D. programs stand among the best. As our fourth century begins, we must aspire to continuing leadership in the life sciences, which hold so much promise for human health and our nation's future prosperity.

Maintaining excellence in the sciences, physical and biological alike, will require substantial resources to support both ongoing operations and capital investments. We have recently developed a plan for the comprehensive renovation and reconfiguration of our central campus science facilities, and a similar plan will soon be developed in the School of Medicine. This planning effort has clarified the tradeoffs among the competing objectives of maintaining the size and quality of the faculty, the size and quality of our graduate programs, and the quantity and quality of renovated space. To finance the needed investments, with the prospects for Federal support uncertain, we must obtain increased support for both capital improvements and operating expenses from non-governmental sources: individuals, corporations, and foundations, as well as income generated from the transfer of university-owned technology to commercial use.

As we contemplate the future, we need to develop principles to guide the allocation of resources across activities. Let me suggest two such principles.

First, Yale's programs should be shaped more by an aspiration to excellence than a compulsion to comprehensiveness. Second, we should recognize and take advantage of the substantial interconnectedness among our schools, departments, and programs.

These principles of selective excellence and interconnectedness have important substantive implications, which I will illustrate by means of a few examples.

The range of human knowledge is so vast and so rich in variation that not even a great university can aspire to comprehensive coverage of every subject worthy of study. Even within those areas of Yale's greatest strength, the increasing specialization of faculty and the proliferation of sub-fields make comprehensiveness unattainable.

The principle of selective excellence has special relevance in fields of study -- such as the physical sciences, engineering, and management -- where limits on our resources will constrain our scale. In these fields, as in some others, faculty tend to identify with research "groups" that are narrower than whole departments or schools. In such instances, rather than seek broad coverage of an entire discipline, it may be wise to build a few distinguished groups of faculty, who can compete with the best in the world in their areas of specialization for research support and graduate students.

Several departments at Yale -- such as Astronomy, Statistics, and, more recently, Linguistics -- have employed this strategy with considerable success. They have built distinguished faculties who concentrated their research in just a few areas of specialization, and within these areas the departments have become international leaders. We are now employing such a strategy in our three engineering departments. We do not intend to grow to the size of MIT or Stanford in these disciplines, but we believe we can develop internationally recognized research groups in a few areas of chemical, electrical, and mechanical engineering and still offer an excellent and broad undergraduate program.

We intend to apply the principle of selective excellence within departments and programs rather than among them. Instead of focusing on which programs and departments to eliminate, we will focus on how particular programs and departments can achieve and sustain excellence with limited resources. We have many examples within the University; several of our most highly regarded departments and professional schools are not among the largest in their peer groups.

Yale's distinctive interconnectedness was often emphasized by President Giamatti. The College, the Graduate School, and the ten professional schools do not stand independently. They are instead part of one integrated whole, lending strength and support to one another. In such an environment, faculty appointments and programs that span more than one school or department can often yield extra benefits for the University as a whole. Allocating resources at the intersection of schools and departments can have a powerful impact on scholarship, teaching, and the larger society.

As an example, consider the contribution of our fine arts schools to the quality of education and student life at Yale College. Because none of our peer institutions can match our array of professional schools in the arts, the involvement of faculty from the Schools of Art and Music in undergraduate instruction gives Yale College a natural advantage in recruiting the students with exceptional artistic or musical talent who prefer a liberal education to a specialized conservatory. And despite the lack of formal involvement of the School of Drama in undergraduate education, the very presence of the nation's finest graduate program, and the environment it creates through the Yale Repertory Theatre and graduate student productions, strengthens both the Theater Studies major and extracurricular dramatic programs, helping Yale College attract and nurture extraordinarily talented undergraduates with an interest in the theater.

Several departments and schools within the University are currently emphasizing interconnectedness as a central feature of their faculty development strategies. The School of Forestry and Environmental Studies has recently made a joint appointment with the School of Law, and it is exploring linkages with Biology, Divinity, Epidemiology and Public Health, and Management. And our engineering departments are looking to develop the field of computer engineering, drawing on Yale's existing strengths in computer science and applied mathematics, as well as biomedical engineering.

Interdisciplinary programs are another obvious means of drawing upon the resources of 12 separate schools. As we approach Yale's fourth century, two University-wide programs have special importance: international studies and environmental studies. The Yale Center for International and Area Studies, now housed in a splendid new facility, Luce Hall, has historically drawn most of its faculty and student participation from the humanities and social science departments. Today, the School of Medicine is developing important teaching and research programs abroad, and Law, Management, Forestry and Environmental Studies, and Epidemiology and Public Health are undertaking new international initiatives. The Center for International and Area Studies can help to encourage and facilitate such efforts, drawing together students and faculty from around the University.

Similarly, because environmental issues are certain to remain among the public's paramount concerns as we enter the 21st century, we expect the contribution of Yale's Institute for Biospheric Studies to assume increasing importance. Sponsoring interdisciplinary research and graduate programs in the environmental sciences, the Institute has drawn upon faculty in biology, geology, anthropology, and the School of Forestry and Environmental Studies. Further linkages with the social sciences, law, public health, and medicine are being developed. Strengthening our undergraduate program in environmental studies is also an important priority.

We enter Yale's fourth century with a firm foundation and a clear direction. We reaffirm those values that have made Yale distinctive among the world's great universities -- a commitment to undergraduate education and a determination to educate leaders. We have unique excellence in the humanities and the arts, and we have the capacity to sustain it. We stand among the world's best in the biological sciences and medicine, and we are prepared to maintain our position despite near-term threats of diminished external support. We intend to sustain and enhance excellence in all our academic endeavors, selectively, as our resources permit. And to achieve that excellence, we will draw strength from the interconnectedness of this place, from a whole that is greater than the sum of its parts, a single university.

Like our predecessors 100 years ago, we have highly imperfect foresight. We cannot say what Yale will be in 50 or 100 years, but our strategy for the first decade or two is clear enough. To maintain Yale's distinctive strengths, we will invest, on a scale not seen since the 1930s, in the renewal of our residential colleges and libraries, as well as our athletic, arts, and science facilities. We will move aggressively to reap the fruits of the new information technologies in our teaching, research, and communication. We will build our competency in those areas of teaching and research that will assume increasing importance in the foreseeable future -- such as international and environmental studies. Indeed, we will continue the transformation of Yale, begun in the 18th century, from a local to a regional to a national and now to a truly international institution -- international in the composition of its faculty and student body as well as in the objects of its study.

We have thought hard about how to marshal the means to realize our present aspirations, and I believe that we have the financial and organizational capacity to succeed. But we need also to be flexible and adaptive. We are engaged in the generation of new knowledge, and this core activity will inevitably produce new opportunities for as yet unimagined innovations in education and research. Thus, we can have no rigid long-term plan. Instead, there must be a broad consensus on values, a shared sense of direction, and a perpetual willingness to revise yesterday's plans on the basis of new knowledge. In this spirit, we enter Yale's fourth century with confidence and commitment.

 
 
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