From the Editor

Yale's president, still at work

When I last sat down to write this column, the Yale administration was holding its collective breath over President Rick Levin's career path. Would he stay at Yale, or would Obama hire him to run U.S. economic policy? After a month of campus uncertainty, Obama chose Gene Sperling '85JD instead, and the sigh of administrative relief was almost audible. One dean says he was "very, very happy." When I asked a fund-raiser for her reaction, she said, "I was in the camp of 'Hallelujah!'"

Yale would ultimately survive "just fine" without Levin, as senior trustee Roland Betts '68 pointed out two months ago. But right now Yale is trying to cope with recession-induced budget shortfalls while capping off a capital campaign. And among people who study the care and feeding of the university, Levin is regarded as a manager par excellence. David Gergen '63, a former trustee who has worked for four U.S. presidents, wrote a piece for us in 2003 in which he said Levin "has done more to lift up Yale than any leader in its modern history."

At a "town hall" meeting on February 8 in Battell Chapel, Levin spoke to a full house of faculty and staff about the state of the university. Yale is staring into the jaws of a budget gap for 2011–12—the third year in a row—and while this year's deficit of $68 million is smaller than its predecessors, Levin said, Yale is running out of painless ways to close it. Still, Yale expects to partly plug the gap with restricted endowment funds; administrators think some funds that have been collecting balances can fairly be applied to existing expenses.

When Levin explains Yale issues, he sounds like the professor he is, analyzing the interactions of micro and macro aspects of Yale. He sketched, for instance, how the $6.5 billion drop in the endowment two years ago affects different parts of the university differently: the Beinecke and other institutions that get nearly 60 percent of their budgets from endowment are suffering most, even as the medical school, buoyed by stimulus grants for research, is adding jobs. In his talk and the question-and-answer session, he touched on faculty hiring, postponement of new construction, Yale's rankings in humanities, benefits for salaried workers, relations with New Haven, and two dozen other topics. Levin is more a lecturer than an orator. But he never lacks for facts, and his ratio of information to words—not a ratio every public speaker pays attention to—is very high.

Afterward, Yale staff I talked to who were leaving the event seemed satisfied. "He always has good things to say," said one woman. "He always has the details." But it wasn't lost on them that although Levin said the budget cuts will be painful, the details that affect individuals—like how many more layoffs there will be—are still being hammered out. He "gave some good news," said one. "What's the bad news? When's that coming?"  


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