Dear Yale College Parents,
At a time when I ordinarily write to you with news of the academic year – and this one has so much good news to report – and with my thoughts on our students, alumni, and faculty, I write in the wake of Friday’s shootings in nearby Newtown with my thoughts instead turned toward the families of the victims whose lives ended so suddenly and so tragically. With final examinations ending tomorrow, and with it the semester, we on campus are dispersing for the winter break just at a time when we would ordinarily be coming together. Some of our students are on their way home to be with you; others will spend the winter break here, resting and reflecting before the new year begins; others still have plans that will take them to points neither home nor here. Wherever the next three weeks will take us, we carry with us a shared sorrow for our neighbors.
You will have many conversations to explore over the break. Let me help you by telling you more about what has happened this semester. The biggest news of the term is that Yale’s provost, Peter Salovey, will succeed Richard Levin as president after 20 years of service. Provost Salovey, my predecessor as dean of Yale College, has also served as dean of the graduate school and, before that, chair of his department, Psychology. No one knows Yale College better than he does. As you can imagine, the entire campus has received this news of his appointment with great excitement.
In mid-November, Provost Salovey announced two important initiatives to support and develop teaching across Yale: the first, the Yale Teaching Center, will begin with programs, workshops, and awards for the faculty. The second is a Provost’s Teaching Initiative that supports excellent teaching at Yale and recognizes ten faculty members with a new teaching award. The best part of these initiatives is that their beneficiaries are the students in Yale College.
Teaching in Yale College has made other news recently after a faculty committee on online education presented a report this month recommending that Yale College expand its current program of offering select summer online courses for credit and allow students to earn fall- or spring-term credits for a small number of online Yale courses. The committee, noting the overwhelming success of Yale’s longstanding and free Open Yale Courses program, which brings Yale lectures to audiences around the world, also recommended that instructors consider making their teaching materials available to the public, not for credit but as an excellent way to further Yale’s mission of disseminating knowledge. I expect that these recommendations will generate excellent ideas among both students and faculty.
You will recall from my August letter that I wrote to you about my concern that alcohol and other drug use was harming students. Let me bring you up to date here by reporting two significant initiatives, which were both announced a few days ago.
The first is the Yale College Dean’s Office Task Force on Alcohol and Other Drugs, chaired by Yale College Dean of Students Marichal Gentry. The 15 members of this task force, made up of students, faculty members, the Chief of Yale Police, representatives from the Departments of Athletics and Yale HEALTH, and deans, have received their charge: to help Yale College make the undergraduate experience safer. The task force will deliver its recommendations to me by the end of January 2013.
The second is the new University Council Committee on Alcohol in Yale College, which President Levin is convening in January. This committee, comprised of Yale alumni and parents on the University Council; an advisory group to the President and senior administrators; and experts on contemporary college life, with assistance from the Office of the Secretary and Vice President of Student Life, will submit its report and recommendations to President Levin, President-elect Salovey, and me in the spring. To give you a sense of the topics that other University Council committees have studied, a full list is available here.
Let me also bring you up to date on the fall break that I mentioned in August. Students enjoyed the five-day recess that began October 24 and ran through October 28. A block party kicked things off the first night of the break, with artists, live bands, and booths from registered student organizations lining High Street, just outside Old Campus. Students who stayed in New Haven received free or specially priced seats for the Met Opera’s broadcast of Otello, buses to New York city, and tickets to local movies; or they attended workshops on listening and note-taking, writing, and language-learning strategies. Faculty led field trips to Walden Pond in Massachusetts; to the Cloisters Museum in New York; and even to the Canadian Appalachians.
Just before Halloween we rode out Hurricane Sandy, which thankfully spared Yale’s campus, although it caused widespread damage in communities nearby. It also caused Yale to take the unprecedented step of canceling classes for two days and imposing a curfew, but things returned to normal very quickly, thanks to the cooperation and good will of our students, our faculty, and our emergency coordinators. The communications you received from me during the hurricane revealed something we did not know: that many of your e-mail addresses are out of date, prompting you to ask how to update this information. Here, please ask your sons and daughters to do this themselves, since only they can change their records this way. And please do ask them to do it, since we now see how important it is for us to be able to reach you in an emergency.
I’ve taken us back to October, but let me close with the very recent news that one of our students has won a Mitchell Scholarship and nine have won Rhodes Scholarships, a record, and a reminder of the talent of all our students, who excel, well, just about everywhere you look – in class, on the playing fields, on stage, in public service. I know that their many accomplishments come not just from their gifts alone; they come from very hard work. So now that we have reached this point in the academic year, I see how much they are in need of a rest. Wherever they spend the winter break, I hope they will find time to set their work aside and turn their thoughts toward home.
On behalf of my colleagues in Yale College, I offer best wishes for the New Year.
Dean of Yale College
Sterling Professor of History of Art