AYA Assembly Report, Fall ’08

Al Chambers
Ann Arbor, MI
published on our site: January 29, 2009 

The optimism and satisfaction about Yale at the annual November AYA Assembly from both the speakers and the delegates was palpable. That was despite the fact that the meeting took place only a few days before what was taken, at least for a while, to be the bottom of the 2008 stock market decline. President Rick Levin obviously was aware of concern over the endowment because he opened his President’s Summary by saying that he would deal with the University’s endowment situation first because it was the question he was being asked most often. He quickly added that what he really wanted to talk were several of the encouraging developments that had taken place since the AYA’s 2007 meeting.

The Yale President acknowledged that it had been a bad year for Yale’s investments but reminded the audience that markets go down as well as up and that the annualized performance over the previous 15 years had been extraordinary. Levin stated that “everything in Yale’s strategy would move forward but not at the speed we anticipated. There will be no change in need-based enrollment even with people at all levels of income able to pay less of the enrollment costs.” It would be the same for the two new residential colleges and the development of the West Campus.

He explained that both he and chief investment officer David Swensen were economists and were working diligently together to protect the University’s investments in what was turning out to be a difficult period. He joked that he thought that regarding its investments, “Just like the 2008-football team, Yale plays better defense than offense.” The Bulldogs went on to beat Princeton the next day in what was a cold and windy Yale Bowl. A month later, Swensen confirmed that Yale’s endowment had plunged about 25% or $6 Billion dollars in 2008 but said that the historical performance remained far ahead of other universities and investment entities. It was his first losing year since coming to Yale in 1988.

Finances aside, Levin contended that the University was doing very well and reconfirmed his commitment to becoming even more international and in sharing the richness of the academic experience with the general population largely by creative use of the web. Both he and other speakers emphasized the pride and excitement in making 15 of Yale’s best professors and most popular courses publicly available on the web. The professionally produced high definition television lectures and course materials can be found at http://oyc.yale.edu. My conversations with delegates, speakers and students all indicated that Yale remains very much on a high.

The unusual theme for the 2008 Assembly was “Building on the Legacy of Publishing at Yale,” which obviously was attractive to your 1962 delegate as a former Yale Daily News editor and career journalist and communicator. What was clear was that the present leaders in this field at Yale have an abiding commitment to “providing diverse electronic and print resources in support of teaching and research at the university.”  The main panel included University Printer John Gambrell (Yale was the first to have a University Printer in the United States); University Librarian Alice Prochaska, and Director of Publications and end Editor of Yale Global Online Magazine Nayan Chanda (a former contact of mine from my days at Ford Motor Company and his at the Wall Street Journal). Yale’s Digital Strategy Consultant, David Schiffman, moderated the fast-paced session.

Equally interesting were Student Editors in a session titled “The Medium for the Message.” It included Editors-in Chief from the Yale Daily News, Yale Record, School of Forestry & Environmental Studies magazine (SAGE) and The Pocket Part, an online publication of the Yale Law Journal. The surprise was that with the exception of the online law publication, the other three all explained that their publications were pursuing strategies and looks that went back to earlier generations and were part of an effort to preserve and strengthen conventional print publications. That, by the way, doesn’t mean that they don’t have online products but only that they most value their print traditions.

Break-out groups on these subjects were fascinating and self-selective, so I naturally returned to the OCD Building on York Street. No surprise here -the delegates who had selected this session were every bit as interested in talking about the 60’s, 70’s and 80’s as the exciting activities now taking place. The outgoing News editor-in-chief was proud of the paper’s all-night election coverage of Barack Obama’s victory, where News reporters had been assigned to key locations around the country.  I remembered how the ’62 Newsies had relished in our coverage of the 1960 squeaker election. We ignored our deadlines and were one of the very few Eastern seaboard newspapers to headline Kennedy’s victory over Nixon when the decisive Illinois vote count finally was declared after four o’clock in the morning.

Day Two of the Assembly focused on the Alumni Association and its myriad of activities. How many of you know that AYA supported what was called “Feb Club” last year? Did any of you go the parties, which were held at various locations around the country, all organized by Yale alums? It was an effort to resuscitate for Alumni an idea that apparently flared and then failed at Yale in the 80s to make late-winter February an organized party month at Yale. The 2009 plan is to have an Alumni party event in a different location around the country plus a few international locations each night in February. Organizers reported that many of the alumni who attended the 2008 parties said that they had never before been to a Yale Alumni event. Here is the web site including the schedule: http://www.febclub.webs.com . How about a few reports for Mike Kane and the web site about this year’s Feb Club festivities? So far, there is nothing scheduled here in Michigan.

AYA Executive Director Mark Dollhopf is full of ideas and enthusiasm. He again said, “the chief concept of the AYA is ‘revisioning’ with the Shared Interest Groups as major Alumni constituencies. The three types of ‘SIGS’ are by Identity (Hispanics, African American, Gay and Lesbians, etc.), Student Life-based Groups (Yale Daily News, etc.) and vocational groups (Yale Real Estate Association, etc.) These groups are starting to hold meetings and mini-Reunions of their own and are getting favorable response.  Dollhopf said that the next stage of the AYA Strategic Review concerns classes. When I told him that a class such as 1962, while in favor of progressive change, was likely to be focused on our own 50th Reunion in 2012. He of course understood.  At the same time, he clearly was interested in exploring new concepts such as cohort Reunions where classes from several successive years might come to New Haven on the same weekend. Findings and possibly recommendations about future class events should be part of the 2009 Assembly.

An issue of minor controversy was the energy being expended by activist Alumni to put together travel groups to foreign countries to explain Yale’s alumni ideas and successes. A group visited Australia in 2008 and a trip to Japan is scheduled in June,  2009. Although no one objected to the overseas travel, there was some support for the idea that it might be as important and valuable to schedule trips to locations in the United States that might benefit even more from the efforts of these Yale Alumni.

The alumni who attend these annual Assemblies are incredibly dedicated and committed to Yale. I am proud of the University and very impressed by its vision, recent policies and accomplishments. But in this group, my own level of enthusiasm is minor compared with many others. Their abiding commitment to Yale helps make the University even better.

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  • Al Chambers February 7, 2009 at 7:02 pm

    Hi Dave and Cindy, You guys are great travelers. I found the discussions about focus on AYA international versus trips and projects within the U.S. interesting. I guess that it is good for Alumni to do both. Yale certainly has a good story to share.

    On the Feb Club parties, one was formed in just the paast few days here in Ann Arbor and Feb 6 at a quite new brew pub. It was fun, although it did make me feel middle aged. The organizers and bulk of those attending were Law School students who had graduated from Yale between 2004-2007. There were good discussions. It looked like red beer was the preferred taste. People feel good about Yale. Probably 15 alumni there in total including a couple in our age group. I was glad that I went.

  • Dave Hummel February 1, 2009 at 8:01 pm

    Cindy and I are going on the June 27, 2009 AYA trip to Japan. Any interest from other classmates?