AYA Assembly Report, Fall ’09

Al Chambers
Ann Arbor, MI

The annual AYA Assembly again was an upbeat occasion, this time held November 19-21. The organization, under the leadership of Mark Dollhopf, is energetic and proud. The way Dollhopf puts it, “AYA are the friendsters, Development are the fundraisers.” With that in mind, AYA organizes and supports a growing list of global, national and local activities to spread the word about Yale and bring Alumni together.

Overseas trips to share AYA’s ideas and skill in planning with other universities remain a highlight and a good fit with Yale’s international initiatives. Classmates Dave Hummel and Dan Koenigsberg were members of the group that visited Japan last summer. Their trip was featured with photos by Cindy Hummel in our October web site posting. Dave and Dan were at the AYA Assembly in November as part of a host group for 40 Alumni leaders from several Japanese universities visiting Yale. I sat with them at dinner where they confirmed how much fun they had on the trip and how worthwhile they felt these exchanges were. The 2010 Global Alumni Leadership Exchange (GALE) will be to Turkey July 16-31. All Alumni can join these trips, which are well-planned but clearly not inexpensive.

Other programs included in 2010 AYA planning are Feb Club Alumni get- togethers around the country and the world in February; another Yale Day of Service May 15; an Entertainment Shared Interest Group program in Hollywood in March; “Bulldogs Across America” programs in an increasing number of cities, offering service internships to Yale undergraduates while supporting local initiatives; and for the more venturesome and fit, the second annual Yale Alumni Runners marathon. This year Omsk is the location following up on the 2009 run in Iceland.

When I received the announcement for the 2009 AY Assembly and saw that the main theme was “Transformational Dialogue: Spiritual and Religious Engagement at Yale and in the World,” I have to admit that I was surprised at the selection. But Yale knows how to organize a meeting and of course offer interesting speakers from both the faculty and the student body. The 400+ Alumni attending the sessions applauded the program and actively joined in. University Chaplain Sharon Kugler described the changing religious and spiritual landscape at Yale. Her role is to work with and support all religious groups. The Chaplain no longer also serves as the pastor of the University Church at Battell Chapel. The student panel was made up of a Protestant, a Catholic, an Orthodox Jew and a Hindu. They all emphasized how important religious life had been to them during their time at Yale and how welcoming the University had become to all faiths.

President Levin’s luncheon report on the University, delivered in Commons, admitted that 2008-2009 had been a rough year financially. He explained that the University was forced to suspend and delay many important projects including the two additional residential colleages. Nonetheless, he asserted, “Despite the gloomy news, Yale is in great shape. Yale has the finest undergraduate facilities in the country. We are stronger than we were five years ago, and we will be stronger in five years.”

Our meeting came only a few weeks after the tragic murder of the graduate assistant. Levin described how deeply affected the University was but also explained that he considered the University’s safety program including in that particular high security lab to be well planned and administered.

Clearly taking his annual meeting with Alumni leaders seriously, President Levin articulated 11 goals dividing them into areas where Yale wants to maintain its leadership and others where improvement is needed.

1. “Yale College is best. We win most competitions. We do the most for undergraduates. It has to be preserved.”

2.  “The nexus of strength is arts and social sciences. These schools and departments lead. Humanities and social sciences are all in the top three or five.”

3. “The Law School is unquestionably the best in the country but has lost a few key faculty in the past few years. It needs to do more internationally.”

4. “Science and engineering. It takes decades but there is real progress.”

5. “We have a great Medical School but the clinical side lags some of the top competition. That includes Harvard and Johns Hopkins.”

6. “The School of Management is poised for a real take off following development of a revised curriculum. The construction of a new campus will happen but is frozen for now.”

7. “We have a new Dean at the School of Environment and Forestry. The connections with Arts and Sciences will continue to grow. Our Green House Gas footprint is meant to be among the world leaders. We will have a cogeneration plant, but that too is frozen for the moment.”

8. “We will continue to expand our International leadership initiative. There is the possibility of an undergraduate collage in Singapore to attract Asian students. China was an early focus. Now India also is a focus and we have added India emphasis to the curriculum.”

9. “The New Haven gains need to be protected during this difficult recession. Yale is the biggest downtown landlord.”

10. “The West Campus is more an instrument than a goal. It can help us achieve Science and Engineering goals and the interdisciplinary programs with Arts and Sciences.”

11. “We want to double down on creating a culture of managerial excellence. Every student and faculty member is carefully studied. We need to have the same emphasis on staff.”

Following the prepared material, President Levin answered a number of written questions that had been submitted in advance. My question was among those selected. I reminded President Levin that at last year’s meeting when the Great Recession still was developing he used a sports analogy that Yale had done the best on offense and would also do the best on defense. Did he still feel the same way after such severe losses in endowment? The President smiled at remembering his comment but said he still felt the same way. The commitments in the goals were still in place including those where delay was necessary. And he reminded the audience that despite the huge $6.5B loss in 2008 and another sub par performance in 2009, Yale’s investment performance over the past 15 years still was among the best in the nation.

By the way — The idea of instituting cohort Reunions for classes who were in school in the same time frames, which might have had some impact on the our 50th Reunions, has been put on hold. If and when AYA proceeds on this interesting idea, they are likely to start with classes who graduated later than we did. In other words, younger people seem likely to be more responsive to an important change like this. At our Class Council Meeting last year, there was virtually no support for the idea.

I certainly look forward to the AYA Assembly. Spending a few days on campus talking with students, faculty and alumni is a refreshing experience.

Al’s email: alchambers@comcast.net

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