Report from YAA Delegate Deborah Post

Report from YAA Delegate Deborah Post

January 4, 2019 in Events, Notes

The AYA is now the YAA. Here is Deborah Post’s report on this year’s AYA (now YAA) Assembly in New Haven. Deborah is our class AYA (now YAA) Delegate:

The 2018 Alumni Assembly again found a crisp blue-sky fall day.  Campus does show off well framed by red, orange and yellow foliage.  For those who have not been back to New Haven recently, a long walk takes one to parts you would no longer recognize, and to places that did not even exist.  The university seems much larger and less urban.  The new construction on Science Hill is mind-boggling.  What I call the Great Facilities Race, now well into its second decade, continues unabated.  It may be more important than The Game, if I am allowed a sacrilege.

Entitled Science at Yale: Shaping the Future, the Assembly highlighted the Report released last June by the Science Strategy Committee commissioned by the President to identify the most promising opportunities in STEM for the purpose of setting Yale’s priorities and determining where to invest.  I encourage all to read the Report, or at least its executive summary, for yourself:  It’s actually a good read.  There is even a link to provide your critiques and/or cheers.

In brief, Yale has decided to focus intensely on a handful of STEM areas where serious investments in research, faculty and facilities will be made.  The buzzwords were “impact” and “feasibility”. Where will research do the most good that realistically plays to Yale’s existing strengths?  Read the Report for the surprising answers.  (Teaser: think big data, quantums, the brain, inflammation and evolution.)  President Salovey predicts that when the Swedish add a Data category, a Yalie will be first to the podium.

Yale today speaks in the language of business, possibly amusing to a class of the early ‘70s when getting an MBA was almost embarrassing. Knowledge is produced.  Bricks and mortar are an investment priority. Feasibility of goals must be considered. Strategies are determined. Academic success is to be measured in research success, that is, knowledge production.

President Salovey spoke with concern of today’s public skepticism regarding the value of a college degree, aka a liberal education.  A shifting of language and a focus on substantive progress addresses the skepticism.  Missing is mention of character and moral development. I note a subtle University-wide shift away from producing leaders and toward producing knowledge.  The responsibility of the university is to lead in research that is then put to practical work through innovation and engineering to better the world.  Can you imagine Kingman Brewster giving this speech?

A continuing theme around the University is the “interdisciplinary.”  Ideas require cross pollination between fields of related study.  Innovation requires bridging the theoretical to the practical, pure science to engineering, data to all investigations.   New facility designs require students from different disciplines to come together in one space. The Tsai Center for Innovation is an umbrella over all study.  While the goal of catalyzing teams that mix and create is of course wonderful, the inadvertent consequence of the many alternative “spaces” for student life is that they draw away from the colleges, reducing the importance of the college as the undergraduate focal point.  Personally, this saddens me greatly.  Where our bright college years built life-long networks of friends, today’s push is to build networks of shared or complementing expertise.   Can there maybe be both?

This was my third and last Assembly as class delegate.  My first – Keep Yale Great in the Humanities– embraced the traditional liberal education and was tons of fun. The second – Jumpstarting Diverse New Communities– focused on student life with the decline of the colleges inadvertently highlighted. This third – The Push to Science & Innovation– was definitely the most stimulating and encouraging.  Yale is on the right road.  Boola boola.

Debbie Post


Below: Photos by Bill Fowkes


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