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Wick Sloane's application for the presidency of Yale (essay)

What I'll Do as Yale's President
October 9, 2012

With this column, I apply for president of Yale.  With my Yale degree, an M.P.P.M. that became an M.B.A., how could I fail?

Vacant presidencies are everywhere, and I need to apply quickly. The MIT presidency went vacant and filled before I could even click on "new document." Princeton I’ll leave to CIA Director and Princeton Ph.D. General David Petraeus. He has a prayer of waking the place up on admitting veterans.

My own Bunker Hill Community College is looking. A friend offered to be my campaign manager. Tossing myself under the next MBTA train arriving at the Community College stop would be a cleaner death.  State politics will be the death of public higher education yet.  Federal action or bust.

When Yale alum and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton picks Yale as her Ike/Columbia staging area for the U.S. presidency, I’ll withdraw my candidacy, of course, In the meantime, let’s begin the discussion.

(1) My first act as Yale President will be to apologize to the nation and to the world for the Iraq war.  Too many Elis were present at the creation. George W. Bush. Seated but not confirmed U.N. Ambassador John Bolton. Most troubling, U.S.-Iraq Pro-Consul L. Paul (Jerry) Bremer, who thought disbanding the Iraqi army without pay was a good idea. Dick Cheney, too.

As Yale President, I will order an audit -- why not from Bain Consulting? – course by course, class by class, assignment by assignment of this sad trio to determine how a Yale education went so wrong. Next, I’ll ensure that all courses, graduate and undergraduate, train students to evaluate evidence and sources to know whether a country does/does not have weapons of mass destruction. “Evaluating Sources” is the start of even elementary research guides. Graduation requirements will include ability to do a cost/benefit analysis for decisions such as when to spend a few more weeks or months or years looking for facts versus launching a three-trillion dollar war by mistake.

All Yale dining halls will be open, free, to Iraq and Afghanistan veterans. Homeless veterans will be welcome this winter in all Yale buildings. And we’ll find you a home by spring.

I’ll commission Yale graduate Maya Lin to put up a wall listing the dead, Yale or not, from Afghanistan and Iraq. I’ll withhold paychecks and transcripts for faculty and students failing pop quizzes on battles listed on the Commons end of Woolsey Hall -- Cambrai, Argonne, Somme Chateau-Thierry, Ypres, St. Mihiel, and Marne. I can’t be the last Yale student who read the names of the 1,020 dead and wondered about these battles walking by every day. Has anyone in this 21st century stopped to read the cenotaph inscription: “In Memory of the Men of Yale who True to Her Traditions gave their Lives that Freedom might not Perish from the Earth. 1914 Anno Domini 1918.”

(2) Effective at once, Yale will enroll 250 undergraduate veterans of the Iraq and Afghan wars per class.  Do these men and women all yet have the skills of a Yale freshman?  Probably not.  We’ll start with a summer school for catch-up.  If these men and women need to be at Yale for five or six years instead of four, so what? Their presence in the classrooms will enlighten discussions of wars started by people in climate-controlled Washington, D.C., office buildings.

Yale reports that nine undergraduates there are part of the Yellow Ribbon program in the Post-9/11 GI Bill, which is open to veterans and their dependents. By contrast, Bunker Hill Community College, where I work, has nearly 500 veterans. The trouble with Yale's dodge is that all nine could be veterans or none could be veterans. I'm waiting for clarification.

{3} Turning to Yale and Wall Street: one day at a soup kitchen does not atone for another 364 of hedge-funding. Come on. I will eliminate the annual Yale alumni “Day of Service.” Crazy me. During my elite education, I bought the line from the Gospel of Luke: “And to whomsoever much is given, of him shall much be required: and to whom they commit much, of him will they ask the more.” The only justification for a federally subsidized elite education is that its graduates leave the world in better shape than they found it. We baby boom alumni, entering the late chapters of our lives, may be the first to leave the world in worse shape.

Let’s begin repairs with public education. Until such time as the poorest K-12 students in the U.S. have the highest literacy rates in the world, Yale degrees will expire every five years unless graduates have run for school board in their towns.  Notarized ballots mailed to the registrar will suffice as proof.

(4) I will excoriate, scarify, hang by the thumbs the reporters and editors of the Yale Daily News. For years, these would-be journalists have agreed not to contact the trustees, known as Fellows of the Yale Corporation, as long as the Yale president and administration returns calls promptly. Our republic, I will explain, cannot stand for the gerbilization of the press. Yale Daily News alumni my age think I must be making this up.

College presidents don’t raise tuition.Trustees do. I’ll remind them all of the press and the Iraq war. (As of press time, no reply from The Yale Daily News on whether this policy continues.) Margaret Warner, distinguished correspondent on the PBS News Hour, you were a recent member of the Yale Corporation. Whose idea was this?

(5) The Yale undergraduate admissions staff will grow up. A true horror story. It happened to me a few years ago. Ignoring protestations that “It’s just not done,” I prevailed on extracting a visit by Yale to Bunker Hill Community College, not a regular stop. I had set the schedule for the day in collaborative, written emails with the two admissions officers who were to visit. The two arrived an hour late, leaving me to call the admissions office in New Haven, fearing an accident. “We couldn’t call because the phone was in the trunk,” one said on arrival.   

The two, dressed for an evening at the laundromat, knew from the e-mails that the first 30-minute appointment was with students who had to go to work. The second was with the vice president of academic affairs and the deans. The students who hadn’t left were late for work. I apologized to the vice president and the deans, skipped that meeting, and hustled the two through the other appointments as fast as I could. These two Yale admissions officers had brought no business cards, brochures, catalogs, or any material whatsoever about Yale.

MIT visits Bunker Hill Community College to inspire students about education and to honor the teachers of students who excel in science and math, often without having eaten that day. Two BHCC students are at MIT this fall.

(6) With sorrow and regret, I will close my long-inert Yale School of Management. I was in the sixth class of this school, founded on the idea that everyone must from time to time to apply management and leadership skills beyond just business.  A few of us found work such as bringing clean water to rural Pakistan. Or public education.

What’s followed is more than 30 years of whimpering by the school that the school fails to land at the top of the plain-vanilla business-school rankings. Why would a nontraditional, innovative program expect to be on the same list as Harvard, Stanford or Wharton? I thought the Yale brand was about leading, not following.That build-a-better-world dream gave up the ghost with the appointment of a new dean, certainly a fine man, whose prior assignments were pushing other business schools to the top of the standard rankings chart.

The School of Management faculty and students can disperse to Harvard, Wharton and Stanford, where they all want to be anyway. I’m taking the dive for Iraq. Let those universities take the blame for the knuckleheads on Wall Street. Under my presidency, Yale will return to setting the standards to inspire others.

Oh, what about the Yale School of Managment’s under-construction Norman Foster, kazillion-dollar new campus? I’ll tip my hat to Poets and Quants, the web zine trying to make sense of business schools today. In and around this unfinished Xanadu, I’ll dump truckloads of lone and level sand. Steel and marble signs around the site, lit at night, with a poem will warn all who would take a Yale education and follow.

Ozymandias, by Percy Bysshe Shelley

I met a traveller from an antique land
Who said: `Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
Stand in the desert. Near them, on the sand,
Half sunk, a shattered visage lies, whose frown,
And wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command,
Tell that its sculptor well those passions read
Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things,
The hand that mocked them and the heart that fed.
And on the pedestal these words appear --
"My name is Ozymandias, king of kings:
Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!"
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare
The lone and level sands stretch far away.'

Bio

Wick Sloane writes the Devil's Workshop column for Inside Higher Ed.

 

 

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