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Yale 62

YAA Representative’s Report: Fall, 2020

By Peter Sipple, Class of 1962 YAA Representative

[Editor’s Note by John Stewart: Whiffalot. A few weeks ago Louis “Boiler” Mackall passed the YAA representative torch to Peter “Pop” Sipple. I’m very grateful for Louis’ three years of service, which included putting me up in Guilford, as well as reports to the Class Council. On my part, there’s only a slight hesitation as the new responsibility departs from the tenors and descends to the bass-baritones, although in fact Pop is equally adept at tenorino high jinks. Stay tuned!]

Yale’s Alumni Association kicked off its fall convocation virtually on September 15, with the topic “The Arts and Humanities at Yale.” Following lead-off comments by staff members in Development and YAA Director Weili Cheng, President Peter Salovey described the state of the University in the time of Covid. With 40% of students in residence, classes go forward both in situ and remotely. He acknowledged scholars in medicine, nursing and the behavioral sciences who are working to mitigate the effects of the pandemic, including the quest for a vaccine. Salovey then returned to the focus of the convocation, the arts and humanities, and introduced the moderator of the session’s panel, Dean of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences, Tamar Gendler.

Dean Gendler conveyed a similar sense of well-being at Yale despite the most pressing of challenges, the foremost of which is to keep people healthy. She introduced the panel, the deans of the schools of music, law, and divinity: Robert Blocker, Heather Gerken, and Gregory Sterling; as well as Marvin Chun, the Undergraduate Dean, and Lynn Cooley, Dean of the Graduate School. Each of these five spoke briefly, describing how her and his school or division was achieving its academic goals under highly unusual circumstances. Dean Blocker acknowledged the difficulty of virtual music-making and noted recent improvements made by platforms like Zoom that allow for greater synchronicity and improved sound reproduction. With 70% of Divinity students in residence, Dean Sterling described community service programs that are now underway because of the pandemic, not despite it. Dean Gerken noted that most first-year law students are in residence, with classes held in small pods rather than lectures.

Peter Sipple

Dean Gendler asked whether the arts and humanities schools would keep some contingency arrangements created in this time of Covid, once its spread is over. Each dean noted at least one teaching method and/or program that has brought about positive results and could well get incorporated into the curriculum.

One’s overall impression from the Convocation’s reports is that Yale is coping well with the challenges imposed by the spread of the virus. It would have been even more interesting to learn about the nature and extent of interactions and internal communications taking place since last spring that have resulted in contingency arrangements described by the deans. One was left with the impression that each of the schools and divisions solved problems more or less independently, but a complex organization like a university no doubt involves a network of decision-making and a hierarchy of decision-makers. This attendee, at least, would have appreciated learning more about that complexity.


We invite your comments.

1 comment to YAA Representative’s Report: Fall, 2020

  • Ken Merkey

    By way of background, the 2018 Convocation primary focus was comingling STEM with the Humanities. The 2019 focus was on diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI). I found both of those issues far more interesting (and meaty) than the visceral approach to the Arts and Humanities in this year’s Convocation. One could describe the Dean’s panel as a mélange of anecdotes. Yes, everything is different this year and, yes, people have different ways to adapt.

    Hopefully, we will get into the meat of the subject and understand why Yale has made a renewed commitment to the Arts and Humanities later this session.

    Ken Merkey, YAA delegate from Yale Club of Charleston