Chambers on Yale

AYA Assembly
"Yale in a Green World"
December 2007

By Al Chambers
Class of '62 Delegate
Ann Arbor, MI

In a world where there is growing concern about sustainability issues, Yale is doing its part. That was the inescapable conclusion for several hundred delegates attending the mid-November 67th Assembly of the Association of Yale Alumni.

Day One was devoted to Sustainability and Yale's efforts to be a "green" leader. Day Two introduced a new and energetic five-year Strategic Plan for the Association of Yale Alumni and included highlights of the university's recent academic and financial operations. Competition for the Class of 2011 was the toughest ever. Contributions and investment performance both remain extraordinary.

An indication of the degree of Yale's serious commitment to sustainability was President Rick Levin devoting his entire end-of-session "University Update" to major global sustainability issues and his pride and conviction in what Yale has accomplished. He said, "I think it is a great effort that has galvanized the community. It has the same contagious effect as civil rights."

Quite simply, as the AYA program stated, Yale believes that its sustainability efforts are "unparalleled in academia."

Six other '62 classmates attended the meetings as officers or delegates or the simultaneous convocation for Alumni Fund coordinators: David Honneus, Larry Lipsher, Chip Neville, Art Trotman, Murray Wheeler and Jim White.

The keynote by Gus Speth, '64, and Dean of Forestry and Environmental Sciences got the Assembly off to a rousing start. He said, "We need to become agents of change, stop being predictable. . . It is time for civil unreasonableness. . . We have a grand case of affluenza. . . We ignore the warnings."

One sign of how Yale has improved since our days was the composition of the student panel. Yale's first Director of the Office of Sustainability, Julie Newman and the three panelists, Katherine Gasner, '09, Sara Elizabeth Smiley-Smith, '13 Forestry and Liza Goldman Huertas, '08 Medical, all were well-informed and passionate about their environmental activities and the support provided by Yale.

At one end of the spectrum, they were involved in Yale programs and plans to bring major changes to the infrastructure. At the other, they were champions of student-led efforts to encourage students to "think about little things." For example, "not to waste food by taking more than one will eat." A recent one-night campus-wide survey of 2,700 undergraduates showed that more than 400 pounds of food was wasted. Another campaign, "Unplug," encourages students to disconnect all of their electrical equipment when they are away from the University on holiday breaks or even weekends. Yale supports the Student Task Force for Environmental Partnership by paying 24-student interns for their efforts in the colleges. Leader Gasner admitted that, "it is hard to access their consciousness."

Faculty Panelists
(L-R) Faculty Panelists Esty, Ringo, Axley, Bell, Anastas and Speth

An afternoon faculty panel delved into the University's many programs and agreed that there had been "great progress in the past 6-7 years in Moving Blue to Green." Interestingly, panelists thought that Alumni pressure had played a role in pushing for important Yale initiatives such as recycling. Yale recently ended its contract with its food services' vendor because the company was not willing to agree to Yale's sustainability requirements on such ideas as including locally grown food and reducing use of plastics. Environmental Health Professor, Michelle Bell noted that the general public is more interested in environmental issues related to human health than other issues. Environmental Law and Policy Professor, Daniel Esty discussed why businesses now were more interested but needed to see business advantages in their environmental efforts.

President Levin made similar observations and said that Yale needed to make decisions that were good for the University as well as for the environment. He chairs a University Sustainability Council. Levin's emphasis was on climate change and how the international community needs to better understand the price of carbon while finding ways to limit and control greenhouse gases.

A coming example will be the use of plant-covered green roofs on Morse and Stiles Colleges, when they are refurbished in the next few years. Every infrastructure plan and decision takes sustainability issues into account. Levin was troubled that the media had not been more interested in his recent op-ed piece on the need for people to become more involved in the climate change challenge. The piece was submitted to several major newspapers but after being rejected ran in a Yale publication. He quipped, "The US press is not interested in sensible statements; you have to say something outrageous."

Panelists Krentz, Lorimer and Dollhopf
(L-R) Panelists Krentz, Lorimer and Dollhopf

Mark Dollhopf '77 was completing his first year as AYA Executive Director, as he presented his vision for future alumni activities and emphases in a 31-page Strategic Plan. Joined by Linda Lorimer, '77JD and Susie Krentz, '80 and chair of the AYA Board of Governors, Dollhopf offered a vision of change clearly designed with the belief that Yale alumni are ready for a closer connection to the university. The plan utilizes opportunities offered by technology and also fits in with Yale's plans for international growth and greater participation from the graduate and professional school alumni. All of this is to be accomplished without compromising the central importance of Yale College and its alumni. Not everyone will like what is being proposed but for anyone who cares about Yale, there will be plenty to think about and potentially support.

Note the acronym SIGS. It stands for Shared Interest Groups. The idea is that in addition to the present Class and Club organizations, Yale Alumni also will be offered chances to join groups defined by gender, race, career profession, and extracurricular activities while at Yale. AYA believes that volunteers will welcome the additional contact and opportunities to exchange information. AYA budgets and staffing will be higher. Resources will be allocated in response to what is working best. A possibility is that Reunions may be organized by class clusters rather than five-year intervals. Dollhopf visited and met with 57 Yale Clubs all over the country as well as with Alumni leaders from other top universities in an effort to find and benchmark "best in class" among alumni organizations.

Dollhopf's energy and love for Yale are apparent. He wants to be on the leading edge and welcomes controversy. At the same time, he is an optimist. A good part of the day was dedicated to the idea of "celebrating what's right with the world," which seems easy to apply to Yale where so much appears to be positive.

Two programs already underway particularly caught my interest. Having discovered that packaging and selling Yale professor's lectures was not the profit center that had been anticipated, Yale now plans to offer lectures on the web through I-Tunes and other means for free. The idea is that people around the world will be exposed to Yale and its superb academic heritage.

Then there is the "Bulldogs in the Bluegrass" program. A few years ago, Louisville, Kentucky alumni, working with AYA, put together a program to give 30 Yale interns summer jobs. The city faced a brain drain and a general low national awareness. It has been a win-win. About 60 of the interns thus far have returned to live in Louisville and pursue careers. Plans are underway for similar programs around the country.

Although the Yale-Harvard game the day after the AYA assembly was a big let down, the time in New Haven was stimulating and very positive. Granting that those attending an AYA Assembly are a self-selecting group, there certainly was a great deal of enthusiasm about Yale and approval of the changes that are being made and contemplated.

(Al's e-mail address is

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