A Dean Who Raised the School’s Profile
and Broadened Its Reach Steps Down
Under Speth, the school’s overall endowment grew from $112 million to $400 million at the end of 2007, according to the annual financial memo that he sends Levin. The new wealth allowed the school’s total expenditures to triple, to slightly more than $38 million, which has been important for attracting international students who often don’t qualify for regular financial aid. The average scholarship award has more than doubled, to about $17,000. Even with the pounding that endowments have taken during the current economic crisis, F&ES has remained on solid financial footing.
Geballe and Development Director Eugenie Gentry both attributed Speth’s fund-raising ability partly to members of his own Yale College Class of 1964. “These are people who came back to campus, listened to Gus and said, ‘This is the right thing to do,’” Gentry said. “Gus has a moral vision and people respond to it.”
Speth, she said, resembled a “cyclone” or “whirling dervish” in the way he spins off ideas and tries to inspire. Geballe, reaching for similar descriptors, likened Speth to a “provocateur” and “pied piper” in his drive to move the school forward.
Geballe said the three deans that he has served with were all strong managers in their own way, but each had different missions dictated by the times. In the 1980s, he said, John Gordon reinvigorated the school’s research mission and increased the number of applicants, and Gordon’s successor, Jared Cohon, who left early to become president of Carnegie Mellon University, concentrated on broadening its scope and boosting its presence within Yale.
In some sense, “Gus just took all of that and moved it forward,” Geballe said. But the pace of progress has speeded up on many fronts. Besides Kroon Hall, the fund-raising bonanza and the world-famous visiting fellows, environmental studies is now a full major for Yale undergraduates; more women (six) are in tenure-track positions; and several new study centers and programs have been established.
Among them, the Center for Business and the Environment at Yale, the Yale Center for Environmental Law & Policy and the Center for Green Chemistry & Green Engineering at Yale reflect the school’s expansion into areas outside natural science and Speth’s view of what the environment as a discipline entails.
“It bridges ecology and economics and, more generally, between those disciplines that seek to understand nature and those that seek to understand human societies and their economic activity,” he said.
The Center for Industrial Ecology also fits that definition. It was created before Speth’s arrival, but Marian Chertow, Ph.D. ’00, who directs the Industrial Environmental Management Program, said it has “blossomed” during the years of Speth’s tenure.
Speth, she said, also supported the creation of a Journal of Industrial Ecology and the International Society for Industrial Ecology, for which Yale is the secretariat. She described Speth as “tenacious.” “He sets a goal and tries everything to meet it,” she said. “Sometimes you need a leader like that to show you what is possible.”
One of Speth’s largest goals, outside the school proper, and one of his most noted accomplishments was instilling environmental values in the university itself. Beinecke said the breadth of Speth’s impact ranged from high-profile projects such as Kroon Hall to the university’s adoption in October 2005 of a rigorous greenhouse gas emissions reduction target—a signal achievement of his deanship. “Gus is not a lone voice there anymore. Levin is a powerful voice,” she said.
Yale is committed to reducing its greenhouse gas emissions by 43 percent below 2005 levels by 2020. That decision was informed by F&ES student research that showed that Yale’s emissions exceeded those of 32 countries. “They were little countries, but that’s a dramatic sort of statement and it got attention,” said Speth. “Of course the [emissions] decision in the end was President Levin’s. I give him tremendous credit.”
Speth, said Geballe, is “pretty good at getting other people to step up to the plate. Even though Gus wouldn’t claim sole responsibility for the university greening itself, the fact is the president is now a green president and environmental best practices are a priority of his administration.”
Indeed, as if to prove Geballe’s point, Levin led a delegation of F&ES faculty in March to the International Scientific Congress on Climate Change in Copenhagen, where he chaired the plenary session.
Geballe said the dean’s impact sometimes passed unnoticed, as when he persuaded Levin to fund a committee chaired by Thomas Graedel, Clifton R. Musser Professor of Industrial Ecology, that led to the creation of a university Office of Sustainability and the hiring of its director, Julie Newman.
“If you had to pick the most surprising thing of all,” Geballe said, “Kroon Hall has inspired the construction people—the people who do the heating and building at Yale—to consider this (sustainability) stuff. That’s something we didn’t fully expect.”
Stephen Kellert, Ph.D. ’71, Tweedy Ordway Professor of Social Ecology, said that the school “was already a strong, prominent institution before Gus came, but Gus has been extraordinary,” and judged him especially effective at raising the school’s standing in policy circles outside the university and improving its public outreach. “That wasn’t something that was particularly strong at the school—and it is much more so now,” Kellert said.