On Tuesday afternoon, in a small ceremony at the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library, Yale University President Richard Levin ended the two-month search for a new dean of Yale College, naming Graduate School Dean Peter Salovey as the replacement for departing Yale College Dean Richard Brodhead. Levin named History Department Chairman Jon Butler as the new dean of the Graduate School.
We couldn’t be happier with the decision. Salovey and Butler were the top two candidates on the short list the search committee submitted to Levin, and their spots there were deserved. Levin made a fabulous choice in Salovey as the undergraduate dean, and, in some ways, Butler seems even better suited to the graduate deanship than Salovey. While the outcome promises to be positive, the circumstances surrounding the shift make us a little uneasy.
In many ways, Salovey embodies the characteristics that make Brodhead so beloved. He’s got the personality for the job. We already know from his packed Intro Psych classes that he’s dynamic in front of crowds. Those of us who have taken his class know that his two teaching prizes were well-deserved. And behind all of his charisma in the classroom, he is an approachable instructor who made students feel comfortable during his office hours.
As much as Salovey may share these traits with Brodhead — and indeed with any good candidate for the job — we hope that students do not measure these two leaders against one another. Salovey will have his own priorities, his own goals, and his own techniques for accomplishing them. It would be unfortunate to evaluate our new leadership by constantly comparing it to the old.
We are thrilled that Levin has given Salovey back to the undergraduates. But we are a little uneasy about the message this sends to the graduate school. The deanships of Yale College and the School of Arts and Sciences are of equal status, with equal importance in administrative duties, such as tenure decisions. Pulling Salovey from his position as dean of the Graduate School to serve as dean of the undergraduate school has the potential to establish a dangerous hierarchy. Because of a string of administrative shake ups, the Graduate School has had three different deans in three years, a record that surely cannot help foster community.
We hope Butler is able to give the students and faculty of the Graduate School a greater sense of stability. Butler’s acceptance speech to his colleagues in Beinecke yesterday revealed a man in love with intellectual pursuits and his philosophy on learning seems to fit well with his new position. As chair of the large and diverse History Department, Butler has shown his skill for consensus-building, and we hope he is able to use these skills to help build the community the Graduate School has been pushing for in recent years.
As sad as we are that Brodhead is leaving, we are excited to be getting Salovey back. We hope to be done, for a while at least, with such administrative shuffling and hope the new administration is able to quickly refocus on serving the University.