With the imminent departure of Yale Provost Susan Hockfield for the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, the University will have lost to the presidencies of other schools two top administrators in less than six months. While most professors and administrators said the close timing of the two departures was coincidental, some credited the University’s improved reputation, wise administrative choices by Yale President Richard Levin, and a lack of turnover in the University’s top job as reasons for the departures.
MIT announced August 26 that Hockfield had been selected as the school’s 16th president and would assume the leadership of the institute in early December. Former Dean of Yale College Richard Brodhead left to head Duke University July 1, and in the first recent Yale turnover of its kind Hockfield’s predecessor as provost, Alison Richard, became vice chancellor of the University of Cambridge in 2003.
Last Thursday, Hockfield told the News she could not imagine a better education in academic leadership than that which she received at Yale.
“Its been a marvelous place for me to learn about the many things a university does and the many ways a university is led,” she said.
Administrators and faculty members said the short amount of time between departures is a coincidence. All three had long served as leaders at Yale, Levin said.
“In my top administrators, Alison Richard [served for] eight and a half years, Dean Brodhead for 11 and Hockfield [as graduate school dean and then provost] for six,” Levin said. “They were all ready to take on major leadership roles.”
History professor emeritus Gaddis Smith agreed that the most recent appointments were separate events since Brodhead and Hockfield were in different situations. In Brodhead’s case, due to his age, this may have been his one last opportunity for administration at the highest level, Smith said. For Hockfield, he said, MIT represented “a huge opportunity” and a situation to which she was naturally suited.
But Smith, who is writing a history of Yale in the 20th century, said the improved reputation of the University has also increased the likelihood of its leaders being tapped to head other institutions. When you combine the past performance of Yale administrators and the school’s prominence, the University becomes “sort of a happy hunting ground for search committees,” Smith said.
Many officials and professors credited Levin with having a good eye for future leaders.
“If he weren’t picking such good people, we wouldn’t be exporting our talent,” Yale College Dean Peter Salovey said.
Levin’s long tenure may also have played a role, said Robert Geiger, a professor of higher education at Pennsylvania State University who formerly taught at Yale. Administrators may think leaving the University is the only way to become a college president, Geiger said, as Levin has led Yale for more than a decade.
Deputy Provost Charles Long rejected this assertion, saying MIT represented a special opportunity for Hockfield.
“Surely, she was not in any hurry to move up or out,” Long said.
Yale has begun the search for Hockfield’s replacement. Both Long and Salovey said choosing a scientist might make sense since it would balance the leadership of the faculty of arts and sciences. Gender could also be consideration, Long and History chairman Paul Freedman said. But the three said Levin should ultimately pick the best candidate for the job.
“You never want to restrict the pool from which you chose a person. An outstanding provost is more important than someone from [one specific] area,” Salovey said.
Ecology and Evolutionary Biology chairman Stephen Stearns and Physics chairman Ramamurti Shankar said it was not crucial to fill the job with a scientist. The new provost should be “sympathetic to science but wouldn’t have to be a card-carrying microbiologist or something like that,” Stearns said.
Salovey and Long both said there was a chance the eventual choice would be from outside the University.
An administration official who spoke on the condition of anonymity said it is unlikely Salovey or his fellow new administrators, Graduate School Dean Jon Butler and Yale Center for International and Area Studies Ian Shapiro, would be chosen to fill the post.
“Moving someone who hasn’t [even] spent six months in his new job would not be, I think, a very likely thing for [Levin] to want to do,” the official said.