For Hamilton, chance to raise role’s visibility

Andrew Hamilton’s experience as a teacher, administrator and scientist provides every reason to believe he will be an excellent successor to outgoing Provost Susan Hockfield. In the seven years since he arrived at Yale, Hamilton has quickly risen to the University’s second-highest-ranking position on the strength of his academic work in organic chemistry and his leadership as a department chairman and deputy provost. With Hockfield moving on to her new position as president of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Hamilton is well-suited to replace her as a powerful advocate for the sciences among Yale’s top administrators.

Still, we hope that Hamilton’s love for working with students, as evidenced by his hesitation to leave his labs, does not disappear when he becomes provost later this month. Yale’s provosts carry unmistakable weight in the academic world: Hamilton’s three most recent predecessors were selected to lead MIT, the University of Cambridge and the University of Pennsylvania. Yet among students, the provost tends to be nearly invisible. In some ways, this is understandable — the provost’s primary responsibilities involve overseeing Yale’s faculty and staff. But Hamilton’s decisions on issues ranging from the University’s budget to the appointment of faculty will shape student life at Yale, and we hope he becomes an approachable and recognizable figure throughout the entire Yale community.

That Hamilton make himself accessible to students is all the more important because of the particular challenges he will face once he assumes the provost’s position later this month. Foremost among these will be helping to implement the recommendations of the academic review of Yale College completed last year. Hamilton served on the committee that helped craft the review, and his background in the Chemistry Department will help as he works to narrow the gap between Science Hill and the rest of the Yale campus. Still, a reshaping of undergraduate education at Yale should involve undergraduates, and Hamilton should ensure that his office is open to students during this process.

At the same time, Hamilton will be required to work closely with Yale College Dean Peter Salovey and Graduate School Dean Jon Butler in addressing weaknesses in the University’s tenure system. Following Hamilton’s appointment, Yale’s highest-ranking academic officials will all be white males. We do not think this slights Hamilton’s selection, but it should serve as an added reason for the new provost to work to cast a wider net in building Yale’s faculty. We hope that Hamilton’s stated goal of shaping a University that “mirrors the diversity of society” comes as part of a larger effort to make Yale’s tenure system more transparent and fair.

As provost, Hamilton will be responsible for both ensuring that Yale operates smoothly on a day-to-day basis and helping to shape the long-term future of the University. Yet he will also assume a position that has traditionally been detached from students, despite its enormous impact on all aspects of campus life. We have every confidence that Hamilton will be up to the task, but we hope he seeks the support and input of students along the way.

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