In first semester, dean reaches out

For Yale College Dean Peter Salovey, dressing up as the brawny Red Sox centerfielder Johnny Damon on Halloween this year was as much a part of his new job description as rubbing elbows with alumni donors and administrators.

“On the same day, I can give a speech articulating the importance of a liberal arts education, and at night I can dress up as Johnny Damon,” Salovey, ever the Sox fan, said. “That’s what makes the job interesting.”

Students who saw Salovey in costume, hopping from President Richard Levin’s open house to the Yale Symphony Orchestra’s performance, said they liked seeing their dean having fun.

“It’s important that a dean not just be dean, but be human,” Lisa Alexander ’05 said.

The evening distills much about Salovey’s approach to his first semester as the dean of Yale College. Salovey has made a conscious effort to strike a balance between steering the faculty and curriculum and forging personal connections with undergraduates. He has become a spirited Bulldogs fan, known to lead cheers at home football games, and frequents many student plays and concerts. Still, Salovey is pushing forward with an agenda that he hopes will strengthen students’ overall undergraduate experience.

In an interview last week, Salovey laid out his long-term goals, many of which are rooted in the 2003 academic review. He said his agenda includes strengthening academic advising mechanisms for freshmen, supporting students’ involvement in extra-curricular activities, and developing a curriculum that encourages students to develop an interest in the sciences.

“This is a very good time at Yale right now. There’s a large endowment, great leadership at the top,” Salovey, the former Graduate School dean, said. “Now we can look at what we do well that we want to preserve, and what we can do in Yale College to make the living experience better.”

Levin said Salovey’s prior role in drafting the review — Salovey chaired the Committee on Yale College Education’s biomedical education subcommittee — demonstrates his commitment to work with other administrators and professors to implement the report’s recommendations.

“He is quite committed to achieving the goals that the committee has laid out,” Levin said. “He’s optimistic, enthusiastic and, I think, deeply committed to keeping Yale College as strong as it can be.”

Salovey has spent this semester developing a timetable for the implementation of the recommendations. Earlier this month, Yale’s faculty voted to pass changes to the undergraduate Credit/D/Fail policy that were recommended by the review. While many science professors favored the changes, some humanities and social science professors objected.

“Moving toward implementation is going to be a difficult process of building a consensus,” Salovey said. “One of the biggest challenges so far has been how to implement innovation in Yale College while respecting the pedagogical differences between departments.”

Since becoming dean, Salovey has shown a particular interest in addressing minority concerns on campus. At the Cultural Connections pre-orientation program this August, Salovey gave a “really awesome” speech to the entering freshmen, Julia Gonzales ’05 said.

Salovey said his new job keeps him on his feet. He said he tries to fit in his daily exercise with a walk each morning to his office in Sheffield-Sterling-Strathcona Hall. He generally reports to work around 8 a.m. and stays through the evening, often missing out on home-cooked meals. Salovey’s said his new job has also taken time away from plucking his bass with the Professors of Bluegrass, a band he formed as an untenured professor that has played at Toad’s Place.

But Salovey said he enjoys the increased interaction with parents and alumni that is afforded by his new position.

“My conversations with parents and alumni are stimulating and remarkable because people are counting on us to be excellent,” he said. “It’s a wonderful challenge.”

Salovey has made himself “very much available” to the Yale community, Yale College Deputy Dean Joe Gordon said.

“When people come to him with a concern, the thoughtfulness and empathy of the response to me is just remarkable,” Gordon said.

Yale College Council President Andrew Cedar ’06, who meets with Salovey several times each week, said he could not imagine the dean being any “more helpful.”

“He’s hands-down the most student-friendly administrator I’ve experienced,” Cedar said.

Cedar, who shares Salovey’s love of bluegrass music, said talking with the dean is always enjoyable.

“Salovey is fun and easygoing,” Cedar said. “I just like talking to Dean Salovey, even when it has nothing to do with business.”

Yale College Dean Peter Salovey dresses as Boston Red Sox player Johnny Damon for Halloween. Dean Salovey finds his job interesting because he can guide the faculty in curriculum changes and interacted with students.
Courtesy DeanSalovey
Yale College Dean Peter Salovey dresses as Boston Red Sox player Johnny Damon for Halloween. Dean Salovey finds his job interesting because he can guide the faculty in curriculum changes and interacted with students.

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