Jeffrey Brenzel ’75, a longtime University and corporate administrator but a newcomer to the field of college admissions, was appointed yesterday as Yale’s new dean of undergraduate admissions and financial aid.
Brenzel, the current executive director of the Association of Yale Alumni, will take over Oct. 10 for acting dean Margit Dahl ’75. The appointment of a novice initially concerned some in the admissions office, but Brenzel’s experience directing the AYA, his leadership and management skills, and his knowledge of the University convinced many on the staff that Brenzel is up to the task, said Dahl, a 30-year veteran of the office.
The position had been vacant since former Dean Richard Shaw left Yale this summer to serve as admissions dean at Stanford University.
Brenzel said he is looking forward to assembling the Class of 2010.
“It’s truly a privilege and an honor to be presented with the opportunity to make that happen and make Yale an exceptional place because of the people that come here,” he said.
With legacy admissions a controversial issue, Brenzel — who, during eight years heading the AYA, developed close ties to Yale alumni and donors throughout the world — told the admissions staff yesterday that his alumni connections would not cloud his judgement in the admissions process. He acknowledged to the staff that some may see his appointment as a signal that Yale may change the balance of the class in favor of legacy applicants, Yale College Dean Peter Salovey said.
“He made it very clear, literally in the first five minutes he talked in admissions today, that he thinks all of this is a delicate balance and that we have that balance about right,” Salovey said.
David Hawkins, the director of public policy at the National Association of College Admission Counseling, said he does not think Brenzel’s alumni relationships would get in the way of fair admissions decisions.
“I don’t think it would be any more or any less of a conflict or a challenge for him than if he were a dean who had come from another admissions office,” Hawkins said. “Donor relations have been a big issue everywhere now, and any other person in his shoes would have to deal with the same issues.”
The appointment comes at an important time for Yale’s undergraduate admissions. The University in the past year has enacted sweeping financial aid reforms and is establishing recruiting strategies to attract more low-income students. Just three years ago Yale gained national attention when it switched from early decision to non-binding, single-choice early action admissions policies. Competition among applicants has risen in recent years, and last year the University saw the lowest acceptance rate in its history.
Salovey, who chaired the seven-member search committee that recommended Brenzel, said the admissions office has a “very skilled senior staff” who have been reading applications for decades. So confident was the committee in the staff’s abilities that it sought a new dean with varied experiences and a fresh perspective.
“Operationally the admissions process is very well run by very well-regarded people,” Salovey said. “That lets us think a little outside the box in terms of the kind of person who we can bring in to provide a vision for Yale College admissions, to provide organizational leadership for the office, and to be the face of Yale to high school students, teachers and guidance counselors all over the world.”
Still, Dahl said, Brenzel will face a “steep learning curve.”
“I do think he knows he has a lot to learn, but there are a lot of people in our office with tremendous experience, so he will have a lot of very knowledgeable people as he learns about how we handle the admit process,” Dahl said.
But Brenzel is already schooled in one of the top issues facing undergraduate admissions at Yale: diversity. He attended Yale during the 1970s, a time of great transition for the University as it first accepted women and became more diverse. As the son of parents who did not complete college degrees, Salovey said, Brenzel has a “deep personal appreciation” of the importance of diversity at Yale.
“I think we want to present a Yale College education as accessible as possible to as broad a range of students as we can throughout the world,” Salovey said. “I think Jeff, through his own commitment to diversity, as well as through his own family experiences and experiences at Yale, is someone who will relate very well to all kinds of potential applicants.”
During his undergraduate years, Brenzel majored in philosophy and was a member of the Spizzwinks and Whiffenpoofs a capella groups. He later earned a Ph.D. in philosophy from the University of Notre Dame and teaches philosophy courses for Yale’s Directed Studies Program.
While leading the AYA, Brenzel has helped launch new connections with Undergraduate Career Services, expand the Yale Alumni Magazine, and organize the 2001 Tercentennial Celebration. Brenzel also recently initiated an AYA conference for female graduates.
Prior to working at Yale, Brenzel held senior management positions at the National Association of Securities Dealers, the Kentucky Chamber of Commerce and the Michigan Chamber of Commerce.
A committee appointed by University Secretary Linda Lorimer LAW ’77 and AYA Board Chair Edward Dennis ’63 will search for a new executive director of the alumni association. Until Levin names a new director, Carolyn Claflin, currently the AYA director for administration, will lead the association in an interim capacity.