Yale College Dean Peter Salovey will be the University’s next provost, Yale President Richard Levin announced Wednesday, catapulting the “student-friendly dean,” who is highly visible at Yale College, to the second-highest position at the University.
The appointment fills a void in the upper reaches of his administration, in a position largely unknown — at least before Salovey’s appointment — to undergraduates, but opens up another, slightly closer to home.
The 50-year-old Salovey, a professor of psychology, will take office Oct. 1 as Yale’s number-two official behind the president. A committee will be formed to recommend his successor as dean, Levin said.
“Your new provost is a lifer here at Yale,” Levin said at a ceremony Wednesday in Luce Hall. “Peter is very well situated to understand the variations of the job … and the entire span of the academy.”
The announcement concludes a three-month search to replace Provost Andrew Hamilton, a well-respected chemist who, next fall, will take the helm of the University of Oxford. Salovey, a former dean of the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences and chairman of the Psychology Department, quickly emerged as a frontrunner for the position.
Sources said, though, that at first he did not seem interested in the job.
But the dean would change his mind. On Wednesday, Salovey said he was honored to be appointed to Yale’s chief administrative and academic position after the president during what he called a “remarkable moment for our University” as it invests billions in its campus and expands internationally.
“I never get a reception like this when I’m teaching, let alone playing in a bluegrass band,” quipped the dean, who doubles as the bass player for the Professors of Bluegrass.
At the ceremony, Salovey stressed the importance of developing the Yale faculty — “the key to the greatness of this very place,” as he put it. He pledged to both provide increased support to faculty members and to continue the University’s efforts to promote diversity among its professors.
“We have more to do here, and we have to work very hard,” he said.
Levin cited Salovey’s leadership in overseeing the implementation of the recommendations of the Committee on Yale College Education, on which he served before becoming dean, and shepherding Yale’s efforts to internationalizing its curriculum and bolstering international programs. Elevating him, “an extraordinary dean,” the president said, “wasn’t a very hard choice.”
The largest drawback to his appointment, Levin said, is the big shoes Salovey leaves to fill in the dean’s office.
Leading the search for his successor will be Gary Haller, the master of Jonathan Edwards College, who will chair a committee to recommend Salovey’s replacement as dean, Levin said. The president said it is “more likely than not” that an acting dean will take office Oct. 1 when Salovey moves a block down Grove Street to Warner House.
Haller pledged to move quickly with the search and said he planned to focus on internal candidates. “Now we don’t have a great dean, so we have to get a new one,” he said.
The appointment of Salovey, who, unlike his predecessor, is not a natural scientist, came at a time when the University is marshalling to boost its science profile, especially with the development of the new West Campus. Several department chairs said over the summer that they hoped the new provost would also be a scientist.
He is not, but science professors said they still have reason to cheer. Levin also announced Wednesday the appointment of Michael Donoghue, the former director of the Peabody Museum of Natural History, as vice president for West Campus planning and program development.
Donoghue, who himself was rumored to be a top candidate for provost, will serve for three years in a job Levin said will entail developing an overall blueprint for the development of the West Campus, the former home of Bayer HealthCare acquired by the University a year ago.
“He’s just perfectly suited for leading this West Campus effort because he is both a very distinguished scientist and he has also been a museum director,” Levin said.
Genetics Professor Richard Lifton said the West Campus project is too daunting for the provost to handle on top of his other responsibilities, so he was pleased with Donoghue’s appointment. He called the combination of Salovey and Donogue a “perfect package.”
Donoghue, an evolutionary biologist, called the development of the West Campus an “opportunity that we’ll never get again.” He said the campus will serve as a way to bring together the sciences and the arts, from scientists on Science Hill to professors at the School of Medicine and School of Engineering to curators of Yale’s museums.
“I couldn’t be more thrilled about what we’re about to do with this,” he said.
Salovey, meanwhile, joins an impressive list of administrators to come out of Warner House; all three provosts appointed during Levin’s 15-year tenure have moved on to head elite universities, for instance. But despite Yale’s reputation as a stepping stone for college presidencies, Salovey was said by administrators to have little interest in the position when it first became vacant earlier this summer.
Then, Salovey told the News that he considered his position as dean to be “the best job in higher education in America.” Indeed, Levin said the dean was not immediately drawn to the idea of being provost, Yale’s second-ranking official and chief administrative and academic officer after the president.
“I think Peter’s initial instinct early in the summer was he loved his job as Yale College dean,” Levin said. But as the summer went on, he said, Salovey began to come around. “It was sort of an evolution,” Levin said.
Salovey said he was proud of his accomplishments as dean. “I love Yale College, love teaching and love being dean,” he said.
Indeed, in the interview, Levin said the length of the search for a new provost was not an indicator that he struggled to fill the position. Rather, he decided midway through the process that it would be better to use the search to more broadly reassess the University’s administration, particularly as far as the West Campus is concerned.
“I reversed course in a certain sense,” Levin said. “I realized there was some great benefit to heading back and taking time to meet with a number of key faculty leaders and talk with them about the provost job and frankly about this question about how to organize planning for the West Campus.”
—Isaac Arnsdorf contributed reporting.