Dean Search: Without seat on committee, YCC to solicit student input

There weren’t any students on the search committee when the University tapped a popular psychology professor, Peter Salovey, to serve as dean of Yale College.

Nor were there any in 1992, when Richard Brodhead — then the chair of the English Department and now the ninth president of Duke University — assumed the deanship in the wake of professor Donald Kagan’s resignation from the post.

Yet it still took students by surprise when Gary Haller, master of Jonathan Edwards College, released the list of individuals who would pick Yale College’s next dean one week ago: There were no students on the list. That’s because being the dean of Yale College means a lot more than simply working with undergraduates, Haller said.

“Students know very well what the dean does that affects their life,” Haller said. “But I don’t think they understand that, from a faculty point of view, the dean of Yale College and the dean of the Graduate School act like what would be a dean of faculty at other institutions.”

Members of the search committee must be able to judge candidates based on their scholarship, Haller added, and few — if any — undergraduates are in a position to do that.

Yale College Council President Rich Tao ’10 said he understands Haller’s rationale but still thinks undergraduates have something to add — a “student perspective.”

“There are students here that think critically and analytically about the administration and about Yale in general,” he said. “At the end of the day, there is still intrinsic value in student opinion.”

Elis will have a voice in picking the man or woman who will become what many are calling “the new Dean Salovey.” They just won’t have a seat at the table.

Already, the search committee has opened the floor to nominations from students — provided the nominee is a tenured faculty member, not just a great lecturer or teaching assistant.

Now the search committee is working with members of the Yale College Council to solicit student input in the search process. Tao, YCC Vice President Emily Schofield ’09 and Yale Student Activities Committee Chair Colin Leatherbury ’09 sat down with members of the search committee — Haller plus economics professor Joseph Altonji and Morse College Master Frank Keil — Monday evening to work out ways students could get involved in the search.

“If we can successfully communicate what students are looking for in a dean and have those factors taken into account during the nomination process, that would be a success,” Schofield said. “And from this meeting, I really think that will happen.”

Beginning today, the YCC will open an online survey to all students that will allow them to recommend faculty members for the deanship. After the survey closes Friday night, a committee of students will meet at least three times to consider the results of the survey, Tao said. Applications for this committee will also be solicited beginning Tuesday, although Tao said applications for the temporary posts will be due by noon on Friday. The short time table was dictated by the search committee, Tao said, which asked for the YCC’s report by Sept. 26.

“The dean of Yale College is the one administrator who has the most power and authority in deciding what your four years at Yale will be like,” Tao said. “It would be a shame for the process to go through without students being able to say what qualities they see in the ideal dean and who they want to see as dean.”

These outlined actions would be about in line with steps the YCC took in January 2004. In the opening days of the search for Brodhead’s replacement, the YCC turned its YaleStation Web site into a clearinghouse for student nominations and comments. YCC received hundreds of them, including 250 unique responses to an online survey launched to parse student opinion about what undergraduates wanted in their next dean.

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