Levin to appoint acting dean

A search committee recommended Friday eight candidates to succeed Peter Salovey as dean of Yale College, though University President Richard Levin says he has not made up his mind on whom he will choose.

Instead, Levin said he will name an acting dean today to take office Wednesday when Salovey assumes the provostship. The president said he still needs some time to examine the slate of recommended candidates before making a decision on who will be Salovey’s permanent successor.

“I’m thinking about it,” Levin said in a telephone interview Sunday night. “I think it’s going to take a few days to sort of sort this out. I don’t really expect an announcement this week.”

The 10-member search committee met with the president on Friday and presented the eight recommended candidates, who emerged through a fast-tracked vetting process that only began three and a half weeks ago. Neither Levin nor Gary Haller, the master of Jonathan Edwards College and the chairman of the committee, would disclose their names.

At the meeting, a member of the search committee made the case to Levin for each candidate, Haller said. Each search committee member then had the opportunity to offer his own personal opinion on the slate of candidates, and Levin went on to ask questions of the group.

Then the committee members left, leaving their list for the president to mull over.

“At the moment, it’s on his desk,” Haller said. “I suspect he will take awhile to decide what he’s going to do.”

Indeed, Levin said he will need a few days to make a decision. Aside from the “excellent list” the committee composed, Levin said he also will take into account the recommendations of a Yale College Council-appointed committee, which sent 13 recommended names to the president. YCC President Rich Tao ’10 declined to disclose their identities.

In any event, it will be a busy week for the president, who first must appoint an acting dean and then tend to the affairs of the Yale Corporation, the University’s highest governing body, whose members will meet in Wyoming this weekend for their first meeting of the academic year.

While Levin would not discuss whom he is considering for the deanship, he did say that he intends to appoint a permanent dean in the near future — meaning that, contrary to rumors circulating in some circles, there is no chance the acting dean will be put in place to serve, say, the entirety of the 2008-’09 school year.

The professorial rumor mill continues to center on two candidates as the likeliest possibilities for Levin’s permanent choice: Charles Bailyn ’81, the director of undergraduate studies in the astronomy department and a finalist for the deanship the last time it was vacant, and Jonathan Holloway GRD ’95, the master of Calhoun College.

Faculty gossip has swirled most vigorously about the 41-year-old Holloway, who is perceived as an extremely strong candidate whose only weakness is that, given his age, his level of scholarship does not quite match up to some other, more senior possible candidates. Some observers have mused that perhaps Levin might appoint an elder member of the faculty to serve as dean for two or three years — perhaps Jon Butler, the dean of the Graduate School, or Thomas Pollard, a Sterling professor and chairman of the molecular, cellular and developmental biology department — and then turn to Holloway or another younger professor, like Ezra Stiles Master Stephen Pitti ’91, when they are a bit more seasoned as administrators and as scholars.

Overall, professors interviewed over the past three weeks have focused their attention on six professors: Bailyn, Holloway, Pitti, Saybrook College Master Mary Miller GRD ’81, Whitney Humanities Center Director Maria Rosa Menocal and Physics Department Chair Meg Urry.

This much is clear, at least based on interviews and the general tenor of the gossip at the going-away party on Friday for Provost Andrew Hamilton: Beyond Bailyn and Holloway, the field for the deanship remains wide open. In fact, several new names have begun to percolate in faculty discussions, including English professor and former Berkeley College Master John Rogers ’84 GRD ’89, current Berkeley College Master Marvin Chun and English Department Chair Langdon Hammer ’80 GRD ’89.

Regardless of whom is tapped for the position, one question that remains very much unanswered is when a permanent dean will be able to move into the Yale College Dean’s Office. If Levin appoints a residential college master or department chairman, for instance, such a professor might not immediately be able to take office.

Salovey, for his part, said he thinks business will run smoothly at the Dean’s Office between Wednesday and when his successor can take office.

“I would not anticipate that this situation would have any negative effects on the students or faculty of Yale College,” he wrote in an e-mail message Sunday while taking a break from cleaning out his first-floor suite Sheffield-Sterling-Strathcona Hall. “I will not be far away — one block, actually — and am available for consultation on any matters that arise.”

That offer may be taken up, as it is not clear what precisely the responsibilities will be of an acting dean, and whether Salovey may still need to pitch in. While no one would raise an eyebrow if the deputy dean of Yale College and dean of undergraduate education, Joseph W. Gordon GRD ’78, were put at the helm of the Dean’s Office on a temporary basis, as an English lecturer and not a tenured professor, he could not assume the dean’s responsibilities when it came to tenure decisions, as one example.

But Salovey said it is unlikely that the Joint Board of Permanent Officers, which reviews tenure cases, will meet until mid-November.

Otherwise, with a Gordon appointment, the Dean’s Office should be in good hands. After all, at the ceremony when he was announced as provost, Salovey himself had this to say: “Whoever the next dean of Yale College is, my advice to you is, ‘Ignore … [Dean] Gordon at your peril!’”

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