Joseph W. Gordon GRD ’78, the deputy dean of Yale College, will serve as acting dean when Yale College Dean Peter Salovey assumes the provostship on Wednesday, University President Richard Levin announced Monday.
The president said in an interview that he does not expect to name a permanent successor to Salovey until next week at the earliest, and whoever he picks might not be able to take on the job for weeks or even months. But in the meantime, he said, the Dean’s Office will be in good hands with Gordon at the helm.
“He’ll hold the fort,” Levin said in his Woodbridge Hall office a few hours after announcing Gordon’s appointment. “Joe knows every aspect of the Dean’s Office.”
Administrators interviewed expressed confidence that the College would continue to function smoothly under the guidance of Gordon, a widely respected 20-year veteran of the Dean’s Office, however ephemeral it might be.
For his part, Gordon, who will be the first openly gay person to serve as dean of the College, said he was thrilled to be asked to stand in for Salovey.
“I think it’s really a sign not so much of President Levin’s confidence in me,” he said, “so much as his confidence in everybody in the Yale College Dean’s Office — that we’re doing a good job, we know our jobs and that he really believes we can keep going for the time being, ever trying to improve in this period of somewhat uncertainty.”
In an e-mail message to administrators and staff members in the Dean’s Office, Gordon said he did not anticipate that the leadership transition would cause much of an inconvenience — besides what for some will be a longer walk, by just a few steps, to Gordon’s first-floor office in Sheffield-Sterling-Strathcona Hall.
He credited Salovey with putting the office on the right track for the semester.
“None of us — least of all, I myself — would have been so well prepared for such a moment, if we had not been the beneficiaries of Peter’s resourcefulness, organizational skill, and (to take the words out of his mouth) emotional intelligence,” he wrote.
Salovey returned the compliment. “There is no one on campus more knowledgeable about the inner workings of Yale College,” he said. “Even though I expect his period as acting dean not to be a long one, I think students and faculty will find him a very steady presence.”
A Phi Beta Kappa graduate of Amherst College, Gordon received his doctorate in English from Yale in 1978, two years after he began teaching here as a graduate student. He is credited as one of the founders of Yale’s writing program and was a driving force behind the creation of the Yale College Writing Center and the Center for Language Study.
Gordon, who served as president of the National Phi Beta Kappa Society from 2000 to 2003, also has held administrative posts in nearly all corners of the University.
While an assistant professor of English, Gordon served as acting master of Pierson College in 1987-’88 and also served as associate director of Yale’s summer program. He joined the Dean’s Office in 1988 as associate dean, took on the responsibilities of the undergraduate education deanship in 1997 and was named deputy dean of the College a year later. In addition to having responsibility for new courses and new majors, he has worked with the Course of Study Committee, the Committee on Majors, the Teaching and Learning Committee and the Committee on Teaching in the Residential Colleges, among others, and supervises the directors of undergraduate studies across the University.
Gordon is also more familiar with the impending residential college expansion than almost any other administrator. Last year, he served as the chairman of the Academic Resources Committee of the Study Group to Consider New Residential Colleges.
While Levin had vowed as early as Salovey’s appointment in August that he wanted to get a new dean in place by Oct. 1, it appeared increasingly unlikely to administrators over the past few weeks. Gordon seemed the likely choice to serve as an acting dean, and he said Levin approached him after the faculty meeting on Thursday night to discuss the job.
The one complication was that it was unclear whether Gordon, as a lecturer and not a tenured member of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences, could preside over the tenure and appointment decisions that are among the dean’s duties.
But in his e-mail to the community announcing Gordon’s appointment Monday, Levin said that Jon Butler, dean of the Graduate School, and Steven Girvin, the deputy provost for science and technology, would divide responsibility for faculty appointments in the academic departments that were overseen by Salovey as dean. Butler, Levin added, will chair all divisional senior appointments committees.
It is uncertain how long Butler and Girvin will have those extra duties. On Friday, a search committee provided Levin with eight recommendations for the deanship, but the president did not immediately make up his mind and said over the weekend that he did not expect he would announce his decision on the deanship until next week.
In the interview on Monday, Levin repeated that he had not made up his mind on his choice for dean and said it is possible an announcement will not even be made next week.
He also acknowledged that depending on the job responsibilities of the candidate he ultimately selects, Gordon may very serve atop the Dean’s Office until the beginning of the spring semester.