Ezra Stiles College Dean Jennifer Wood announced Sunday she is permanently stepping down as Stiles’ dean — an announcement that came just two days after she began what was originally going to be a temporary maternity leave.
Interim Dean Torrence Thomas GRD ’09 took over Friday and, despite an illness he’s currently fighting, expects to be in the Dean’s office Monday morning. He is eager, he said, to become part of the Stiles community.
“I love the students in Stiles!” Thomas said in a phone interview Sunday. “Stilesians are an incredibly interesting bunch. They’ve all been very warm and welcome. They’re great. I’m really, really pleased to be affiliated with Stiles.”
Hailing from North Carolina, Thomas came to Yale in 2002 after completing his bachelor’s degree in history and Renaissance studies at Duke University. He also studied briefly at Oxford University. As a Yale graduate student, Thomas studies medieval European religion, and his dissertation focuses on the use of propaganda during the time in the 14th century known as “The Great Schism,” when several men claimed to be pope simultaneously. He has also taught several history courses at Yale that deal with the medieval world and the development of Christianity.
Thomas has not yet completed his dissertation and is still enrolled as a Yale graduate student. But he does not think his dissertation will get in the way of his deanship, as graduate students always have something else to balance, from family life to teaching courses.
“Being a dean and a graduate student, it’s not so much different than being a graduate student,” Thomas said. “Also, I’m so far advanced with my dissertation that it’s not so much all-consuming. I’m basically just writing and editing.”
Though Thomas is serious when it comes to his academic work, Stiles students note that he does have a fun side. A.J. Davis ’12 said Thomas has a good sense of humor.
“I work the Circ desk at SML and I spent a good minute laughing at Dean Thomas’s ID picture. He really looks better — read thinner — now,” Davis said. “He was totally cool with me laughing at his misfortune.”
Thomas said he has always enjoyed teaching, and deanship is simply the next logical step.
“Ever since I’ve been in graduate school, working with students has always been my favorite part of the job,” Thomas said. “I think [student interaction], over anything, is truly what I love.”
When Ezra Stiles students were asked how they thought Thomas would do in place of Wood, the response was mixed.
David Flinner ’09, who said he had a few conversations with the dean-to-be, says he looks forward to Thomas being put in charge of Stiles’s deanship.
“He seems like a cool, interesting guy. I’m excited to see him around Stiles more often,” Flinner said.
But Robert Barton ’11 said he thinks Wood is so good at what she does that he does not think anyone can live up to her record.
“Thankfully, we’re done with most of what the dean deals with — choosing courses, switching grade modes, etc.,” Barton wrote in an e-mail. “I don’t expect that [Thomas will] be much more than a filler for the few exam-related issues that students [confront].”
In an e-mail sent to Stiles students on Sunday, Wood told Stilesians she would always remember living “in a big granola bar with hundreds of people.”
“The beauty of Stiles, quite literally, is you,” Wood told her students.
In her opinion, Wood wrote, Thomas is prepared to be dean.
“I think Dean Thomas is caring, thoughtful and easy to talk to, all of which are invaluable skills in a dean,” Wood said.
Wood told the News that while she is leaving Stiles as dean, she will keep in touch with Stilesians and will return for future Stiles graduations.
Wood has no concrete plans for next year, but said she intends to spend as much time as possible mothering her soon-to-be-born twin daughters, Jane and Zora. And although she said she will miss Stiles, Woods jokingly hinted the residential college might not be the best environment in which to raise two infants.
“For example, I’d rather not have the girls’ first words be “Go f—king moose!” Woods wrote.
Wood told the News that when the search for a new dean begins, Thomas will certainly be eligible and encouraged to apply.