For the past two months, incoming Yale College Dean Mary Miller has been attending what she once laughingly called “dean school.” But for Miller, preparations have included not only meetings and documents but also interior decorating.
Since she was appointed in mid-October, Miller has been serving in three capacities: master of Saybrook College, Sterling Professor of the History of Art and — the newest addition — dean-designate of Yale College. She has been laying the groundwork to assume the deanship on Dec. 1, meeting with her predecessors and colleagues in the Dean’s Office as well as reading up on undergraduate and faculty life at Yale.
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Juggling multiple sets of responsibilities has been the most challenging aspect of the time leading up to Dec. 1, Miller said, and she acknowledged that her first week as dean — during which she will hold the last meetings of her two classes — will be difficult.
“It’s like I’m on two separate tracks of tape in my head,” she said in an interview Thursday. “I’m still fulfilling the commitments of the old job and trying to shadow the responsibilities of the new.”
But the preparation itself, she said, has gone smoothly. She has met regularly with Acting Dean of Yale College Joseph Gordon, who will reassume the role of dean of education when Miller steps in; Provost Peter Salovey; and Graduate School Dean Jon Butler, with whom she will share the role of dean of faculty — a position held by just one person at most universities.
When Salovey was dean of Yale College, he and Butler shared responsibility for the social sciences, while Salovey acted as dean of faculty for the sciences and Butler administered the humanities, Butler said. But now, Butler will assume responsibility for the sciences and Miller will take on the humanities, the field in which she has the most experience.
For his part, Gordon said he has been preparing for Miller’s entrance by assembling a transition team, who put together a document with overviews of Yale College institutions including University Career Services, the Writing Center, the cultural houses and several student organizations.
Transition team member KC Mills, who worked as executive assistant for Salovey and will serve in the same capacity for Miller, said the group also compiled a list of important people from across the University with whom Miller should meet, though she has not yet seen the document.
Although Miller has a lot of information to absorb, her past experience at Yale will serve her well, Provost Peter Salovey, her predecessor, said.
“Because she has been at Yale since graduate school and especially because she is so familiar with students and with the College after a decade serving as a master, she will certainly hit the ground running,” Salovey said in an e-mail. “She is someone who loves being an educator, scholar and administrator, and is world-class at all three.”
Through it all, Miller has still found time to apply her art historian’s eye to the decor of her new office, choosing new upholstery — she said she is partial to red — and paintings for her office walls. The worn and torn neutral-toned sofa in her office, which has nails protruding from it, will be reinvented with a bold graphic print.
The portrait of former United States President Andrew Jackson, whose treatment of Native Americans Miller called part of a “terrible history,” will be replaced by one of Joseph Albers, an artist who studied pre-Colombian art, just as Miller does.
The lighting, she said, will be changed, and the desk reoriented. She has already designed her new business cards.
Despite the wealth of work to be done, Gordon said he is confident the transition will go smoothly.
“She has sat in this office — in this chair — many times in the past two months,” Gordon said, sitting in one of the soon-to-be upholstered easy chairs. “It’s not like she’s entering into a completely new world.”
Miller, who is the first woman to hold the dean position, joined the Yale faculty in 1981. In 1999, she became the master of Saybrook and was planning to step down from the position at the end of this academic year.
When she assumes the deanship on Dec. 1, Miller’s husband, Edward Kamens ’74 GRD ‘82, chair of East Asian Languages and Literatures, a professor of East Asian Studies, will fill her shoes as master for the rest of her term.