Mary Miller, the former master of Saybrook College and the Sterling Professor of the History of Art, is set to assume the deanship of Yale College today, becoming the first woman to hold the position.
Unlike her predecessor, Peter Salovey, who assumed the post in 2004 with a detailed plan to implement the recommendations of a 2003 curricular review, Miller did not disclose any similarly concrete plans for the beginning of her time as dean in an interview last month. In the near future, Miller said, she aims to fulfill her commitments to standing administrative projects, such as an examination of the freshman counselor program, as well as to her own academic work.
But a top priority for the next several years, Miller said, will be the continuing development of the two new residential colleges and the corresponding increase in the University’s faculty by approximately 10 percent.
“Yale’s student body is always evolving, always changing,” Miller said. “I’m very excited to be at the intersection of what faculty see as the opportunity of a generation, and what students may also see as the change and opportunity of a generation,” she continued in an e-mail.
The opportunity to expand Yale’s faculty, she said, is one that will allow individual departments — as well as the University as a whole — to examine the status of their respective disciplines and determine which fields in the department hold the most potential for further exploration.
Still, the planned expansion comes at a time when the national economy is weak and other institutions are halting growth — and Miller will be responsible for balancing the University’s enlargement with economic pressures as part of a larger administrative team.
“On the question of ‘growing’ the faculty, that means particular teamwork with [Graduate School] Dean [Jon] Butler, who is the other ‘cognizant’ dean of the faculty,” she said in an e-mail. “On the subject of any expansion of new programs for Yale College, that means particular teamwork with Provost Salovey.”
Miller also hopes to participate in conversations about the University’s expansion on the West Campus. During the week before Thanksgiving break, she said, she visited West Campus to gain a sense of how it could further factor into undergraduate education. Although the campus is in large part a science facility, Miller said she will be looking into opportunities it could provide both for the sciences and for the arts.
In preparation for her new role, Miller has spent the last 2 1/2 months going over documents and meeting with her colleagues, including Salovey, Butler and former Acting Dean of Yale College Joseph Gordon.
Salovey said he thinks the most difficult part of transitioning to a new position — an experience he went through as dean in 2004, and as provost this year — is the feeling of having to react rather than act.
“In a familiar position, it is easier to plan and provide leadership,” Salovey said in an e-mail. “But when one is just getting one’s feet wet in a new role, the new situations, new information, new opportunities and new challenges just keep on coming.”
But Miller’s energy and ability to function on little sleep will serve her well in the position, said Jorge Gomez-Tejada GRD ’13, a student in pre-Colombian art, Miller’s advisee and a Saybrook graduate affiliate. Gomez-Tajada, who accompanied Miller last year when she took the 15 freshmen in her freshman seminar to Mexico, said she awoke at 5:30 a.m. every day to ensure the trip ran smoothly. “She really is not going to sleep for the next five years,” he laughed.
During her first week as dean, Miller will continue to teach her two classes. Her husband, professor Edward Kamens, will replace her as Saybrook master for the rest of the year.