Nomination for FES dean nears

After six months of deliberations, the search committee for the next dean of the Yale School of Forestry & Environmental Studies is on the verge of making its final recommendations to University President Richard Levin, the News has learned.

Current dean Gus Speth ’64 LAW ’69 will step down at the end of the school year, having served in the position since 1999. The search committee, which was formed last June in anticipation of Speth’s departure, has narrowed a pool of 110 nominees down to about 10 candidates and plans to narrow it down even further before presenting a list of names to Levin next week.

“The key priority is to get a leader who can continue the tremendous momentum established by Dean Speth to keep the school at the forefront in environmental schools,” Levin said this week to the News. “We’re poised for great leadership in the field over the next decade, and the new dean will have a lot to do with that.”

Committee members will convene tomorrow to finalize their recommendations to President Levin and to decide whether or not to rank the list, which committee chairman Thomas Graedel, professor of industrial ecology, said will consist of “fewer than 10” choices.

Levin said he expects to make the formal announcement of Speth’s successor in a few months, during which time he will be able to research the candidates.

He highlighted Speth’s work in attracting students and new faculty, as well as developing more programs, a legacy he hopes the incoming dean will build upon.

Under Speth’s direction over the past decade, the percentage of women on the teaching faculty has nearly doubled; the number of master’s degrees candidates receiving scholarships has increased by 20 percent; and the percent of minority students in the master’s program has almost doubled.

In the last ten years, course and seminar offerings have increased from about 90 to 138, and fundraising achievements for the environment school have dramatically increased — from about $3 million at the start of Speth’s term 10 years ago to a peak of over $26 million in 2002.

In the early stages of the process, the committee focused on scholarly reputation and managerial experience when considering candidates, Graedel said.

“We began by asking everybody we could think of to suggest possible candidates,” Graedel said. “Eventually, we decided to bring a small number of people to Yale, quite privately, to have them talk with the committee.”

But given the dean’s public role in promoting the environment school and securing further support for its programs, Graedel said the committee performed a holistic and comprehensive evaluation of its top nominees.

“We have been open to the possibility of internal candidates, but we’ve looked nationally and internationally,” Graedel said.

The committee — composed of nine tenured environment school professors, one from the Yale School of Architecture and two from the Faculty of Arts and Sciences — serves a strictly advisory role to the president.

In fact, the president is not bound to choose from the committee’s choices; as he did in the case of Robert Stern, Levin could look beyond the committee’s shortlist.

Eleven years ago, Speth was so coveted for the deanship that Levin held the post open for a year, filling it with an acting dean, while Speth finished up his tenure as administrator of the United Nations Development Program.

“In a way, I was a dean in the wings,” Speth recalled. “I had the position clearly lined up, so to speak, but I continued on at the U.N. for somewhat over a year after that.”

Speth emphasized the importance of a successful search to prevent any gap in leadership as during a transition. Speth said he is not sure what the future holds for him, but that he knows the time is right for him to step down.

“I think the longest I’ve ever stayed in a position is 10 years,” he said. “At least in my case, I find that it’s good … to strike out in a new direction.”

The environment school, which offers both master’s and doctoral degrees, was founded in 1900.

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