Search for new JE master to start in spring

Due to his extensive recovery process from a brain hemorrhage, Richard Lalli has decided to not assume the position of JE Master.
Due to his extensive recovery process from a brain hemorrhage, Richard Lalli has decided to not assume the position of JE Master. Photo by Greta Stetson.

Jonathan Edwards students will have to wait until spring for word of their new master.

Though JE Master-designate Richard Lalli MUS ’86, who suffered a brain hemorrhage last December, said in an e-mail Tuesday that he has decided to withdraw from the post, the search for a new master will not begin in earnest until next spring, University President Richard Levin said. For now, Associate Dean of Yale College Penelope Laurans will continue in the position.

Levin added that Laurans “is happy” to stay in the position through the academic year, and that he will begin the consultation process, including setting up a selection committee, to choose a new master soon. He added, however, that the process will not start “with urgency” until next semester, as the normal process for selecting a college master begins at that time, and Laurans was already prepared to finish out the year. The timeline will align with the search to replace Timothy Dwight Master Robert Farris Thompson, who is stepping down after this academic year.

Although the brain hemorrhage impaired movement in the left side of his body, Lalli said in a phone interview Wednesday that he had still considered taking on the role of master. But, after observing the rigors of the position over the past nine months, Lalli realized the stress level would be too high for a recovering stroke patient, he said.

“I kind of held out hope until the last possible minute,” Lalli said. “I didn’t think it was fair to lead people on.”

He said his daily four-hour physical therapy session as well certain physical limitations — including altered speech, slow typing and loss of balance — would make it difficult to keep up with the hectic college atmosphere.

As a JE fellow and freshman advisor, Lalli was already a fixture in the residential college when he was named Gary Haller’s successor in March 2008. Both students and administrators said they were thrilled with the appointment.

“Everyone was excited about his mastership,” JE College Council President Caitlin York ’10 said. “[Lalli] is an incredible participant in all the JE traditions.”

Though Lalli was set to begin the work last January, it was Laurans who ascended to the post after Lalli’s stroke. Levin announced in July that Laurans would continue in the position for the 2009-’10 academic year while Lalli continued to recover.

Lalli returned to teaching this fall — he teaches a seminar on vocal performance — but he said it can take up to eight years for a stroke patient to recover fully. Even then, he added, recovery is relative, and suffering another hemorrhage is always a possibility.

“I encounter hundreds of situations in which I can’t operate the way I used to,” Lalli said. “Not only is my typing slow, but everything I do is slow.”

York noted that while JE students are sad to lose Lalli, Laurans has so far done a “fantastic job.”

“Interim Master Laurans has and will continue to pour her heart into the job,” Council of Masters Chair Jonathan Holloway added. “She and [JE Dean Kyle Farley] will keep the community together while the search for the new master proceeds.”

Lalli would have made Yale history as the University’s first openly gay residential college master.

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