Fink named Branford dean

Hilary Fink, associate professor and director of undergraduate studies in the Slavic Languages and Literatures Department, will be the new dean of Branford College, Yale College Dean Mary Miller announced in the college’s dining hall this afternoon.

“The depth and breadth of her experience will serve her and all of you well as she begins her work as dean this summer,” Miller said.

Hilary Fink speaks at the announcement of her appointment as Branford dean in the college's dining hall on Friday.
Jane Long
Hilary Fink speaks at the announcement of her appointment as Branford dean in the college's dining hall on Friday.

Fink will take the place of current Branford Dean Daniel Tauss, who announced in November that he would step down at the end of this school year, upon the completion of his first three-year term as dean. Tauss did not give a reason for his departure at the time.

Fink, who came to Yale’s Slavic Languages and Literature Department in 1996 and has served as its director of undergraduate studies for more than half that time, is currently a Branford fellow and freshman academic adviser to many in the college.

Her husband, University of Massachusetts Amherst physics professor David Kawall, and their three daughters — Rachel, 9, Tessa, 5, and Sophie, 3 — were in attendance Friday, as was Branford Master Steven Smith.

Smith, who said he has known Fink since she first came to Yale, drew laughter from his students when he took the podium to describe her character.

“She is a fabulous conversational partner, a passionate lover — of themes of literature,” Smith said as students in the audience and Fink herself began to laugh. “I meant literature — Tolstoy, Dostoevsky!”

Fink then came forward to say a few words to students, though, as she said, “I know you are all anxious to get back to the library to work on your final papers.”

“I speak for my husband, Dave, and our three girls when I say we are looking forward to moving into Branford this summer and getting to know each and every one of you,” Fink said. She then held up a child’s yellow-and-blue striped rugby shirt with a Branford crest on the chest, prompting cheers and applause from students.

Genevieve Bates ’12, who served on Branford’s dean search committee, said Fink’s genuine love of working with Yale students came across strongly in her interviews with the committee.

“Everything else that would make a great dean came along with that,” Bates said.

After the ceremony, Smith said Fink was always a top contender for the position, for which 40 people applied.

“She is a scholar, an educator and a people-person,” Smith said. “Those don’t always go together, but they are a great combination for a residential college dean.”

While Sarah Larsson ’12 had not met Fink before her appointment as dean, Larsson said she thinks Fink is a good fit for the job based on her speech during the ceremony.

“She seemed engaging and interested in being here,” Larsson said. “I was really hoping for a dean from whom I could sense that the top priority was us.”

But some came out ahead in the deal, Larsson added: “I think her daughters are getting the best backyard in the world.”

Fink earned her bachelor’s degree from Smith College in 1987 and her Ph.D. in Russian literature from Columbia University in 1996. This semester she is teaching “The Irrational in Russian Literature” and “Literature and Revolution in Russia, 1892 to the Present.”

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