Pollard named Grad School dean

University President Richard Levin, left, announced Thomas Pollard, right, as the new dean of the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences in the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library.
University President Richard Levin, left, announced Thomas Pollard, right, as the new dean of the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences in the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library. Photo by lauren rosenthal.

Updated, 3 p.m. Thomas Pollard, a Sterling professor and the current chair of the Department of Molecular, Cellular and Developmental Biology, was named dean of the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences at a ceremony in Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library at noon on Friday.

In what Pollard himself described as “a surprising turn of events,” Pollard’s appointment comes after his service as chair of the search committee charged with finding a replacement for history professor Jon Butler, whose six-year tenure as dean ends June 1. Though the committee presented University President Richard Levin with a shortlist of candidates for the position last month, Levin said at the ceremony that many members of the committee wrote to him separately during the final round of the search to recommend Pollard for the position.

“You may know it is a little unusual,” Levin said of Pollard’s appointment. “Due diligence required that I take seriously the proposed shortlist, but I agreed with the wisdom of the committee members that [Pollard] was best for position.”

Unusual though it may be, the appointment did not seem to come as a surprise to the audience of about 50 faculty and administrators, who greeted Pollard and Levin with a standing ovation the moment they approached the podium.

In his remarks, Levin described Pollard as “eminently well-suited for the position” given his stature in the scientific world as a biologist and his six years of service as a department chair. Pollard, 68, came to Yale in 2001 after teaching at Harvard Medical School, where he earned his M.D. in 1968, Johns Hopkins Medical School and the University of California, San Diego. Pollard’s award-winning research at Yale focuses on the molecular basis of cellular motility and cytokinesis, according to his lab’s website, and he said in his remarks that his work with graduate students has been some of the most rewarding of his career.

“As someone without a Ph.D., it may be surprising that I’m here,” Pollard said. “I think it is appropriate, though, because of the great joy graduate education has given me.”

Pollard’s wife, Patty, is the president of the Yale University Women’s Organization, a group of about 350 women with direct and indirect ties to the University. Levin thanked her for “being willing to share Tom,” adding that Pollard had hoped to step down from his post as department chair — which, Levin announced in January, will be assumed by MCDB professor Ronald Breaker in July — to spend more time with his wife and the rest of his family and to travel.

“He’ll manage,” Levin said of Pollard, drawing laughter from the audience.

Dozens of faculty and administrators approached Pollard after the ceremony to thank him for accepting the position. Pollard takes office in a time of economic and professional uncertainty for those in academia: The Graduate School cut its admissions by 10 to 15 percent overall this year as part of University-wide budget cuts, and job prospects for Yale’s newest doctorates are increasingly grim.

In his speech Friday, Pollard emphasized the importance of careful planning and collaboration in times such as these. Pollard said he has met with Levin and Provost Peter Salovey — both former Graduate School deans themselves — to establish an agenda for his deanship. Levin said in his remarks that Pollard will address current funding models for graduate education, particularly in the sciences, to ensure that resources are used efficiently, but with the ultimate goal of making Yale as competitive as possible.

Butler said in an interview that the University as a whole is lucky to have secured Pollard for the position, adding that his background as a scientist will be an asset as the academic world continues to change.

“[Pollard] couldn’t possibly be better positioned to understand the substantial changes occurring in the world of science and in the funding of science,” Butler said.

Though Pollard is sure to receive advice in coming months from Levin, Salovey and Yale College Dean Mary Miller, who will work with Pollard as a fellow dean of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences, he said the dean search committee will be instrumental in planning his deanship. Pollard said he hopes to “deputize” the search committee he worked with over the past few months so the members will continue to share their knowledge about graduate education with him in an advisory capacity in the coming year. The committee wrote its own agenda for the incoming dean, Pollard said, which he will follow over the next few months.

“We made that agenda together,” Pollard said in an interview after the ceremony. “But little did I know when I typed it out that I was typing out my own job description.”

Pollard said that all members of the committee agreed from the beginning that a scientist was needed for the job. The University typically tries to ensure that at least one of the three senior administrators in charge of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences — the dean of the graduate school, the dean of Yale College and the provost — comes from a science background. All three have been from humanities or social science backgrounds since the departure of former provost Andrew Hamilton, a chemist, in 2008.

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