Smith announcement no surprise

When Branford Master Steven Smith steps down from his post at the end of this year, students will say farewell to the second-longest-serving master in the college’s history — better known to Branfordians as “S. Diddy.”

Branford students said they are sad to lose the charismatic master, but none of the 13 students interviewed said they were shocked to learn of his departure after months of rumors suggesting he would step down. In an e-mail last night, Smith announced that he will leave his post at the end of this year, which marks the end of his third five-year term as master.

Students described Smith’s ability to inspire college pride among students and the strong personal relationships he forges with them.

“I think he was enormously successful in creating a strong community in Branford,” said Iman Sakkaf ’11, a Branford master’s aide. Sakkaf said Smith often opens the master’s house to students, which helps students bond with Smith and feel like a part of the Branford community.

Keith Rubin ’12 said Smith’s devotion to Branfordians sets him apart as a master. Rubin recalled Smith’s visits to Branford freshmen in Vanderbilt Hall to spend time with his new students. He also said he will miss Smith’s college-wide e-mails, which he famously signs “S. Diddy.”

Before last night’s official announcement — which was also signed “S. Diddy” — many students in Branford had heard rumors that Smith planned to step down. Of 13 students interviewed, all said they had heard the rumors within the past few months.

“I had heard the rumors, so I was not shocked,” Alec Baum ’13 said of Smith’s e-mail, “but it made it more real.”

Smith admitted Monday that his retirement was a poorly kept secret by the time he announced his plans. He said he had told a few students about his departure in confidence, but the news spread throughout the college.

Baum said that despite being sad about Smith’s departure, this seemed like a reasonable time for Smith to leave since he had a “fabulous term as master, and he has every feather in his cap.”

Branford College Council president Michael Boyce ’11 said he worked closely with Smith and appreciates his work on behalf of the college. He said that the study breaks, guest speakers and social events Smith planned, as well as his relationships with students, defined Branford College.

Andrew Winter ’14 said that while he has only known Smith for a short time, he appreciates how approachable and kind Smith is. Winter and other underclassmen said the inspirational speeches Smith gave at the annual Branford freshman dinner were particularly memorable.

“He made us proud to be Branfordians,” Winter said of the speech, which drew on literature, philosophy, politics and the Bible to describe the community into which the freshman were welcomed.

None of the students interviewed said they know Smith’s plans for the future. Branfordian Yishai Schwartz ’13, who took a Directed Studies course with Smith, said he is sad to see Smith step down as master and hopes he will continue to teach here next year.

“We would love for him to stay at Yale,” Schwartz said. “He’s a uniquely talented professor.”

Smith began teaching political science at Yale in 1984 and is currently the Alfred Cowles Professor of Political Science.

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