Yale English lecturer Jill Abramson’s ascension to the role of executive editor for the New York Times this fall will pull her away from the classroom in the spring, forcing administrators to seek a replacement instructor for Yale’s core journalism course for the first time.
Though English 467 — a requirement of the Yale Journalism Initiative — has traditionally been taught by Steven Brill ’72 LAW ’75 in the first semester and Abramson in the second, the Times’ first female executive editor will not continue leading the seminar in spring 2012. But even as Yale searches for her replacement, Abramson says she plans to remain involved with the University and the initiative.
“I decided that agreeing to teach my class, which I’ve loved, would be too much of a time commitment in my first year in a new, even more demanding job,” Abramson said in a Wednesday email to the News. “I will continue to be involved because I believe Yale and Steve Brill foster students’ passion for and understanding of quality journalism.”
Abramson first joined the initiative in the spring of 2007 — a year after the program was founded — and has taught every spring since then. Yale Journalism Initiative founder Brill said that Abramson plans to participate in the journalism seminar even during her first few months as executive editor for the Times. She will likely guest-teach some of his fall classes, he said, and may continue to make appearances during the spring semester.
English professor Janice Carlisle, who will serve as chairwoman of the committee tasked with recommending Abramson’s successor, said Abramson’s departure from the initiative is a “great loss.” But Mark Oppenheimer, the program’s coordinator, said Abramson’s ascension validates Yale’s decision — partly based on Brill’s recommendation — to hire Abramson rather than a more prominent household name.
“I was just so amazed that she took that five-hour chunk out of her day every Monday as the [Times’] managing editor,” said Jeremy Lent ’11, who took Abramson’s course in spring 2010. “It was amazing that this person who had a million other things to be doing would sit down with us for two hours and just chat and work on writing.”
Dennis Howe ’11, who also took English 467 in spring 2010, said he understood that Abramson’s new duties as executive editor would make it difficult for her to teach a weekly course in New Haven, but said that her departure is “definitely a loss” for the program.
Still, he added that Yale has many courses to offer with impressive professors and lecturers such as Abramson.
“The great thing about Yale is that we’ll always have classes like that,” Howe said. “We have a lot of classes with professors who have done amazing things outside of academia.”
As for Abramson’s successor, Alfred Guy, the Writing Center director and a member of the replacement committee, said the appointment should be made before second semester begins.
English professor Anne Fadiman and Dean of Undergraduate Education Joseph Gordon are on the four-person committee with Guy and Carlisle. Members of the committee and those involved with the Yale Journalism Initiative say they will prioritize candidates proven in journalism over those recognized more generally as writers and teachers, but declined to comment on whether they are looking for a journalist with a background in daily newspapers, longer magazine pieces or other forms of nonfiction writing.
The committee is considering applicants with a range of experience and skill sets, Oppenheimer said, such as in digital media, but that those aspects are not as important as traditional tenets of journalism.
“The bells and whistles of digital journalism are [secondary] to learning the craft of reporting, interviewing and writing,” he said. “The most important thing would be to get someone who is a really strong journalist.”
Brill said that he, members of the English Department and the Dean’s Office have a list of possible candidates and are looking at “interesting alternatives” for replacing Abramson.
The main limiting factor in hiring a new lecturer will be the person’s availability, both Brill and Guy said. Though the English 467 instructors earn a larger salary than a typical Yale College lecturer, Guy said the pay would not convince a candidate to uproot a family or leave another career. (Brill does not teach for a salary.)
Abramson officially transitions from managing editor to executive editor for the Times on Sept. 6.
An earlier version of this story paraphrased Alfred Guy as saying that English 467 instructors earn more than the typical Yale College lecturer. While this is true of the vacant spring lecturer position, the course’s instructor in the fall, Steven Brill, does not teach for a salary. Also, Brill did not make the official recommendation for Abramson’s appointment, but did suggest her consideration to people involved in the decision.