Economics Department Chair Benjamin Polak has taken the reins from President-elect and former Provost Peter Salovey as the University’s second-highest ranking administrator, Salovey announced Monday afternoon to a crowd of faculty and administrators filling Luce Hall to capacity.
The appointment, effective immediately, falls roughly two months after Salovey was named Yale’s 23rd president on Nov. 8. Beginning Tuesday, Polak will move into the Provost’s Office at 1 Hillhouse Ave. and take up Salovey’s former duties — which include overseeing academic policy and faculty committees, as well as leading the University Budget Committee — while Salovey will spend the next few months preparing to assume the presidency on July 1.
“We all love Ben for many reasons,” Salovey told the packed auditorium on Monday. “For this particular job, we especially admire his ability to think strategically, his great insights, his very sharp mind … but all of that is combined in a very warm person, someone whom people love to get to know and interact with.”
Polak joined the Yale faculty in 1994 as an assistant professor and has served as chair of the Economics Department since 2010. Salovey said Polak’s knowledge of University finances, partly gained as a member of the University Budget Committee, gave him a “real leg up” in the search for a new provost.
In his speech during the announcement, Polak thanked the faculty for placing their trust in him and lauded Salovey for helping Yale navigate the financial crisis “with very few scars.” He also stressed the importance of increasing transparency and promoting “evidence-based” decision-making in future University initiatives.
University President Richard Levin said in a Monday email to the Yale community that Polak will be “an invaluable strategic partner to our new President, a strong advocate for excellence in teaching and research, and a wise, fair, and thoughtful steward of the University’s budgetary resources.”
Levin appointed Polak to the position following a recommendation from Salovey, who led the search for the new provost, soliciting nominations from the faculty in late November and conducting interviews in December. The length of the search process was comparable to the past 10 provost searches, which have all taken between two and nine weeks.
Salovey told the News that Polak’s early appointment will enable him to spend the remainder of the year meeting with members of the Yale community both on and off campus to develop a “shared vision for Yale’s next decade.” He said he will also be working closely with both Polak and Levin over the coming months.
“This overlapping will make for an orderly transition and no loss of momentum,” Salovey said. “One is not normally given that gift.”
Faculty and administrators interviewed at the event said they were pleased with the decision.
Dean of the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences Thomas Pollard said one of the biggest challenges facing the provost will be building the strength of the University despite constrained budgets. He said Polak “should be off to a running start” because he is already well-versed in these issues.
“[Polak] has all the right values, and the trust of the faculty,” said Deputy Provost Frances Rosenbluth. “As chair of the Economics Department, he’s shown his ability to corral people around controversial decisions.”
Salovey, who has served as provost since 2008, will vacate his office in Warner House on Tuesday and move back across the street to the psychology building.
Yale’s previous nine provosts have all gone on to assume top positions at major universities.