Provost Polak moves into Warner House

Provost Benjamin Polak has begun settling into his new office in Warner House on 1 Hillhouse Ave.
Provost Benjamin Polak has begun settling into his new office in Warner House on 1 Hillhouse Ave. Photo by Maria Zepeda.

For the past week, Benjamin Polak, who was named provost last Monday, has been running back and forth between his new office on 1 Hillhouse Ave. and his old “nook” in the economics building up the street.

Complete with a fireplace, a crimson oriental rug, a large, shiny conference table and several paintings in ornate gold frames, Polak’s new office in Warner House was missing one crucial component when he stepped in last week: a computer. Though the new PC and its two monitors arrived on Friday, Polak said he has not yet had a chance to make the place his own.

“I’m feeling agoraphobic,” said Polak, sitting down on a blue upholstered chair after testing out the matching chaise and finding it too uncomfortable. “I’ve never had an office that’s half as big as this, and it’s going to take me a while to feel comfortable in it.”

Polak, who served as chair of the Economics Department until last week, said his new position has made him feel like a college freshman because he has been introduced to so many people and aspects of the University with which he was previously unfamiliar. But the University cannot wait for him to learn the ropes, he added, so Peter Salovey, his predecessor who will assume the Yale presidency on June 30, has been present at most meetings so far. Polak has been “more or less shadowing” the former provost and meeting one-on-one with University President Richard Levin over the past few days.

Taking over as Yale’s second-in-command has presented smaller challenges, too. Polak, a native of England, said he does not look forward to changing his habit for having his writing sound “English English rather than American English” — a predilection he will have to give up because others will now write memos on his behalf.

Though Polak’s new office currently bears few personal touches — there are not yet any photos of his children, aged 9, 7 and 1 — the office still holds vestiges of its previous occupant. Polak inherited one fun decoration from Salovey: a large, green plastic dinosaur perched on the mantlepiece in the Provost’s Office with its jaws clamped fast around a small plush person.

“I think someone brought it to [Salovey] as a gift,” said Joy McGrath, Salovey’s special assistant. “He left that for the new provost. It’s motorized — it walks and roars.”

When asked whether the dinosaur will remain in its current habitat, Polak said he intends to keep the plastic toy for his kids.

Meanwhile, Salovey, who was named Yale’s 23rd president on Nov. 8, has returned to his old office in the psychology building on 2 Hillhouse Ave. According to McGrath, Salovey began planning the logistics of moving offices well before he announced the identity of the new provost. The process of clearing out the old office in the psychology building began over winter break, she said.

Reminiscent of his days as a full-time psychology professor, the old office’s crammed bookshelves display yellow Kodak boxes full of old lecture slides, and a framed T-shirt depicting three mustached Saloveys hangs on the wall, proclaiming “It’s not a gut … It’s not a circus … But it’s the largest class in the history of Yale University.” Students in Salovey’s “Psychology and Law” class — which was so popular it had to be moved to Battell Chapel — made the shirts back in 1992.

McGrath said there is still a lot of organizing left to do in the wake of Salovey’s return to the psychology building, adding that she is alternating her time between unpacking boxes and doing her administrative work.

Nevertheless, Sarah Skubas, executive assistant to the provost, said that the physical transition between provosts, which largely took place in the day following Polak’s appointment, has been “a very smooth process.”

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