Mastering the college experience

On the back wall of Pierson College’s dining hall hang the portraits of three distinguished-looking men, each sporting colorful attire against a dark background. Trumbull College’s dining hall features a single picture of a man, looking over the wooden tables from above the carved stone arches. Students in Berkeley College face a series of vibrant-colored portraits as they enter the dining hall. In Davenport College, the pictures of four old men watch students as they exit.

All of these portraits immortalize the faces of the masters of Yale’s past, although hardly anyone eating in those halls today knows their names.

At the end of this academic year, three more professors will join the ranks of former masters and deans: Last month, Calhoun Master Jonathan Holloway GRD ’95, Timothy Dwight Dean John Loge ’66 and Silliman Dean Hugh Flick announced they are leaving their posts in 2014.

Students’ reactions ranged from frustration to optimism. TD student Shreaya Ghei ’16, for instance, said she was upset when she heard about Dean Loge’s departure. Others, like Jonathan Adler ’17, are hopeful that “they are going to find a wonderful replacement.” For most students interviewed, though, the news of these departures have raised questions about the role of deans and masters, their presence within an ever-expanding residential college system, and the gains and sacrifices that these positions entail.

FROM OXBRIDGE TO NEW HAVEN

From the beginning of the residential college system, Masters were tasked with “setting the social and intellectual tone of the college,” according to Jay Gitlin ’71 MUS ’74 GRD ’02, a history professor who teaches the seminar “Yale and America.”

After the number of Yalies spiked from 1,200 students in 1899 to over 3,000 in the 1920s, the growth of the student body threatened to diminish the sense of community that traditionally structured and united undergraduate students, Gitlin explained. In response, the administration imported the residential college model from Oxford and Cambridge Universities, opening its first seven residential colleges in 1933 — Davenport, Pierson, Branford, Saybrook, Jonathan Edwards, Trumbull and Calhoun. In accordance with the Oxbridge tradition, each college was established with its own dining hall, library and activities, and was assigned a master to oversee the life of its students.

At the time, freshmen were not associated with a specific college but had to apply at the end of their freshman year, Gitlin said. The master of the residential college held the power in selecting their new members, which led to many of the colleges became segregated and homogeneous spaces, according to Yale historian Gaddis Smith ’54 GRD ’61.

“Davenport was populated by members of the Social Register, Jonathan Edwards by artists, Calhoun by athletes, Silliman and Timothy Dwight by the slide rule set, and Pierson by Daily News types and student leaders,” Smith said.

It was only in the 1950s, under University President Alfred Whitney Griswold ’29 GRD ’33, that this cultural separation of the student body across residential colleges was first recognized as an issue. As a result, Yale began to randomly assign freshmen to residential colleges in 1962. In the same year, the University established the position of a residential college dean to complement the duties of the Master and help students deal with the challenges of academics at Yale.

“Before that time, academic problems — and perhaps other problems — were brought to the central Dean’s Office,” Gitlin said, adding that the introduction of residential college deans helped alleviate the administrative burdens of the Yale College Dean’s Office.

A SCHOOL FOR DEANS AND MASTERS?

As residential college deans began to emerge as the linchpins of students’ academic welfare, it became clear that professors aspiring to that position had to receive extensive training, according to Paul McKinley DRA ’96, who serves as the director of strategic communications at the Dean’s Office.

Since 1988, the University has established a so-called “Dean’s School,” a year-long training program aimed at acquainting prospective deans with a vast range of topics — from academic regulations to personal advising and emotional support for undergraduates.

McKinley, who was dean of Saybrook College from 1997-2003, described the training as an “excellent process that is very thorough so that deans are comfortable coming in to their positions.” He also added that, whenever a new residential college dean is appointed, this training process gives academic support a continuity that is critical to maintain.

Whereas deans are expected to be well versed in the University’s ever-changing academic regulations, masters seem to enjoy greater freedom in shaping their position as head of the residential colleges. Just a few years ago, there was no formal training process for incoming masters, and only recently did Yale College Dean Mary Miller GRD ’81 introduce a shorter equivalent to the “dean’s school” for masters: a one day deep-immersive workshop to train future masters in their responsibilities as chief administrative officer in each residential college.

Rather than a formalized training program, new masters do not reach out to more experienced masters in other colleges but are connected, establishing what Pierson Master Stephen Davis GRD ’98 called “mentor-protégé relationships.”

Davis, who was appointed to the position in April, said such relationships with other residential college masters have been helpful to him in the past three months.
“Something might happen where I just feel like I need feedback, and I’ll just shoot them an e-mail or give them a call,” he said.

The lack of a more established training process for masters can be explained by one of the main differences between deans and masters, according to Holloway.
“Masters have a lot of freedom, whereas deans have to be on the same page with academic regulations and rules,” Holloway said, adding that masters are in charge of setting the preferences and priorities of their respective residential college. Other masters interviewed, including Morse Master Amy Hungerford, echoed Holloway’s views.

“Each Master will want to experiment with new programming and new approaches as they also work to learn the college’s established ways of doing things,” Hungerford said.

Historically, the position of residential college master was an honorary title given to esteemed professors who were often approaching retirement, Holloway explained, adding that there were no term limits for Masters. However, former University President Richard Levin established a three-term limit, so that masters can usually serve for two five-year terms and for three only under “exceptional circumstances,” Holloway said.

For Hungerford, who also serves as the Chair of Council of Masters, re-appointments for a second or term have proven to be particularly “healthy for the college,” as they give students a sense of continuity and allow the Master to grow and develop in the position.

Unlike masters, deans serve three-year terms and are reviewed for re-appointment in their second year, McKinley said. No term limits have been set for deans: some can hold the positions for decades ­—such as Christa Dove GRD ’76 who served as Dean of Pierson College from 1983 to 2005. Others only stay for one term, like former Branford Dean Daniel Tauss, who only held the position from 2007 to 2010.

THE DEPARTED

Former masters and deans interviewed mentioned a variety of reasons that factored into their departures. Words like “family,” “a new [career] direction” and “academic work” all point towards the toll which the positions of master and dean take on their professional and personal lives.

Holloway, for instance, admitted that “scholarship suffers when you are a master,” because of the time and effort devoted to supervising the residential college. Steven Smith, who was master of Branford from 1996 to 2011, agreed that the deanship and mastership are very time-consuming positions, adding that “time spent in the college is time not spent on other things.”

Additionally, living in the residential college provides a peculiar environment for masters and deans to raise a family or simply reside. According to Davis, residential college masters and deans have to be comfortable with share their living space with all the undergraduate students in their college. On a similar note, Holloway described living in the Calhoun College with his wife Aisling Colon and his two children as a safe yet challenging experience.
“It’s hard to be a master and have a young family — it’s hard to have young kids in itself,” he said.

Still, all masters and deans interviewed agreed that their work in the residential colleges helped them establish a deeper connection with undergraduate students.
“I thought I knew the students as an engaged professor,” Holloway said. “But when we moved into the college, I was amazed at all I didn’t know about the students: Getting to know these young, impressive people was incredibly gratifying.”

Similarly, Smith said that the opportunity to live so closely with students provides masters and deans with a unique Yale experience.
“There aren’t very many positions that you can have a lot of fun in doing: Being a master was really fun for me,” Smith said.

In spite of this, Smith said there is a time when Deans and Masters realize that leaving their posts might be the best decision for them, their family and their college. For him, that time was in 2005, after holding the position of Branford Master for 15 years.

“Fifteen was enough,” he said. “It was time to give someone else the opportunity to have that experience.”

A NEW ERA?

As the new Pierson master this year, Davis has just embarked on this experience. He smiled as he remembered the day in April when he was greeted by the Pierson community: Students broke into overwhelming applause as Davis walked into the dining hall, surrounded by the portraits of the college’s past masters.

As Davis has learned, the transition from an old dean or master to a new one is an exciting but challenging moment for the residential college.

For upperclassmen like Emily Hong ’14, the departure of former Pierson Master Harvey Goldblatt last semester was particularly worrisome. While Hong said Davis eventually exceeded her expectations, she and her fellow Piersonites “were all a little nervous about having a new master.”
Other students interviewed looked for the silver lining.

After hearing the announcement of Loge’s departure, TD student Daniel Judt ’17 said he is looking forward to “a new dean, a new ceremonial process [and] a new way to bring the TD community together.”

Hungerford agreed with Judt, adding that the process of appointing a new dean or master brings a “natural energy” that is beneficial to the community within the residential college.

Smith added that the arrival of a new master or dean is a particularly transformative time for the entire residential college, as they have the opportunity to “put [their] imprint on and set a tone for the college.”

As Calhoun, Silliman and Timothy Dwight still await the appointment of new deans and masters, the announcement of two brand-new residential colleges set to open in 2017 provides new deanship and mastership openings — positions that will be critical to shaping the culture of the two still-unnamed colleges.

Despite the sacrifices that come with the job, the positions of dean and master receive great respect from the Yale community and these openings may already have contenders.
“By the way, if they’re looking for people to be masters of the new colleges, I volunteer,” Gitlin said.

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