Four years ago, Thomas Pollard was the chair of the search committee for a new Dean of the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences. But in a surprise turn of events, the committee went behind his back to recommend Pollard himself for the job to then-University President Richard Levin — a recommendation that was met with approval.
In his years of deanship, Pollard has maintained a tighter grasp on the graduate school than he did on that committee. In a school where change has been comparatively slow, Pollard spearheaded a controversial movement to closely track the school’s goings-on and mobilize the results of various surveys, pushing forward incremental changes in student life and encouraging academic departments to evaluate their teaching and advising practices. At the same time, Pollard made the long-deferred renovation of the Hall of Graduate Studies a priority for the administration.
“He started the ball rolling on a number of things it would be nice to see come to fruition,” Graduate Student Assembly (GSA) President Brian Dunican GRD ’15 said.
Former University President Richard Levin said Friday that Pollard’s tenure was notable for the dean’s efforts to improve the quality of graduate education at Yale.
When he became dean, though, Pollard was confronted with a challenge others before him had long neglected — the crumbling building of the Hall of Graduate Studies. A renovation, Pollard said, had been far from administrators’ minds.
“In his tenure as dean, he’s done more than anyone else to make sure it’s a real goal for the University,” Dunican said of the HGS renovation.
But when Pollard packs up his office on the first floor of HGS this summer, he will not leave a newly renovated building. Due to University-wide budget constraints, renovations will have only recently begun, and they are not slated to be completed until 2019.
In the meantime, though, Pollard has worked to provide students with additional 24-hour workspaces on campus, facilities that graduate students had long said were desperately lacking. In November 2012, Pollard opened 2,000 additional square feet of such workspaces in HGS. Still, Brendan Barco GRD ’18, who took a class taught by Pollard last term, said that more round-the-clock workspaces are needed.
In August 2011, just over a year into his tenure, Pollard released a major report on success rates in graduate schools doctorate programs.
“The report encouraged the sharing of best practices across departments [and] improved their programs as a result of that dissemination of ideas across the wider university,” Levin said. “That is something that will have enduring value.”
Notable for its scientific approach to evaluating the state of graduate education at the University, the report, Dunican said, pushed departments to look closely at how they treat graduate education and spend time evaluating methodologies.
But, Levin said, it caused controversy. Many doctoral students characterized the report, and by extension Pollard, as pushing students out of the University without sufficient time to complete quality research.
“There is a pressure to finish [degrees] within five years,” Aleksandra Gordeeva GRD ’18 said. “And there isn’t a precedent for that. Nobody has finished in five years. Six years is the minimum.”
Jermaine Lloyd GRD ’17 said that the pressure could, at times, prevent students from producing their best possible work. According to Brad Holden GRD ’17, Pollard’s approach may have been skewed by his own background as a scientist.
“He thought humanists could perform the same way as scientists, and he implemented a number of changes based on the premise,” he said.
University of Connecticut Professor and education expert Gaye Tuchman suggested the report is representative of an increasingly corporate attitude in universities, because it analyzes different programs in terms of costs and benefits.
As an extension of the report, Pollard has focused on helping guide graduate students to career goals outside of academia, where job prospects — especially for students in the humanities — are often limited and far from lucrative. For instance, with the help of the Graduate School Alumni Association, Pollard began an annual career event for graduate students.
Although few graduate students interviewed said they had ever interacted with Pollard, Dunican said the dean has been easy to work with for the GSA. Pollard has continued a tradition of meeting twice a month with the GSA to convey the University’s policies and to hear out the graduate students’ concerns.
“He’s been very forthright with us,” Dunican said, who called his conversations with Pollard “robust.”
Additionally, Pollard worked with the GSA on expanding prescription drug and dental coverage for graduate students.
Pollard received his undergraduate degree from Pomona College in 1964 before receiving a medical degree from the Harvard Medical School in 1968.