The Classicist

Meet the DS queen.
Meet the DS queen. // Karen Tian

Boasting a Yale teaching career that spans back to 1990 when she first joined the faculty of the English department, Jane Levin GRD ’75 can always be found with a book in hand. The wife of Yale’s 22nd president and director of undergraduate studies for Directed Studies, the selective freshman humanities program, has been known among students for her immutable charm and quick wit. After meeting her husband in a freshman year English class at Stanford University in 1964, she crossed the pond in 1968 to garner an additional degree in English from Oxford University before arriving at Yale’s campus for graduate school two years later. Bound for the coasts of California this fall as her husband steps down from the presidency to begin his sabbatical at Stanford conducting research, Levin looks forward to joining her children on the West Coast and beginning the next chapter of her life, characterized by further academic exploration and a bucket list filled with mountain-trekking expeditions.

Q. How did you enter into academia?

A. I met Rick at Stanford. We got engaged in December of our senior year. People did things like that back then, which seems ridiculous now. Rick had an idea that we should apply for all these fellowships, so we went to Oxford for two years. I had a Fulbright and the next step was to apply to graduate school, so we came to Yale as graduate students in the fall of 1970. When I finished my degree, I decided at that point that we had one child and our second child was born two weeks after our dissertation, so basically, for the next fifteen years, I stayed home with kids.

Q. If you could have dinner with any writer, dead or alive, who would it be and why?

A. I’m not really sure — but Proust makes a very interesting point. The social person you meet is not the same as the person writing the book. I think of all the books that I love I’m not exactly sure that I would want to meet the author. The part of them that interests me lives in their book.

Q. Who are your favorite authors?

A. Obviously Homer, Tolstoy, Jane Austen, Wordsworth, Milton and Shakespeare, of course.

Q. What are your favorite lines of Shakespeare?

A. There are a lot of great lines from “As You Like It,” like when Rosalind says “Oh how full of briars is this workaday world!“ The man was a complete genius. There are just a million heartbreaking lines of Shakespeare, my god.

Q. Print or digital?

A. I personally like to have a book in my hands. I like to interact with a book when I read it and underline in pencil. I have a visual memory, so I remember things on the left hand side or the right hand side of a page. Rick had a Kindle and an iPad, but I find reading on that to be so uniform. For my DS sections, I have yellow Post-its on pages that I want to turn to in class and old copies of books in which almost every line is underlined by now.

Q. What talent would you most like to have?

A. I think it would either be to be able to sing or play a musical instrument. I played the piano for many years when I was young. The good thing about piano is that you play it by yourself — but it would also be very cool to play the cello or be part of an ensemble or quartet. I like baroque music, like Bach and Vivaldi, but I love Beethoven, too. And then Dylan, the Heart of the Order, the Beatles — all the music of the sixties, which is obviously the golden age of music. I am also a big Taylor Swift fan, as all of my students will say. I actually have “Red” in my car right now. Our youngest daughter first introduced me to her many albums. I like all of the early albums, too. It would also be cool to be athletic. When it comes to anything that requires hand-eye coordination, I’m lost. When you get to my age, you get credit for just the fact that you’re doing it.

Q. What do you do on your days off?

A. I don’t think of exactly having days off. We are always doing Yale things. When the weather is better, we go biking on the weekends on the bike trail in Hamden. We’ve been doing it for a couple years. It’s about a 20-mile loop through Cheshire. We always stop by the Starbucks on the Hamden plaza. But I mean, I guess the main thing that we do is visit our four children and seven grandchildren on the West Coast. That’s where we are going over break. We also go trekking in the Alps over the summer. It’s not mountain climbing by any means. I mean, hiking only requires putting one foot in front of the other. But we go over a pass between eight and 10 thousand feet high with guides. We do that every summer. We’ve done Montblanc where the Matterhorn is. In the summer, I swim every day. If I swam any more slowly, I wouldn’t be moving. The swim team would get a kick out of that, you know. We don’t get to go into New York very often because of Rick’s schedule, but we just went to Peter Martin’s production of “Sleeping Beauty.” It’s the gold standard as far as I’m concerned. We always go to the New York City Ballet to see “The Nutcracker” at Christmas time and now we take all of our grandchildren. We actually had a bus full of people between our kids and our grandchildren. There were 31 of us.

Q. What is on your bucket list for life after Yale?

A. We are going to be at Stanford for the fall quarter. The one thing we are thinking about is a trek on the Himilayas. The other place we would like to trek is in Patagonia. But we’re getting older, and the mountains aren’t getting lower, so we have to think about it.

Q. What is your favorite comfort food?

A. Chai latte with extra foam at Starbucks. I go at the end of every day to the Starbucks right on the corner of Chapel and High street. That is my indulgence, my treat. They know my order because I get the same thing every day. Sometimes when I feel like I want to live large, I get a venti instead of a grande. And yes, I have a Starbucks card.

Clarification: March 13

A previous version of this article stated that University President Richard Levin would assume a Stanford professorship in the fall. While Levin will be a visiting professor at Stanford during the fall semester as he conducts sabbatical research there, he will remain a member of Yale’s faculty.  

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