Dr. J: Rebounding with Yale’s New Dean

The Dean in repose.
The Dean in repose. // WEEKEND

WEEKEND sat down with Yale College Dean Holloway, who arrived directly from a meeting on how to increase his interaction with undergraduates. An interview with WEEKEND, of course, was a good start. Now settled in since becoming Dean in May, Holloway discusses his aspirations in his new post, his nickname of Dr. J and his favorite things about undergraduates.

 

Q: How was the transition from master to dean?
A: My predecessor, Mary Miller, said it was like drinking from a hose and also drinking from a fireplace. As the master of a college, you have a very specific focus and you’re trying to tend to the needs of that particular community. But as the dean of the College, that community is a lot bigger. You’re dealing with administrative systems and academic systems, so what has thrown me through the loop is how the questions of a Dean come from many different places. That’s been an interesting challenge that’s mostly pretty fascinating. Sometimes, like any job, it has its tougher parts.

Q: What are some of the tougher parts?
A: Broadly speaking, I’m sitting at the end of a line of processes. I might be the person who decides on appeals, for instance. Frankly, that’s not fun, no matter what. No matter what situation it is, I know that I’m the last step. And I wear the burden a little differently in that way.

Q: Is there anything you miss about being master?
A: It’s too early to know, really. But my favorite day of the year has always been freshman move-in. I really loved being surrounded by the students in my college, being totally obnoxious in a prideful way, and astonishing the newest freshmen by knowing their names. So when President Salovey and I walked around Old Campus and TD and Silliman, we got a taste of it, but they weren’t my students anymore. I didn’t know who was getting out of the cars. I suspect that one thing it’s going to take a lot of time to get used to is that on a daily basis I’m used to being surrounded by students, and I loved it. Now, on a daily basis, I’m surrounded by staff. In fact, I’m trying to find ways of getting out into the college community.

Q: Did you come up with anything particularly exciting or promising?
A: (Whispering) The email’s coming out in a few minutes. (Laughing) Well, actually I’ll tell you. It’s called lunch with Dr. J, which is an old jokey nickname. It’s starting in a couple weeks. As the email delineates, I’m going to have nine lunches this semester. It’s going to be a yearlong series, hopefully a years-long series. It’ll be in the dining halls. I’ll sit down with students from different cohorts. For example, not just D-port, more like music students, and the next week it will be people in debate. It just depends. We’ll just sit and talk and spend time together.

Q: How did you get the nickname Dr. J?
A: I like to play basketball. You’re too young to know, but there was a famous basketball player named Dr. J. When I was teaching at UCSD, my students saw me playing and gave me the nickname. So when I became master of Calhoun, I decided I wanted students to call me Dr. J, only to find out years later that students have no idea who he is anymore. If this makes it in the Backstage, could you put a Wikipedia entry or a picture of the actual Dr. J? [Ed note: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Julius_Erving]

Q: What are some of your main goals in your deanship?
A: Well, it’s not a goal, it just a task, but the main thing is that we’re building two new colleges within the next five years. Over my five-year term, those colleges are going to be built, opened and populated. My task is to make sure that the college experience feels the same in 2018 as it does in 2014. Or better. I don’t want the addition of new students to diminish what’s already happening with Yale’s 12 colleges. More broadly speaking, I want to be available to students. I want to be visible to students. It’s my job to be their best advocate and to help encourage thoughtful conversations about how to form a really functional, ethical and critically engaged community. I remember that when I was master of Calhoun, students would complain to me that there were two cultures on campus when it came to the weekend: partiers and shut-ins. Students that didn’t want to party that hard or be shut in were finding themselves in situations where they weren’t succeeding. I’d like to think there are more than two cultures and to find a way to give other options.

Q: How do you as Dean plan to change that?
A: I don’t have an answer to that yet; it’s a difficult problem to solve. But I don’t want to throw my hands up and say I don’t want to deal with it. However, I think by encouraging conversation about this I can effect change. As master of a college, I can model behavior. I remember in Calhoun there was a year that was really difficult when it came to alcohol and drug abuse. I was willing to fund any activity where alcohol wasn’t the focus. I like to think it created opportunities for large-scale community events, like a dining hall-wide game night.

Q: What’s your favorite thing about working at Yale?
A: The undergraduates. I love teaching them, they are endlessly interesting, and I’ve learned so much from them. I think most Yale faculty would tell you that what separates teaching here from teaching other places is that the energy at the undergraduate level is so much more exciting. Also, having lived with the undergraduates for years and learning that they weren’t just book smart was totally exciting. My wife and I feel blessed that we raised our children in the college surrounded by really conscientious, impressive, twenty-year-olds. I like you guys. I really do.

Q: Least favorite thing?
A: March is tough. The month of March never ends.

Contact Coryna Ogunseitan at
coryna.ogunseitan@yale.edu.

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