The Divinity School intelligentsia are not exactly known for throwing blow out parties. At a 12:30 p.m. ceremony yesterday, however, a crowd packed into the Divinity School dining hall to welcome Rebecca Chopp, the provost of Emory University whom Yale President Richard Levin named the school’s first female dean.
Chopp, who will officially become dean July 1, is widely respected for her views on women’s issues and theology. She replaces Harry Adams, who became acting dean of the Divinity School Jan. 1, following former dean Richard Wood’s accelerated departure.
Wood, who had initially planned to retire in the spring, left his post in December for the presidency of the New York-based United Fund for Christian Higher Education in Asia. Many in the Divinity School have said Wood did not work well with the faculty, and many said they hope that Chopp will be able to restore unity from the top.
“I’m extraordinarily excited,” Chopp told the crowd. “This is the best job in higher education today.”
She spoke of the Divinity School as a center not only for theological scholarship but one attuned to present day societal crises that is able and ready to “meet the pressing needs of the culture and the world.”
She also said she was excited to be making a new life in New Haven. She announced her husband would work in some capacity to raise funds for Yale, though the specifics of his job have not yet been worked out.
Chopp discussed briefly her qualifications for the job, and said her stint as provost at Emory qualify her to handle the job’s more mundane tasks.
“I also understand a wee bit about budgets and administration,” Chopp said.
She thanked Levin for his help in procuring funding for the Divinity School’s $41 million physical plant renovations that began under Wood’s tenure and are currently underway. Wood also has been credited with increasing the number of student applications and balancing the Divinity School budget.
On the philosophical front, she cited the famous theologians Paul Tillich and Reinhold Niebuhr as guiding inspirations whose work she would look to in charting the school’s path to the future. She credited Tillich with the idea there are times in human history when great spiritual inroads can be made into the community. Niebuhr, she said, had inspired her with his reinterpretation of basic human verities such as love and loyalty.
Levin introduced Chopp and expressed his admiration for her academic talent. He also saluted the Divinity School’s search committee, headed by professor Nicholas Wolterstorff, for its nomination of Chopp for the job. She was one of three names submitted by the committee to Levin, who made the final hiring decision.
“I was pleased at the response for Rebecca,” said David Bartlett, the school’s dean for academic affairs. “I was pleased at the response of the central administration.”