Behind the scenes at Yale, the Provost’s Office controls the intricacies of the entire university. And managing it all is Yale Provost Alison Richard — the woman with a “crisp English accent” and red cowboy boots.
The University of Cambridge is expected to announce today that Richard, Yale’s chief academic and financial officer, will be named to replace Sir Alec Broers, the British university’s current vice-chancellor.
Richard, who has been at Yale for 30 years, is a native of Kent, England. Should she accept the post at Cambridge, Richard will be the first woman to serve in the vice-chancellor post as a chief executive of the 800-year-old university.
Yale professors and administrators have reacted to Richard’s intended move with an overwhelming combination of disappointment for Yale and excitement for Richard, a Cambridge graduate.
“It’s a major loss because she has been exceptional here,” Yale history professor John Gaddis said. “On the other hand, this is a major tribute to her and, indirectly, to Yale.”
Emeritus history professor Gaddis Smith said Richard was a “superb provost” with a tenure longer than any in recent years at Yale. Richard is currently in her ninth year as provost; she has served in the post longer than any provost since Charles Taylor, who served from 1963 to 1972.
Against a background of lemurs
Richard’s work in anthropology led her to Yale’s department in 1972 and she eventually served as chairwoman of the Anthropology Department from 1986 to 1991. In 1990, Richard joined the faculty of the School of Forestry and Environmental Studies and served as the director of the Peabody Museum from 1991 to 1994.
While provost, Richard continued her research on the primates of Madagascar, traveling to the African country regularly. Her research focuses on behavioral patterns and population dynamics of the lemur.
“She has always done everything with her heart and soul,” Peabody Museum director and anthropology professor Richard Burger said. “She was a great teacher and she was quite outstanding as a scholar.”
Burger said Richard initially focused on primate behavior but soon became active in conservation issues.
An academic impact
In 1994, Richard succeeded Judith Rodin as provost, becoming the first to be appointed by Yale President Richard Levin. Rodin left Yale to become President of the University of Pennsylvania, a post which she continues to hold today.
At the time, Richard’s move to an administrative position was considered a deep loss for the faculty. Many — including Richard herself — were surprised she took the time off from her research to serve as provost.
“I had always thought that being provost must be like being a faculty member who had died and gone to hell,” Richard said in 1999.
But Yale administrators and professors said Richard has accomplished much in her eight years in office.
“She has done so many things in so many areas that that’s what stands out,” Deputy Provost Charles Long said.
Richard has been especially commended for her emphasis on increasing faculty quality and diversity. Since 1994, the number of tenured female professors in Yale’s faculty of arts and sciences has increased from 41 to 66.
Richard was also instrumental in the creation of the Ecology and Evolutionary Biology department, Long said.
“She did it without weakening [Molecular, Cellular and Developmental Biology], but emerging with three very strong biological departments,” Long said.
Long said under Richard’s tenure, the Faculty of Engineering and other science departments have added an “extraordinary number” of tenured and non-tenured faculty. During Richard’s time at Yale, the University also initiated a $500 million project to strengthen the sciences and engineering.
Long said the social sciences have also gained considerable distinction in the last eight years, while the Philosophy Department has been completely rebuilt.
Environment School professor William Burch said Richard has always been committed to research at Yale and said her duties as provost have not completely distracted her from her scholarship.
“She’s always been a rigorous defender of quality research,” Burch said.
Gaddis said Richard also was quick to respond to any problems departments or programs faced.
“I think she’s been a wonderfully accessible provost,” Gaddis said. “So the combination of this wonderful efficiency in running the place — and accessibility has been a wonderful combination.”
Budget highs and lows
Richard’s successes extend beyond the classroom. She steered the University through budget deficits in the mid-1990s, and more recently through some of the biggest surpluses in Yale’s history.
“In both cases, she showed the discipline and imagination to make wise choices,” Long said.
Long said in addition to maintaining a balanced budget for the past six years, Richard has maintained the balance among people, programs, the endowment and the buildings of Yale.
“What’s most important is that not only did she balance the operating budget, she incorporated — the funding that one must spend to continually renew our facilities,” Long said.
As part of a plan to rebuild 75 percent of the campus by 2013, the University has invested over $1.3 billion in renovating and building on Yale’s campus since the beginning of Richard’s tenure. Financial aid from Yale’s own resources has also increased 40 percent during Richard’s time at the University.
Bureaucracy with a flair
Upon taking office in 1994, Richard learned the job quickly and established herself as a person with “exceptional capacities” for the job, Long said.
“She’s got an enormous energy and never seems to tire,” Long said. “Even when she is tired, she never seems to show it.”
Long said under Richard’s leadership, the Provost’s Office has been able to accomplish even more because Richard built an excellent staff and managed it well, despite the numerous responsibilities that have been added to the provost’s job over the past decade.
In addition, Long said Richard has consistently done a thoughtful job as provost and has gained the respect of faculty members — something that has often been difficult for those holding the position.
“She uses her special feature of all kinds, including her style, and most particularly her good humor and her warmth, to put a special stamp on everything she does,” Long said. “No one feels they have dealt with a bureaucrat when they have dealt with Alison Richard.”
Professors said Richard’s appointment in England, while disappointing for Yale, will be a boon for her new university.
“The question is, ‘Will red cowboy boots become common in Cambridge?'” Burger said.