Former Yale Graduate School Dean Susan Hockfield took office as the University’s new provost Jan. 1, bringing significant administrative experience and a scientific background to a revamped Yale administration.

Yale President Richard Levin appointed Hockfield as the University’s chief academic and financial officer Dec. 13 after the University of Cambridge announced outgoing Yale Provost Alison Richard as its next vice-chancellor. On Jan. 7, Levin appointed psychology department chairman Peter Salovey to replace Hockfield as dean of the Graduate School.

Levin said he thought the administrative reshuffling has gone smoothly.

“From my point of view, [the transition] is going great,” Levin said. “I’m sure it’s challenging.”

Hockfield enters the position as many major universities announce significant budget problems. Levin and other administrators said while Yale is doing better than many of its peer institutions, the struggling national economy will confront the administration with challenges.

“As Provost Richard said last term, we do have some work to do to keep a balanced budget in the coming year,” Levin said. “Provost Richard did a good job trying to get a substantial amount of that work done before she left but there is still work to be done.”

With negotiations beginning again between the Yale administration and its unions, union leaders said they hoped Hockfield would help to address such issues as graduate student unionization.

“I hope that she uses her new power to change the tone of this administration in dealing with GESO,” said Anita Seth GRD ’05, co-chairwoman of the Graduate Employees and Students Organization.

Hockfield said she hoped the tension between Yale and its unions would give way to open communication.

“We’re hoping that there will be an environment on campus that permits wide-ranging and open debate,” Hockfield said.

Levin said Yale will benefit from the scientific background Hockfield, a neurobiology professor, brings to the position. He said Hockfield’s experience will be helpful in Yale’s efforts to strengthen the School of Medicine and renew its commitment to the sciences.

Richard said Hockfield’s background in the sciences will allow her to think creatively about the University’s plans.

“It’s a very big task and [the School of Medicine] is not well-endowed,” Richard said. “The president has made a major commitment to moving forward in science and engineering and I think we need to stay on track with that.”

Ecology and Evolutionary Biology chairman Stephen Stearns said Richard’s background in anthropology and dedication to the sciences was evidence of renewed commitment to the sciences. But he said Yale is still widely viewed as a liberal arts school.

“It’s not something that’s proven easy to change,” Stearns said. “Yale still has a lot to do to make the sciences more integrated in the undergraduate education.”

Hockfield said she is currently working to “get up to speed” and understand the University at a new level.

“What I’m really focused on is learning everything about the office as fast as I can,” Hockfield said.

Faculty members said they were pleased with Levin’s choice.

“I think it’s a great appointment,” Philosophy chairman Michael Della Rocca said. “There are a lot of tough issues coming up right now. She had done a wonderful job as the [dean of the Graduate School].”

Hockfield has served as the dean of the Graduate School since 1998 and has been a member of the Yale faculty since 1985. Hockfield’s research is devoted to the study of brain development in mammals, focusing particularly on the brain tumor known as glioma.

Richard is on sabbatical from Yale for the spring semester and will officially take over as vice-chancellor of the University of Cambridge Oct. 1. She is currently in Madagascar, completing research for an upcoming book.