As the nation debates the future of affirmative action, Yale’s new Office for Equal Opportunity Programs director, Valerie Hayes, will take office March 17.

Hayes, who is now the director of the University of Pennsylvania’s Office of Affirmative Action and Equal Opportunity Programs, will work on developing Yale’s affirmative action plan, monitoring Yale’s compliance with national regulations, and hearing complaints. The appointment comes after a nationwide search for the position, conducted by the provost’s office following the retirement of former director Frances Holloway last June.

With Hayes’ appointment, Provost Susan Hockfield said Yale will reconfigure the position to give it a larger role.

“We consider this to be a centrally important appointment for the University,” Hockfield said.

Deputy Provost for Biomedical and Health Affairs Stephanie Spangler said she hopes Hayes will be a resource of ideas about equal opportunity programs for the University.

“We’re really hoping that her experience will help us think differently about our faculty diversity,” Spangler said.

Hockfield said she anticipates that Hayes will work with all the units of the University to develop hiring practices.

“For our community in this city, it’s important that people recognize Yale as a welcoming and supportive place,” Hockfield said.

Though Hayes’ job description does not include affirmative action in admissions decisions, she said she is eager to hear the Supreme Court’s decision on the case at the University of Michigan.

“It’s complex and there is no easy answer,” Spangler said. “It’s an issue that is diverse in itself.”

Hayes said she plans to work with Yale faculty, students, staff and alumni. She said she will have to wait until she gets to Yale to evaluate the University’s needs.

“I know New Haven and the area have changed a lot since I was last there,” Hayes said. “I know I will discover some good things there.”

A Connecticut native, Hayes served as an affirmative action officer for both the Connecticut Department of Mental Health and the Connecticut Department of Human Resources before joining Penn’s office in 1997. Hayes also served as the associate director and director of Cornell University’s Office of Equal Opportunity. Hayes did her undergraduate and graduate work at the University of Bridgeport and the University of Connecticut, respectively.

Hayes said she has found that to increasing hiring diversity at an institution requires outreach first, as well as wide advertising about available opportunities.

“Always be open and reach out far and wide,” Hayes said.

Spangler said faculty, staff and administrators who participated in the interview process were impressed with Hayes’ enthusiasm.

“People were really impressed with her energy,” Spangler said. “She’s very energetic and enthusiastic in addition to being intelligent.”

Hockfield said she was happy Hayes would return to her home state to lead Yale’s office.

“She’s, to our mind, coming home, but having gained an extra unique experience,” Hockfield said.