A new year means new faces, but this fall many of them will be in the Yale administration; after appointing new deans of Yale College and the Graduate School last spring, Yale will now be on the hunt for a new provost. Last week, Provost Susan Hockfield announced that she would leave Yale this year to become the president of the Massachussetts Institute of Technology.
Hockfield’s announcement, coming on the wake of two other major appointments, means that Yale’s administration this year will be much greener than in recent memory. The administration’s new guard has the potential to continue to reimagine Yale but must make sure to keep up with Yale’s rapid rate of progress.
The presidency of MIT was an opportunity that may have been impossible for Hockfield to pass up. When she assumes her new post in December, she will become the first female president in MIT’s history, as well as the first president with a natural science background. As such, she has the potential to usher in a new era at one of the country’s most prestigious schools.
But she leaves another one of those schools behind. Not that many students may think anything of it — few have any idea what the provost actually does. As the University’s chief administrative and financial officer, Hockfield is Levin’s second-in-command. Although a change in provost may seem to be less important to students than a new Yale College Dean, a provost has a very real and substantial long-term impact on the University. As students, we are profoundly influenced by who teaches us, how big departments are, or what services are cut or added to the University. The provost, who is responsible for hiring faculty and making judgments about where Yale can cut costs, is an integral part of the University, and students should not overlook the long-term importance of finding a good provost to replace Hockfield.
But Hockfield’s departure is also revealing of the vast institutional change that Yale is undergoing. We begin this year with two new deans, Peter Salovey, who left his job as the dean of the Graduate School to become the dean of Yale College, and Jon Butler, the new dean of the Graduate School. When former Yale College Dean Richard Brodhead became the president of Duke University this summer, it signalled the end of the cabinet President Richard Levin had when he became president a decade ago. But, in an academic institution, turnover can be a positive force.
Levin shows no signs of slowing. The University has built a lot of momentum in the past few years, and Yale is closing in on a refurbished physical campus, rejuevenated sciences and re-envisioned academic ideals. Returning to campus this year we can already see the fruits of the academic review, with some of the recommendations solidly in place — including the change in how half-credits are counted and a host of new freshman seminars. The challenge for the administration’s new guard will be to keep up the pace of reform without losing ground in transition time.
So many new administrators could be a blessing for Yale if the University makes sure to harness their ideas and energy. But Yale must make sure that that happens quickly, without putting the University’s ambitious goals on hold.