Ever the self-effacing Englishman, newly-appointed provost Andrew Hamilton alluded to his predecessor and fellow Brit Alison Richard when he speculated Tuesday that he may have been selected by Yale President Richard Levin “because he became nostalgic to have an English accent at the other end of the table.”
But colleagues said Hamilton, currently the deputy provost of science and technology, is qualified in more ways than merely sharing the nationality of one of his predecessors. His students and fellow administrators agreed that Hamilton has both the experience and the character needed to succeed Susan Hockfield as provost.
“He’s done [the job of deputy provost] spectacularly well,” Levin said. “Virtually all science chairs wrote to me during the nomination process to say he was their first or second choice for provost. I think he’s won universal acclaim for seeing the heart of problems and moving expeditiously to get it done.”
Since coming to Yale in 1997, Hamilton served as chairman of the Chemistry Department before becoming deputy provost of science and technology in 2003. His colleagues said they appreciate his ability to temper professionalism with humor.
“I find him a delightful person to interact with,” Molecular Biophysics and Biochemistry chairman Nigel Grindley said. “He’s a very thoughtful, analytical individual who seems to see straight to the heart of a problem and seems to be very good at coming up with solutions. I’ve certainly seen him in action, and I’ve been quite impressed.”
According to Hockfield, the main issues facing Hamilton when he takes over as provost this month include the Science Hill building project, monitoring the medical school’s improvement, and implementing the recommendations of the Committee on Yale College Education’s 2003 academic curricular review.
Administrators said Hamilton is well prepared for each of these tasks because of his experience working with the Yale science community and the School of Medicine and serving on the academic review committee.
Hamilton, an organic chemist whose research centers on developing molecules with specific biological properties, including pharmaceutical applications, has been honored as one of his field’s eminent scientists. In recognition of his work on artificial enzymes and enzyme inhibition, Hamilton was recently elected one of 44 new fellows of England’s prestigious Royal Society.
Hamilton said he hopes to continue his research even after he becomes provost.
“I hope I will be able to keep a research group in the Chemistry Department,” he said. “I think it’s important for faculty who are senior administrators to try and maintain a level of scholarly activity, because it connects them with the faculty.”
Previously affiliated with six other universities, Hamilton said Yale stands out as his favorite.
“It took me a little longer to realize how much more there is to Yale than tradition,” Hamilton said. “I received a wondrously warm welcome from [my] colleagues.”
Beyond his professional achievements, Hamilton has earned recognition for his congenial personality, Chemistry chairman Gary Brudvig said.
“He’s a very gracious person, the kind of person that’s very skillful in mediating agreements,” Brudvig said. “If you hear him speak you’ll immediately recognize that he’s an extremely eloquent speaker and also a very charismatic guy.”
Jessica Davis GRD ’07, a member of Hamilton’s laboratory, described Hamilton as always ready to accept a great deal of responsibility. She said there was an ongoing joke in the lab that “you never see Hamilton walking; he’s always running.”
“He does a really good job of juggling many things at once,” Davis said. “He doesn’t only care about the chemistry; he cares about his graduate students as well.”
Despite Hamilton’s heavy workload, a number of graduate students interviewed said that the newly appointed provost always had time to help them with problems they faced in their research.
Katherine Kayser GRD ’08, who also works in Hamilton’s lab, said she remembers how Hamilton helped her when she was feeling “consumed” by a particularly challenging project.
“He made me feel instantly better just sitting down and discussing it and letting [me] know that chemistry doesn’t always work out,” Kayser said. “[He helped me] realize that not everything is going to go your way and that’s not always a bad thing — That was definitely a big moment in my graduate career.”
Based on the high regard many at Yale share for Hamilton, Levin expressed hope and confidence that he will continue the strong legacy of Yale provosts set by his predecessors, Richard and Hockfield. Richard left to become vice chancellor of the University of Cambridge in 2003, and Hockfield will leave to become the president of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology later this semester.
“I think he’s well prepared to take on this responsibility,” Levin said. “More than all [his] objective credentials are the personal qualities he brings to the job. I think he will be just the kind of provost we’ve become used to around here.”