Astronomy professor Jeffrey Kenney will replace Charles Bailyn as chair of the University’s Astronomy Department for a three-year term beginning in July, Yale President Richard Levin announced to the department’s faculty last week.
Following department tradition, Bailyn will leave the post after serving two three-year terms as chair. Kenney’s new responsibilities will include supervising faculty hiring, steering undergraduate and graduate curriculum aand allocating grant funding.
Bailyn expressed confidence about Kenney’s appointment to the position based on his teaching credentials and his ability to “keep a cool head.” Bailyn also cited Kenney’s involvement in the $14-million WIYN telescope project in Tuscon, Ariz., a joint venture of the University of Wisconsin, Indiana University, Yale and the National Optical Astronomy Observatories.
“He’s someone who understands something that is our number one priority,” Bailyn said, referring to the WIYN telescope project.
Yale College Dean Peter Salovey wrote in an e-mail that he expects Kenney will sustain Bailyn’s legacy of attention to teaching, the development of new facilities and the creation of a strong faculty.
“His expertise cross-cuts the traditional areas of strength in the department — stars — as well as new areas — intergalactic astronomy and cosmology — and so I am confident he can build consensus around a vision for Astronomy’s future at Yale,” Salovey said.
Kenney said he does not have specific plans yet for his tenure as chair, although his overall goal is to strengthen astronomy at Yale.
“People ask you to be chair, but they don’t tell you what the chair actually does,” he said. “I’m very interested in maintaining our department’s strong focus on teaching. I think we’re doing a very good job teaching both undergraduates and graduates, but I want to strengthen that further.”
Kenney said he wants to strengthen introductory-level courses in astronomy because of new distribution requirements, including a quantitative reasoning component, which will be implemented next fall with the Class of 2009. Some faculty members are expected to retire during his term, Kenney said, so he will probably have to conduct searches for new faculty.
“It’s an honor to be asked, but it does take a significant amount of time and effort,” Kenney said. “It’s hard to get as much research done, which is my main concern.”
Some of his other responsibilities will be reduced because of the burden of the chair’s position. Kenney said he will only teach one course per year during his tenure as chair; currently, he teaches two classes annually.
Bailyn said the time-consuming nature of the job, especially its many small administrative tasks, did distract him somewhat from his research. In addition to serving as chair, Bailyn was on the Committee for Yale College Education, which completed a comprehensive undergraduate curricular review in 2003.
“What you lose are large blocks of time,” said Bailyn. “It’s hard to do deep thinking and innovative kinds of things if you don’t have enough time in a row.”
Alexandra Gerena ’08, who is currently enrolled in Kenney’s class, “Galaxies and the Universe,” said Kenney was approachable when she needed help with a problem set. But Gerena said she is concerned that Kenney’s lectures are disorganized, which may not serve him well for the administrative tasks of the chair’s position.
Still, she added, Kenney’s lecture style makes his subject more accessible to students.
“He’s really funny,” she said. “He puts a little humor into [astronomy], even though it’s pretty hard.”