It’s 9:10 a.m. when Yale College Dean Peter Salovey darts into the Crane Room in Kirtland Hall for his weekly lab meeting. He’s 10 minutes late, and he knows it. He hastily pulls off his bulky overcoat and gray cap, drops his stuffed shoulder bag onto a chair and rushes out of the room just as quickly as he entered to grab a cup of coffee.
It’s Salovey’s third cup of joe today.
Salovey, a self-admitted creature of habit, wakes up every morning at 6 a.m. sharp. After getting ready for work, he washes down a bowl of Honey Nut Cheerios with two mugs of regular Colombian coffee — black — and a glass of cranberry juice while reading The New York Times with his wife, Marta. Then he responds to e-mail for an hour before heading to work. Today, he drove to Betts House for an 8 a.m. meeting with Yale President Richard Levin.
It’s Friday, which is typically designated “lab day” for the psychology professor, so instead of heading to his office in SSS 110 after his talk with Levin, Salovey went instead to Kirtland Hall to be a psychologist again. But Salovey’s list of deanly activities this week has overflowed into lab day, which means today Salovey will be both psychologist and dean.
Just moments after rushing out on his lab group, Salovey re-enters the cramped conference room, grasping a paper cup of coffee and sits in a chair opposite psychology professor Mark Brackett. Dressed in a light brown suit, Salovey sits on the edge of his seat and listens as four of the members of his group discuss concerns about a project proposal due in just two weeks: the cost of research, complications with putting data online, upcoming research projects …
At 9:30, the group pauses for a few moments to wait for more students to trickle in before discussing a grant proposal on emotional health that has to be submitted to the National Institute of Health in just two weeks. During the brief interlude, Salovey turns to Brackett and jokes about his newfound reliance on his cell phone.
“All this time I’ve made fun of you for a phone that does everything, and now I’ve got one, and I’m completely dependent,” Salovey tells Brackett.
More students enter, and a basket of Valentine’s Day treats are passed around the table. Salovey nibbles a muffin from the basket as Brackett lays out the grant proposal on the white board at the front of the room. Throughout Brackett’s discussion Salovey rocks back and forth in his chair, listening attentively. At one point he turns to me and points at a list of names on the wall beside the whiteboard — it’s a list of every student who has received a Ph.D. in psychology from Yale.
“If you look at the year 1986, you’ll see my name,” Salovey whispers.
When Salovey finally returns to his office at 10:30, there are 372 e-mails in his inbox.
Salovey admits he can’t do everything his job demands, because acting as the administration’s liaison between students, faculty, parents and alumni is a daunting task. But he does try to stay on top of his e-mail. He says he makes an attempt each day to get his inbox down to zero before going to bed. Although Salovey is constantly running from meeting to meeting, he uses any slot of unscheduled time, be it five minutes or a half hour, to respond to messages. Unfortunately, today he probably won’t be able to get to all of them, because a two-day trip to New York earlier in the week has caused him to fall behind.
In the two minutes before Brackett enters his office at 10:45 for a private meeting, Salovey manages to dash off a few e-mail responses before greeting his colleague. The two psychologists joke and laugh before sitting down and sifting through a stack of papers outlining their collaboration with a team of emotional researchers at the University of Cadiz in Spain. Salovey reads some of the pages aloud, attempting to sound out the unfamiliar Spanish words.
“Spanish was not my language,” Salovey explains. “French was, but Spanish was [Brackett’s], so we’ve gone back and forth in multiple languages to get this grant proposal.”
“‘Proyecto’ — that’s not ‘protect?'” Salovey asks, turning to Brackett.
“No, it’s ‘project,'” Brackett says.
“Our sexos are ‘V.’ What does that stand for in Spanish?” Salovey asks.
The two men pause for a moment.
“Varones!” Brackett announces triumphantly.
Time is running out, so Salovey and Brackett hastily sign a document certifying that they are collaborators on the project. The conversation shifts back to the grant proposal, which Brackett hopes to complete by Friday. Salovey will look over the finished product.
“I don’t have time to write up grant proposals,” says Salovey with a twinge of sadness in his voice, “so Brackett takes the lead.”
At 11:15, Salovey meets with his old friend Golan Shahar. Shahar, who moved to Israel last year to teach at the University of Haifa, used to teach introductory psychology with Salovey. The portly psychologist smiles broadly as he struts into Salovey’s new office with his arm extended in anticipation of a warm handshake. The two immediately start catching up, but moments later, Shahar spills his cup of coffee all over the wooden coffee table. Salovey, unfazed by the mess, mops it up quickly.
“Don’t worry,” he says, “you’re not the first, and you won’t be the last.” They start chatting again.
Shahar’s passion is mental health. He tells Salovey about his plans for founding a mental health association in Israel, the product of decades of uninterrupted research in the field.
The reunion is cut off a half hour later. Salovey excitedly invites Shahar to attend a research talk he is slated to give in less than 15 minutes, but Shahar has already made plans.
No matter. Salovey’s been preparing for the talk for weeks, and he is excited, almost giddy, at the thought of it.
The men get up, but before parting, Shahar asks his former colleague for a recommendation. Salovey obliges without hesitation.
“I’m happy to do it,” he says warmly. “It’s no problem at all.”
At 11:50, Salovey heads to Becton 102 to present his talk, “The Framing of Public Health Messages,” for a seminar. This talk is the pinnacle of Salovey’s day. As he discusses the impact of positively and negatively worded public health messages, he is clearly in his element, meandering about the room casually, completely absorbed by the subject.
“It’s been a while since I went over this material,” he says at one point. The comment elicits soft chuckles from his audience.
When the talk is over, Salovey heads back to his Kirtland Hall office to do some damage to his inbox during his free half hour before a series of back-to-back meetings with graduate advisees.
The office is clearly the workplace of a psychologist. The bookshelves are lined with neatly stacked volumes covering every conceivable aspect of his field, as well as sample textbooks sent to Salovey during his days as an introductory psychology professor that are still wrapped in plastic. On the wall hangs a T-shirt commemorating Salovey’s stint as professor of the immensely popular course, “Psychology and Law.”
“It’s not a gut. It’s not a circus … But it is the largest class in the history of Yale University,” the T-shirt reads, alluding to the course that boasted an enrollment of 1,052 students.
But the spotlessness of the office indicates how seldom Salovey is here. He only uses the office on Fridays for meetings. He says he likes to be able to give his advisees his full attention, something he cannot do in his SSS office, where he is constantly interrupted by phone calls.
“Just going next door creates a distance between the two parts of my life,” he says.
When his first protege enters, Salovey sits down with a Coke, kicks off his shoes and discusses her dissertation proposal with ease. As the two chat, Salovey drops the names of famous psychologists, spelling out some of the more complicated names for the student as possible references for her dissertation.
While he is fully absorbed in the concerns of his students, the moment one leaves, he darts over to his computer to check his e-mail. The count is up to 392. While most of these e-mails pertain to administrative matters, one is a reminder for a rehearsal on Sunday for Professors of Bluegrass, the bluegrass band he started more than a decade ago and just recently resumed.
Bluegrass is Salovey’s favorite genre of music. He sometimes listens to bluegrassradio.com but is often prevented from doing so because of the demands of his workload: Although a professional multi-tasker, Salovey finds it impossible to work and listen to music simultaneously.
“I can’t even do simple tasks like check e-mail and listen to music at the same time,” he says.
At 3:30, Salovey returns to his dean’s lair after the last of his advisees leaves. His secretary has taken the afternoon off, so Salovey is greeted by two yellow notes tacked onto the door and a letter from a student appealing a decision made by the dean’s office. Salovey hastens out of his office to resolve the matter with Dean of Student Affairs Betty Trachtenberg, grabbing a handful of M&Ms on the way out.
He returns 10 minutes later, grabbing another handful of M&Ms as he passes into his office. Salovey’s quick motion into the candy dish does not go unnoticed by Trachtenberg.
“How come he doesn’t get fat?” she asks enviously.
Back in his office, Salovey can finally get down to business. He sits at his desk, popping M&Ms as he makes a phone call to a department chair regarding a faculty search. As he talks, he swivels back and forth in his leather chair, standing, then sitting, then standing again, all the while talking and gesticulating.
“That’s terrific,” he says, having resolved the matter at hand with apparent ease. “If you don’t have any problems with it, then I don’t either.”
At 3:50, Salovey hangs up and places a call to a deputy provost about another faculty search, promising to call back in five minutes when he is told the deputy provost is unavailable.
“I want to make sure we’re on the same page about how we’re running [the search],” he says as he checks his e-mail — which is up to 397 — and flips through a newspaper that has been sitting atop his desk all day, unread.
After leafing through a few pages, he tosses the paper aside. He has another meeting.
When his guest arrives, I take a seat outside the office because the meeting is private. Salovey closes the door behind him.
Two minutes later, a student approaches a receptionist nearby and begins angrily arguing about his rooming situation. The student wanted to move off campus but didn’t have enough credits to qualify as a junior.
That’s too bad, the receptionist said, but she admitted she was powerless to alter University policy.
The student raised his voice in protest.
The receptionist shrugged, and the student stormed off.
Five minutes later, Salovey saw his guest out the door and welcomed me back in. He strode quickly to his desk and picked up the phone without pausing.
“As you can see, my five minutes turned into a half-hour,” he tells the deputy provost when he finally manages to get him on the other line. He was fudging; it actually took him 50 minutes.
Ten minutes later, Salovey hangs up the phone, having decided upon a procedure to follow for a faculty search committee with the deputy provost’s help. He has to be at Pierson College Master Harvey Goldblatt’s house at 5 p.m. for the inaugural committee meeting of the college’s dean search, but first he rapidly sends off an e-mail before grabbing his coat and hat and heading out the door.
In the hallway, Salovey passes by Associate Yale College Dean William Segraves.
“There’s hockey tonight and basketball tomorrow night,” Salovey says.
Salovey arrives at Goldblatt’s house at 5:10. After taking off his coat, he fills a small china cup with black coffee and grabs a pastry, which he nibbles as he chats with the Pierson master. Goldblatt inquires about the origins of Salovey’s name.
“Is it Belarussian?” he asks.
“‘Salovey’ means ‘nightingale’ in Russian,” Salovey replies, adding that, when his Jewish father came to America for the first time, his name was “Saloveychick.” “It was too long for America,” he says, touching his conspicuous black mustache.
After mingling with the other committee members, Salovey gives a speech to kick off the search process. He talks about the need for confidentiality and warns against ranking the shortlist of candidates, then he heads out the door, leaving the committee to begin the search process.
It’s 5:30, but the night is young. After walking back to his office and checking his e-mail, Salovey walks home to the dean’s house to pick up his wife before heading to Ingalls Rink for the men’s hockey game against Colgate. He and his wife, who has brought a visitor from Smith College, sit in the faculty section, where Salovey, who has not changed out of his work attire, is rather out of place in his camel-colored blazer and blue and white striped shirt and tie.
Thirty minutes into the game, Salovey admits that baseball is much more to his liking than hockey.
“This seems to move so fast, baseball is so much slower,” he says. “At this point in the [baseball] game we’d be just settling in, getting our scorecards and thinking about buying a hot dog.”
It’s easy to see that baseball is Salovey’s respite from his rigorous job. As dean, Salovey never thinks about what he’s going to eat — he eats on the go, when food becomes available to him, because his schedule never seems to include lunchtime or dinnertime.
A few minutes later, Marta turns to her husband and asks him if he is going to conduct the band — a new tradition Salovey has started.
“I’m thinking about it,” he replies.
Marta doesn’t have to tell him twice. Salovey dutifully heads over to the opposite side of the rink, walking purposefully to the front of the band, which is in the midst of playing Outkast’s “Hey Ya.” Within minutes, Salovey is leading the band as it grinds out the tune of “Satisfaction.” Meanwhile, a band member puts up a white board in front of the band that says in blue, “We Love Dean Salovey.”
At the end of the song, Salovey takes a small bow and beams at the crowd.
“It’s a superstitious thing to turn the game around,” Salovey says after returning to the faculty box. “Hopefully it will work,” he adds and points to the score board, which displays a 0-0 tie.
As he watches the game, he explains the various plays to his wife’s friend, who has never seen a hockey game before.
“Now I know what it’s like to be a sports commentator!” he says. But even as he talks, he never loses focus on the game. His eyes dart back and forth, following the movement of the puck, and he shifts back and forth in his seat with excitement.
After the game, Salovey says he might go out to dinner, perhaps to La Piazza, then catch a show at the Yale Rep. At about 11 o’clock, a long week will be over for the dean — but the work won’t be. Salovey reminds himself of the 400 e-mails that await his attention.
“By the end of the weekend, my inbox will be down to zero,” Salovey says with certainty.