Psychology professor Marvin Chun will become the first Asian-American to serve as a residential college master when he takes the helm at Berkeley next fall.
Chun, whose appointment was announced Thursday evening by University President Richard Levin, will replace Berkeley College Master and English professor John Rogers, who resigned in January to devote more time to teaching and scholarship. Although the appointment represents an important first for the University, Chun was chosen for his academic and personal reputation, not his ethnicity, administrators said.
Chun’s reputation for giving dynamic lectures and his popularity among his students made him an attractive candidate for the position, Levin said.
“He is a respected and legendary teacher in Yale College,” Levin said. “He’s known for his clear and careful expositions and for his nonchalant assurances that it doesn’t matter if you get C’s on a midterm — or in the class, for that matter.”
Chun was the top choice of the search committee tasked with finding a replacement for Rogers, Levin said.
Chun said he accepted the position because it will allow him to work closely with students and watch them grow over the course of their undergraduate careers. He hopes to bring the same warmth and intelligence to the job as Rogers did, he said.
“My family and I are very excited and grateful for this opportunity to join this distinguished community,” Chun said. “It’s the biggest responsibility and honor of my professional career. I actually thought about saying no because I wasn’t sure I was qualified to do this.”
Chun — whose research in neuroscience focuses on processes relating to attention, perception and memory — earned a bachelor’s degree from Yonsei University in South Korea and a doctorate from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. After completing postdoctoral training at Harvard University, Chun and his wife, Psychology Director of Undergraduate Studies Woo-kyoung Ahn, served as assistant professors at Yale from 1996 to 1999. In 1999, they moved to Vanderbilt University as associate professors before returning to Yale as full professors in 2003.
The selection of Chun as Yale’s first Asian-American master is an important milestone in making the masters more representative of the students they serve, Council of Masters chair Judith Krauss said.
“I think he was picked not because he is Asian-American, but because he has got all of the qualities we look for in a master,” she said. “But that said, I think it’s good at the same time that we are increasing diversity among the masters. I think to the extent possible, the masters as a group ought to be reflective of the same level of diversity as in the University as a whole.”
Krauss said she will meet with Chun some time in the near future to discuss with him the responsibilities of his new position. While Rogers was on sabbatical this year, Berkeley has been led by Acting Master Norma Thompson, who is the associate director of the Whitney Humanities Center and a senior lecturer in the Humanities.
Chinese-American Students Association President Mitchell Ji ’09 said his organization welcomes the appointment and hopes to reach out to Chun and work with him on raising awareness of Asian-American and Chinese-American issues.
“The Asian-American community has been working very actively within the last year to have a larger presence on campus,” he said. “We’re hoping he can serve as a voice for the community toward the Yale administration and the greater Yale campus.”
Emily Koh ’08, who took a class with Chun her freshman year, said he delivered engaging lectures and managed to maintain his audience’s attention throughout. Although she has never interacted with him one on one, Koh said, she thinks Chun has the personality and people skills needed to serve as master.
“I think he seems extremely personable,” she said. “I think he would bring a lot of energy to the job and a lot of enthusiasm … He would just be a unifying force for any college.”
Chun received the American Psychological Association’s Distinguished Scientific Award for Early Career Contribution to Psychology in Cognition and Learning in 2002. Last year he was awarded the Troland Research Award from the National Academy of Sciences, and in March the Phi Beta Kappa society presented him with the DeVane Award for Teaching and Scholarship, the oldest undergraduate teaching prize in Yale College.
Moving into the master’s house with Chun and Ahn next year will be their daughter Allison, who is 7, and son Nathan, who is 5.