Four and a half years ago, a search committee gave University President Richard Levin the names of three faculty members they recommended to be the next dean of Yale College.

One of them, Graduate School Dean Peter Salovey GRD ’86, got the job. Another, History Department Chairman Jon Butler, got Salovey’s old post. The third, Astronomy Department Chairman Charles Bailyn ’81, got nothing.

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That may soon change.

Based on interviews with more than 60 professors and administrators over the last two weeks, Bailyn, now the director of undergraduate studies for the astronomy department, has emerged as the clear favorite to succeed Salovey when the mustached dean assumes the provostship next month.

But at the same time, many of those interviewed emphasized Bailyn’s selection is no sure bet. Just as he did in the selection of Provost Andrew Hamilton’s successor, Levin will have to factor in a number of considerations — some of which he probably will not be able to satisfy — in choosing his administration’s third dean.

Will Levin seek out a scientist to provide disciplinary balance to Yale’s senior academic administration? Might a young, rising star from the faculty, someone who could compete with Salovey as a lead candidate to become Yale’s 23rd president, land the job? And how much will Levin’s desire to encourage diversity in the senior administration play into the selection?

At this point, with members of the search committee still winnowing down its list from the dozens of nominations they received, those questions are only the stuff of speculation. But taken together, they help clarify the contours of a selection process that, as soon as a week from now, will culminate in the selection of the person who will take over what two past deans have called “the best job in higher education in America.”

The favorite

A few months ago, as politicos across the country began to debate whom Sen. Barack Obama might choose as his running mate on the Democratic ticket, a political writer for The New York Times mused that, among the many uncertainties in American political history, there is one certainty: As with every election since 1984, former Sen. Sam Nunn of Georgia would be mentioned as a possible vice-presidential pick.

Bailyn, one could say, is Yale’s Sam Nunn.

The well-liked astronomy professor has been rumored as a candidate for virtually every top administrative opening in recent memory — the provostship in 2002, 2004 and 2008 and the deanship of Yale College in 2004.

For sure, Bailyn, 48, fits the obvious criteria to be dean. He is an accomplished scholar, noted for his work in the areas of high-energy astrophysics and galactic astronomy. He is well-respected for his work in the classroom, too, having been feted in 2004 with the Dylan Hixon ’88 Prize for Teaching Excellence in the Natural Sciences. And he has administrative experience, having led the Astronomy department from 1999 to 2005 and served as chairman of the Yale College Committee on Teaching and Learning.

These are the three criteria, administrators say, that will come under close scrutiny during the search: scholarship, student friendliness and managerial experience.

The scrutiny, in fact, is already underway. The 10-member search committee charged with recommending a handful of candidates to Levin has already received scores of nominations for the position and is well into the vetting process, said Gary Haller, the master of Jonathan Edwards College and the committee’s chair.

“We keep meeting; we keep talking. We’re trying to prune our list down to a few,” Haller said Monday. “We’re not there yet.”

In the meantime, many of the professors and administrators interviewed have floated ideas of their own. In addition to Bailyn, the faculty members most often mentioned as likely candidates included Calhoun College Master Jonathan Holloway GRD ’95, Ezra Stiles College Master Stephen Pitti ’91, Saybrook College Master Mary Miller GRD ’81, Whitney Humanities Center Director Maria Rosa Menocal and Physics Department Chair Meg Urry.

While Haller and other committee members won’t talk about who is on their list, they do cite several characteristics that must be present for any professor to get serious consideration.

First, the new dean must be a tenured member of the faculty, and one from the Faculty of Arts and Sciences, not from the professional schools.

Levin said he did not ask the committee to consider external candidates, and it appears almost certain the new dean will come from within Yale. To function effectively from the get-go, he or she needs to be someone who knows Yale — and specifically, Yale undergraduate life — intimately, professors emphasized.

“If there were a suitable person on the inside, that person would have an easier time,” said John Darnell, the chairman of the Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations department.

Second, administrative and managerial experience — as a department chairman or college master, for example — would help the new dean in a role that bridges the administrative, faculty and student worlds, professors said.

Bailyn certainly fits all those qualifications, and Haller was not surprised when told many professors cited him as a top candidate.

“Of course,” he said. “He’s done lots of things for Yale College. The fact that students think of him or other faculty think of him is completely rational.”

Haller paused.

“And I can’t say more than that,” he said.

The complications

As logical as appointing Bailyn might be, his selection is hardly a done deal, interviews with professors and administrators revealed. Levin, for his part, said in an interview Sunday that he does not have any preconceived notion of whom he might appoint and is waiting for the committee’s recommendations to see its ideas. And those recommendations will be based on a number of factors that, depending on how they are weighted in Levin’s mind, could bring other candidates to the fore.

Chief among them: diversity.

While several faculty members interviewed commended Levin for appointing women in the past to be provost, they also said that a female Yale College dean would better reflect the makeup of the undergraduate student body.

“I would guess that after how many years of co-education the fact that there’s never been a woman dean is something that should be corrected,” said Religious Studies professor Steven Fraade.

And with Harvard College choosing Evelynn Hammonds as its dean last March, the first black woman to fill that seat, the pressure might be on Yale’s administration to seek diversity on multiple levels in the next College dean. While women have had a strong presence in Yale’s senior administration during the Levin administration, minorities have not, and the president noted in an e-mail to the community on the occasion of Martin Luther King Jr. Day last January that improving minority representation in the administration is an “important priority” for him.

It is an important priority for the search committee, too. “Every time I appoint a committee, I say, ‘Look, I want you to really work hard to see if there are qualified women or people of color for this job,’ ” Levin said. “And I did that in this case as well.”

But race and gender are not the only factors the committee must weigh. One discipline has commanded the lion’s share of the University’s investment in recent years: science. That fact is certain to play a role in the decision.

The deans of the College and the Graduate School, along with the provost, collectively share responsibility for faculty appointments, reviews and promotions and the administration of the departments of instruction. Thus, most professors and administrators agree, the professors filling those three top positions should ideally represent the divisions of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences: the humanities; the social sciences; and the biological sciences or the physical sciences and engineering.

The historian Butler and the psychologist Salovey do well to represent the humanists and the social scientists on the faculty, but the many professors who inhabit Science Hill will lose their representation among the faculty’s top brass when Hamilton, a chemist by trade, departs for the vice-chancellorship of Oxford.

Upon the announcement of his departure in June, many professors argued that a fellow scientist should be named to replace him, given Yale’s epic push toward strengthening its resources and reputation in the sciences. With Salovey’s appointment, that didn’t happen.

At that time, however, Levin also named Michael Donoghue, the former director of the Peabody Museum of Natural History, as Yale’s new vice president for West Campus planning and program development, and administrators were quick to note that Donoghue’s appointment will add a dose of scientific expertise to Yale’s officer meetings. But while the ecology and evolutionary biology professor will oversee the development of an overall blueprint for the former Bayer HealthCare site in West Haven, he will not have oversight over faculty appointments or tenure appointments in the sciences, a responsibility vested, in part, in the dean of Yale College.

For that reason, many believe that “a scientist would be ideal” for the deanship, as Urry put it.

Levin acknowledged the concerns over representing the sciences — “It’s an issue,” he said — and so did Haller.

“In an ideal world [the top administrators] would have a breadth of disciplines represented among them that would give any member of the faculty the feeling that they had a voice at the table,” Haller said. “But it’s certainly not that we would expect that we must appoint a scientist.”

One administrator put it bluntly: In a perfect world, Yale would be able to appoint a female scientist of minority race, and satisfy all the concerns professors have raised.

“But,” the administrator added, “the ideal person probably can’t exist that can cover all of those bases.”

Therein lies the challenge of selecting the next dean. The choice hinges on a complicated calculus.

“If you’ve concerned about diversity, if you’re concerned about representing the various fields and if you’re concerned about succession, you’re not necessarily going to find the same person to satisfy all three objectives,” Levin said. “It becomes a balancing act.”

Haller, for his part, said he believes that of the issues of academic discipline, race and gender, none should have more weight than another. “All of these things have to be part of the equation,” he said.

And ultimately, Levin said, his decision comes down to one overriding question.

“Is this the right person for this particular job?” he said.

Guessing the short list

In the search for a provost, Levin was, more or less, the sole arbiter of who should fill the position. There was no search committee; Levin himself solicited nominations and then made a selection. Faculty were left to speculate about the president’s inner thoughts.

But in this case, with a search committee, the speculation centers around who is on the short list being prepared for Levin’s review. While committee members have vowed to keep that list confidential, the interviews with professors and administrators produced several names many people agreed could present a strong case for the deanship and very likely have been discussed by the search committee.

Some are holdovers from the search that yielded Salovey. In that case, professors generally focused their gossip on seven candidates: Ian Shapiro GRD ’83 LAW ’87, Sterling Professor of Political Science and director of the MacMillan Center for International and Area Studies; Linda Peterson, the former chair of the English department and now a member of the search committee; John Rogers ’84 GRD ’89, an English professor and former master of Berkeley College; Maria Rosa Menocal, the director of the Whitney Humanities Center; and the three that were ultimately recommended, Butler, Salovey and Bailyn.

This time around, professors again mentioned all of those candidates. But in the interviews, beyond the general agreement that the deanship is Bailyn’s to lose, professors mostly focused on five other professors.

¶ Holloway, a professor of African-American studies, history and American studies. A scholar of post-emancipation American history, Holloway was named master in 2005, six years after he joined the Yale faculty. Holloway, who is African-American, was also a member of the Study Group to Consider New Residential Colleges. Aside from Bailyn, the 41-year-old Holloway has probably attracted the most gossip among professors in recent weeks.

¶ Pitti, a professor of history and American studies and director of the Program in Ethnicity, Race and Migration. A member of the President’s Minority Advisory Committee, Pitti, who is Hispanic, returned to Yale to teach in 1998 after receiving his Ph.D. from Stanford and took office as master this summer. The 38-year-old, whose biggest liability is clearly his youth, specializes in Mexican-American studies and immigration reform.

¶ Miller, the Sterling Professor of the History of Art. A member of the Yale faculty since 1981, she took the helm of the scandal-plagued college in 1999 and will end her tenure as master after this school year. The 55-year-old member of the steering committee for the Women Faculty Forum and the Study Group to Consider New Residential Colleges previously served as director of undergraduate studies and chairwoman of the History of Art Department and also chaired the Latin American studies department. The one problem with choosing Miller as dean: She is scheduled to spend half of next year as the A.W. Mellon Professor at the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C.

¶ Menocal, the Sterling Professor of the Humanities. Born in Cuba and raised in Philadelphia, the 55-year-old is credited with bolstering the profile of the Whitney Humanities Center since she took over in 2001. A renowned historian of medieval culture and literature who joined the Yale faculty in 1986, she previously served as director of graduate studies and chairwoman of the Department of Spanish and Portuguese and director of Special Programs in the Humanities. But Menocal lives in New York City, which raises the question of whether she is in touch with the round-the-clock activities of Yale undergraduates.

¶ Urry, a professor of physics and astronomy and the director of the Yale Center for Astronomy and Astrophysics. A member of the Yale faculty since 2001, the 52-year-old became the first female chair of the Physics Department when appointed last year. Urry, who is a member of the Women Faculty Forum steering committee, is credited for her efforts to increase the number of women in the physical sciences. But asked about her interest in the deanship, she said that being College dean would not be “the right thing” for her at this point in her career.

The other professors declined to comment on their candidacies. Holloway would only say it was “terribly flattering to be mentioned,” and Pitti professed his love for his new job as master.

“I’m really, really, really, really happy to be in Ezra Stiles College!” he wrote in an e-mail message.

Perhaps the best bellwether for a professor’s chances is whether he or she had a place on the Committee on Yale College Education, which in 2003 completed Yale’s first comprehensive undergraduate academic review in three decades. Salovey and Butler both served on that committee, and — as has seemed apparent over the years — Levin purposefully appointed members to that committee who he thought might have future leadership positions in Yale’s administration, he acknowledged in the interview.

Bailyn, Menocal and Pitti were members; Miller, Holloway and Urry (who only joined the Yale faculty the year the committee was appointed) were not.

The successor question

Levin will likely also look into the future as he makes his decision.

Someday, perhaps as early as 2011, perhaps a few years later, the Yale Corporation, the University’s highest governing body, will have to choose a professor to fill Levin’s wicker rocking chair in Woodbridge Hall. Just as race and gender or academic background are factors when considering potential deans, Levin acknowledged that stewardship — the idea of preparing administrators who one day might be able to occupy Woodbridge Hall — also factors into it.

The 50-year-old Salovey, for sure, will be a top candidate to be Yale’s 23rd president. As provost and a former dean of the Graduate School, dean of the College and department chairman, he already has perhaps the most impressive resume of any Yale administrator in recent memory.

But Levin said in an interview a few weeks ago that he did not intend to anoint an heir apparent, but rather wanted to provide the Corporation with a pool of candidates who all were well-qualified to succeed him.

“I would leave the Corporation with more than one good choice,” he said. “There are lots of talented leaders in this institution, and giving a number of them opportunities to demonstrate their talent and broaden their familiarity with the wider university is something I do think about and try to provide.”

His choice, therefore, will likely be someone for whom he has presidential aspirations. That adds several other elements to the equation in selecting such a candidate.

For instance, would the new dean be too old by the time Levin retires to be in contention to succeed him? (Levin, for instance, was named president at the age of 46.) And does he or she have a Yale degree? (Former Yale Provost Judith Rodin, who was passed over when Levin was selected, did not.)

When factoring in the question of stewardship, 40-something candidates like Holloway and Bailyn seem even more attractive. Someone like the 55-year-old Menocal, who is not an alumna, would look less desirable.

There is also the possibility that Levin could make a surprise move. If he does not feel ready to groom a young administrator as a possible successor and isn’t satisfied with any of the scientists who are candidates, he could conceivably install a longtime administrator like Jon Butler, the 68-year-old dean of the Graduate School, to serve as dean in the short term. Butler, of course, was among the three Yale candidates recommended for the deanship four and a half years ago, and one senior Yale official said Monday that his bet — unlikely as it may seem — is that Levin switches Butler over to the College, as he did with Salovey.

Then Levin could appoint a new Graduate School dean — perhaps a scientist better suited to that post? — and, in a few years, when he nears retirement, appoint another College dean. In that appointment, Levin could groom another possible successor, such as Deputy Provost for Faculty Development Judith Chevalier ’89, the 41-year-old economist and Levin protege who decided against pursuing the provostship this summer because of her young family.

Regardless of what Levin decides, the decision on who will occupy the first-floor suite in Sheffield-Sterling-Strathcona Hall should come soon. Salovey moves down Grove Street to Warner House on Oct. 1, when Hamilton officially leaves office. Levin said he hopes to have a successor selected by that date, although he admitted “it’s looking a little tight.”

In the meantime, the swirl of faculty gossip will undoubtedly continue.

—Zachary Abrahamson, Raymond Carlson, Lawrence Gipson, Harrison Korn, Zeke Miller, Paul Needham, Thomas Smyth, June Torbati, Nora Wessel, Vivian Yee and Esther Zuckerman contributed reporting.