Charles Bailyn ’81 has been here before.
The Thomas E. Donnelley Professor of Astronomy and Physics has a CV stacked with accolades and accomplishments. He has developed new courses for Yale College students, won awards for both black-hole research and teaching prowess, and, in less than 10 years, ascended seamlessly from assistant professor to department chair. To his students, he stands out: he’s an undergraduate-friendly professor in the sciences — often not an undergraduate-friendly world.
So when he ended up on the short list for dean of Yale College after Richard Brodhead ’68 GRD ’72 left for Duke University in 2004, no one was surprised. Bailyn would have been a logical pick for the job.
Today, even after four and a half years, one dean search and a new set of University priorities, he still is. And this time, colleagues hope, he may have a better shot.
The 48-year-old Bailyn, who declined to comment for this story, has emerged as the leading candidate to replace outgoing dean Peter Salovey GRD ’86, who will take over as provost Oct. 1, interviews with dozens of professors revealed.
Bailyn, colleagues say, fulfills nearly every priority that University President Richard Levin has said he’s looking for in a dean: he has proven himself a skilled administrator and noted scholar; as a scientist, he would fill a hole in the decision-making ranks of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences; and he is well-known and well-liked by faculty and students.
He would be, undeniably, a smart strategic pick — especially if Levin has bigger dreams for Bailyn. As dean, he would be a natural mid-career candidate for the Yale presidency, which Levin is likely to vacate in three to five years.
Despite everything, though, Bailyn is not a shoo-in. There is at least one factor he would not bring to the table: diversity, something Levin has made clear he wants to encourage in the upper ranks of his administration.
But is this liability enough to outweigh the impressive list of credentials and the glowing recommendations — again preventing the appointment of a Dean Charles Bailyn? For now, the astronomy professor, and all his colleagues rooting for him, can only wait and see.
AN ADMINISTRATOR IN THE MAKING
One year after receiving tenure in 1998, Bailyn became chairman of the Astronomy Department, a post he held until 2005. Under his leadership, the department partnered with the Physics Department to establish the Yale Center for Astronomy and Astrophysics in 2001. Bailyn’s administrative skills were key in facilitating the center’s creation, said Charles Baltay, then-chairman of the Physics Department.
“He was very effective with faculty and administrators,” Baltay said of Bailyn’s role in founding the center.
Bailyn has also attracted his peers’ attention as the manager of the Small and Moderate Aperture Research Telescope System, a collaborative initiative between 10 universities. In his role with the consortium, Bailyn helps to build consensus among a large group of scientists, said Keivan Stassun, a Vanderbilt University astronomy professor who works alongside Bailyn in the initiative.
“That professor Bailyn has been able to bring together faculty and researchers from different institutions toward a common purpose bodes very well for the kind of leadership and administrative skill that you’d look for [in a dean]” Stassun said.
In 2001, Levin appointed Bailyn to fill leadership positions on two prominent review committees: Bailyn served as chairman of the Teaching and Learning Committee, in which he helped launch the online course evaluation system, and led a working group of the Committee on Yale College Education, the tribunal charged with performing the first comprehensive evaluation of the Yale College curriculum in three decades. On both committees, faculty members said, the young professor excelled.
“He’s extremely enthusiastic and knowledgeable and consultive and energetic,” said Registrar Jill Carlton, a member of the committee. “He was an excellent chair of the [Teaching and Learning] Committee.”
REPRESENTING THE SCIENCES
Bailyn has made a splash in more places than shortlists and committees. A distinguished scholar, known for his research on binary star systems containing black holes, he has been published 113 times. He has also made his mark in the classroom: In addition to teaching more courses than any other faculty member in his department, he earned the Dylan Hixon ’88 Prize for Teaching Excellence in the Natural Sciences in 2004.
Bailyn’s most significant contributions to his field include research on black hole binary systems — pairs of black holes and stars. He was one of the first scientists to explore their properties.
“He’s very well respected for [his research],” Baltay said. “Understanding black holes is a very crucial part of astrophysics.”
Bailyn’s status as a respected scientist is undoubtedly an asset to his candidacy, although, in an August interview with the News, Bailyn himself said a science background was more crucial for a provost than a dean. Some administrators and science faculty members have stressed that at least one of the three administrators in charge of hiring and tenure decisions in the Faculty of Arts and Sciences — the provost, the dean of Yale College and the dean of the Graduate School — ought to be a scientist. Jon Butler, dean of the graduate school, is a historian; Salovey, who will assume the job of outgoing provost and chemist Andrew Hamilton, is a psychologist.
“He would be able to do good things for the sciences,” computer science professor Joan Feigenbaum said. “I’m sure he would love to see science become a more prominent part of Yale culture.”
AN INSIDER’S PERSPECTIVE
A Yale College graduate himself and an 18-year veteran of the faculty, Bailyn knows the College culture well.
Several Yale faculty members who work with Bailyn in the Astronomy Department agreed he is well attuned to the needs of undergraduates, particularly because of his experience as a University undergraduate himself. He has made strides by including students in cutting-edge research, Stassun said.
“[Professor Bailyn is] a world-class researcher running a major operation, but in all of that, he’s also looking out for the best interests of students,” Stassun said.
An advocate of strong science education for all students, Bailyn, who currently serves as his department’s director of undergraduate studies, penned an opinion piece in the News earlier this month defending the science requirement. In his involvement on the Committee on Undergraduate Education, he was closely involved in the creation of Yale’s standing set of distribution requirements.
He is also familiar with undergraduate life, several of his advisees said.
“Professor Bailyn is very energetic and keyed into what life is like here as a student,” said Severin Knudsen ’09, an astronomy major and one of Bailyn’s advisees. “He’s almost like a counselor in high school, in that he helps you with balancing your entire Yale life.”
STILL, NOT A SHOO-IN
Still, Bailyn’s appointment would not signal the commitment to diversity Levin has called an “important priority” for his administration.
In an e-mail to all Yale students, faculty members and staff in January, Levin avowed his intention to appoint women and minorities to high-ranking positions. Levin explicitly instructed the committee charged with presenting candidates to fill the deanship to consider diversity, he told the News in an interview earlier this week.
Even so, the prospect of Bailyn occupying the first-floor suite in Sheffield-Sterling-Strathcona Hall has faculty members talking. And that’s only natural, said Gary Haller, master of Jonathan Edwards College and chairman of the search committee.
“He’s done lots of things for Yale College,” he said. “The fact that students think of him or other faculty think of him is completely rational.”