Jonathan Holloway GRD ’95 begins the first lecture of his courses by telling students the story of how he became a historian.
His mother, a pre-school teacher in Concord, Mass., used to take the four- or five-year-old Holloway on her field trips, where he would see the actual breastworks where the minutemen once stood. Once, she took a headstone rubbing of a slave who bought his freedom and died on the eve of the American Revolution.
“Though he was born in a land of slavery, he was born free,” the epitaph reads. “Though he lived in a land of liberty, he lived a slave.”
The etching hung in Holloway’s parents’ home for 15 years. When he attended Yale for graduate school, he brought it with him. It then moved to his academic office and finally to the Calhoun College master’s office, where the rubbing — which Holloway, 41, uses to represent the ironies of American history and the African-American experience — now shares a wall with the cane of John C. Calhoun, the vehement 19th century defender of slavery.
It could soon relocate again — this time to the Yale College Dean’s Office.
Holloway, a professor of history, American studies and African American studies, has become one of the most talked-about candidates to succeed Peter Salovey as the dean of Yale College. Holloway is seen as an electrifying choice for the post — he is an insider, who attended Yale and has worked closely with undergraduates, he would add diversity to the administration’s upper ranks and he is a respected, albeit young, scholar. But unlike other leading candidates, notably astronomy professor Charles Bailyn ’81, Holloway is not a scientist. Perhaps a bigger hurdle, though, is the time his C.V. may need still to ripen: the Calhoun master has only published one book.
In a campus-wide e-mail commemorating Martin Luther King Jr. Day in January, University President Richard Levin outlined his goal to appoint minorities and women to major offices.
Since then, he has appointed no people of color to major positions, and minorities remain scarce in the administration’s upper echelons.
But he said he is serious about changing that. And, after Harvard College tapped a black woman as its dean last March, the pressure may be building to make it happen soon.
“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 in an interview Sunday. “And I did that in this case as well.”
Though the final choice for dean rests with Levin, Holloway, who declined to comment for this story, may already have some fans in Yale’s upper echelons: His uncle is Barrington Parker, a federal judge and member of the Yale Corporation, the University’s highest governing body.
A GENTLEMAN …
While the 10-member committee charged with presenting candidates to Levin may have diversity in mind, Holloway’s biggest strength, at least as far as his ’Hounies are concerned, is his charisma.
“Part of why Calhoun is so cohesive is his force of personality,” Rosa Li ’09 said. “He is Calhoun.”
“Dr. J,” as he is sometimes called, is the driving force behind Calhoun’s community, said Katie Earle ’09, a master’s aide and a freshman counselor.
Holloway is determined to make the freshmen feel included in the absence of a dining hall while Calhoun undergoes a renovation, she said. He is working with the freshman counselors to plan special trips and dinners. He has memorized every student’s name and makes an effort to get to know each of them.
Earl said being accessible and personable to students is an important quality for a dean and one for which Salovey is often praised.
Plus, his family is universally acknowledged to be downright adorable, Earl said. Earl occasionally baby-sits for Holloway’s two young children.
“He has a great family, and they’ve really immersed themselves in Yale and Calhoun,” said master’s aide and fellow babysitter Sylvana Hidalgo ’09. “That’s part of why he does it with such ease — because he has his family to support him.”
Hidalgo remembers how Holloway’s personal attention eased her transition into college and made her feel welcome. And that continued when she joined the Calhoun College Council. The Master would even be involved in designing the college’s T-shirts.
“The man has important things to do, but he would take the time to talk about something to make students happy,” she said.
That kind of dedication and interaction reminds her of Salovey famously conducting the Yale Precision Marching Band at football games.
“That’s something you can’t pay a person to do,” she said. “It’s something the person has to want to do himself.”
In the past several weeks, both faculty members and students have said that the only drawback of Salovey becoming provost is losing him as a dean. The only drawback to Holloway becoming dean, Hidalgo said, would be Calhoun’s losing him as master.
… AND A SCHOLAR
Holloway graduated from Stanford University (the alma mater of both Levin and Salovey) in 1989. After receiving his doctorate from Yale in 1995, Holloway taught at the University of California, San Diego, before returning to Yale in 1999. He became master in 2005.
When Salovey was appointed dean, he had already been a department chair and Dean of the Graduate School. Some of the other contenders to be Salovey’s successor have also chaired departments or centers or sat on the pivotal Committee on Yale College Education.
Holloway was on the Study Group to Consider the New Residential Colleges, where he helped write part of a report that addressed the importance of the residential colleges to student life and how the two new ones could affect Yale’s culture. The expansion of the College is sure to be one of the foremost issues on the next dean’s agenda.
“Anybody who was on that committee, and any master, is in a good position to know about the changes the new colleges will present,” Master William Sledge, the committee’s chairman, psychiatry professor and former Calhoun Master, said. “It’s an inside view.”
But the dean is also extensively involved in faculty appointments, alongside the dean of the Graduate School and the provost. Since the Dean of the Graduate School, Jon Butler, is a historian and Salovey, who will take over as provost next week, is a psychologist, Yale’s scientists are clamoring for a seat at the table.
Holloway was on the committee that recommended comprehensive changes to the tenure system last year. But he is not a scientist, and, at 41, he is still a young scholar who has only published one book, Confronting the Veil: Abram Harris Jr., E. Franklin Frazier, and Ralph Bunche, 1919-1941, in 2002.
Even so, he has made a name for himself in his field, his colleagues said.
African-American studies professor Elizabeth Alexander, who will become the department’s chair next July, said African-American intellectual history was an untold story until Holloway became the leading scholar on the subject. His books, research and classes focus on the contributions of African-Americans to American cultural history, she said.
Alexander described Holloway’s teamwork and collaborative approach within his department, just like his aides described him as Calhoun’s master.
“He’s not a cowboy,” she said. His frequent e-mails, she said, are populated by we’s, us’s and together’s.
Alexander said Holloway represents something exciting about the future of the University, both in a scholarly and a generational way.
That future will inevitably weigh heavily on the choice of the next dean. As Levin eyes retirement in the next three to five years, the question of who will succeed him looms over his choice for the dean.
While Salovey appears the obvious pick so far, Levin has said he wants to leave the Yale Corporation with several good options. One of them surely has to be the new dean.
And by the time the presidency is likely to open up, Holloway would still be in his mid- to late 40s — roughly the same age as Levin when he took the job.