As discussion regarding Yale College’s next dean swirls around the issues of race and gender, University President Richard Levin’s selection of Joseph Gordon GRD ’78 as the College’s acting dean marks a new milestone for diversity in the upper ranks of Yale’s administration.
Gordon is the first openly gay dean of Yale College in the University’s 307-year history.
And it doesn’t seem to faze him.
“In 2008, I have to say, on the Yale campus and in the Yale community, I just don’t feel it’s an issue,” Gordon said.
Still, some of Gordon’s colleagues see his appointment as a significant milestone.
Levin deserves praise for appointing Gordon, said professor George Chauncey, who serves on the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Studies Committee with Gordon.
“I doubt an openly gay person would have been appointed to a high-profile position like this just a few years ago,” he wrote in an e-mail to the News. “The fact that Joe’s being gay didn’t factor into this appointment at all is a welcome sign of how far forward Yale, and American society as a whole, have moved on gay issues.”
Gordon already set a milestone in 1987, when then-University President Benno Schmidt named him the acting master of Pierson College, making Gordon the first openly gay master of a residential college at Yale.
“I think that took some courage, in those days, to do that,” Gordon said of Schmidt’s decision to appoint him.
Today, gays and lesbians occupy an array of important positions within the University administration, said Maria Trumpler, special assistant to the deans for LGBTQ affairs, including the incoming master of Jonathan Edwards College, Richard Lalli, and Michael Morand, University vice president for New Haven and State Affairs.
While the administration is supportive of LGBT faculty and staff, Lalli said, Gordon’s rise to the acting deanship is nonetheless an impressive accomplishment.
“It doesn’t strike me as anything out of the ordinary, but I know it is historical,” he said.
Gordon’s prominent appointment sends an important message to the Yale community, said Alfred Guy, director of the Writing Center, which Gordon helped to create.
“It’s very useful both for gay and straight people to be reminded that [Gordon]’s greatness encompasses his sexuality: It is neither irrelevant to nor despite it,” Guy said.
During his time at Yale, Gordon has been significantly involved in LGBTQ academic affairs, Trumpler said, even as early as the 1990s, when he served on Fund for Lesbian and Gay Studies.
Benjamin Gonzalez ’09, coordinator of the LGBTQ Cooperative at Yale, praised Gordon for his kind manner and willingness to fill a mentorship role.
“He is warm, open and genial,” Gonzalez said. “I can’t think of anyone better to be in charge of so much power.”
Gordon will serve as acting dean of Yale College until Levin chooses a permanent dean in the coming weeks.