Mary E. Miller GRD ’81, the Sterling Professor of the History of Art and master of Saybrook College, was named the next dean of Yale College in a ceremony this afternoon.

University President Richard Levin announced Miller’s appointment — first reported by the News this morning — which fills the position that had been opened by Peter Salovey’s move to the provostship at the start of this month. Miller, who will be the first woman to hold Yale College’s highest office, will begin her tenure as dean on Dec. 1.

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“Mary is the embodiment of what you would look for in a Yale College dean,” Levin said in an interview after the Luce Hall ceremony. “She is a magnificent scholar, a devoted teacher and a terrific master.”

Miller joined the Yale faculty in 1981 and has served as director of undergraduate studies and chairwoman of the History of Art Department and also chaired the Latin American Studies Department. She became master of Saybrook in 1999 and announced last month that this would be her final year in that position.

Her husband, Edward Kamens, Saybrook’s associate master and a professor of Japanese dtudies, will finish the year as master. The couple has two children: Bill, a senior history of art major in Berkeley College, and Alice, a high school senior.

Acting Dean of Yale College Joseph Gordon will remain in that office for the next two months and will also hold that title next summer, when Miller will take two months off to focus on her academic work in preparation for the Mellon Lectures that she will deliver at the National Gallery of Art in the spring of 2010.

In his remarks to faculty, Levin pointed out that with the departure of former Provost Andrew Hamilton, a well-respected chemist, there is no longer a scientist sitting in a top administrative position. Levin is an economist; Salovey, the new provost, is a psychologist; and Jon Butler, dean of the Graduate School, is a historian.

“I know that there is a little bit of concern,” Levin said, adding: “I want to assure you that the attention paid to the sciences will not slacken in the slightest.”

Levin noted that the recent appointment of Michael Donoghue, a biologist, as vice president for West Campus planning and program development ensures a scientist’s perspective in administration meetings. Steven Girvin, the deputy provost for science and technology, will continue to be involved in overseeing the science faculty, as will Butler.

Gary Haller, the master of Jonathan Edwards College and chair of the search committee that recommended eight names to Levin for consideration, said in an interview that Miller is in some ways a scientist’s humanist.

“Mary is the kind of humanist who thinks like a scientist,” he said. “She’s direct, quantitative in the way she thinks, and I think scientists will do very well under her leadership.”

For her part, in brief remarks delivered at the ceremony, Miller emphasized the importance of the coming expansion of Yale College and of continuing efforts to diversify the University.

“My hope,” she said, “is that together we can build not only the best university in the world with the best students and faculty, but also the most diverse university, with the most diverse students and faculty.”

Speaking to the News after the announcement, the newly minted dean added that continuing to fulfill the recommendations of the 2003 Committee on Yale College Education — particularly those related to the expansion of Yale’s arts programs — would be a priority of hers.

The selection process that brought Miller to the deanship was shrouded in secrecy. Two weeks ago, the search committee presented the president with its recommendations, but the list did not become public and professors had said in interviews they had little insight as to which direction Levin might be leaning in his choice.

Levin thanked the committee for its work, noting the speed with which they had prepared the report. Miller will have a little less than two months to prepare for her next job, but in that time, she will remain involved as ever as Saybrook College master.

Five minutes after noon today, Miller was sending e-mails to Saybrugians about upcoming Master’s Teas. Just three hours later, she was receiving congratulations from friends — and planning a Sunday night pizza study break for her college.

—Thomas Kaplan contributed reporting.