Interim Master of Jonathan Edwards Penelope Laurans has always dreamed of leading a first-class athletic program, and with JE currently in first place for the Tying Intramural Cup, she has finally gotten her wish.
Laurans stood at the head of the dining hall Wednesday evening in full college regalia — a green suit and a spider-shaped broach — as University President Richard Levin named her to a four-year term as the master of JE. Just before 6 p.m., Levin, Dean of Yale College Mary Miller and other administrators arrived in the college, where the news of Laurans’ appointment was greeted with whoops and cheers from the gathered students.
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“One can see from the way she addressed the students that Master Laurans is a natural for this job,” Levin told the News after the event.
Levin said the students and fellows of the college he consulted about his decision were unanimous in their support of Laurans, who took on the role of interim master in January 2009 when Gary Haller stepped down.
Adjunct music professor Richard Lalli MUS ’86 was originally slated to take over for Haller but he suffered a brain hemorrhage in December2008. Levin asked Laurans, his special assistant and a lecturer in the English department, to step in as interim master. Though Lalli returned to teaching this fall, he announced this November that he would not be the next master of JE, saying he thought the post would be too much to handle while still recovering from a stroke. Levin said in November that he would commence a search for the next master in the spring term.
Laurans told those gathered in JE that she never dreamed of becoming the master of the college.
“My dream was to have my dear friend Richard Lalli be master,” she said.
Lalli has promised to become more involved with JE once he is settled in his new home, she added.
Though Levin focused on Laurans and her accomplishments at the dining hall gathering, Laurans prepared a surprise for Levin as well — before beginning her acceptance speech, she informed those present that it was the president’s birthday, and she stood back while three JE students sang to him.
One of the singers, Chloe Zale ’12, said Laurans had e-mailed her about serenading Levin because she knew Zale was a singer involved in opera at Yale.
Zale added she and other JE students had been “keeping their fingers crossed” that Laurans would stay on as master and were impressed by the effort she had made to get to know members of the college.
Laurans, who has been a fellow of JE for over three decades, said she loves every part of the college, from its history and traditions to its tight-knit community.
“JE is not the perfect community,” she said, “but I think we come as close as any community can get.”
Laurans came to Yale in 1973, leaving an assistant professorship at Harvard. She has served many roles in the University, working in admissions, the Yale College Dean’s office and the President’s office, as well as teaching in the English department. She will remain a special assistant to the president and an English lecturer along with her duties as master, but will leave her post as associate dean of Yale College.
Levin said he and other administrators would miss having Laurans in the Dean’s Office, but would continue to find special roles for her outside of her work in JE.
Laurans’ official term will begin July 1, 2010.