Berkeley College Dean Kevin Hicks ’89 will step down at the end of the school year after five years as dean, he announced in an e-mail to the Berkeley community Wednesday.
Hicks, who said in his e-mail that he is grateful for having had the opportunity as dean to help young people “swim well through troubled waters,” will serve as the next associate head of school and dean of faculty at the Hotchkiss School in Lakeville, Conn. In his new job, he will help to recruit and organize the Hotchkiss faculty, while his wife, Cornelia, will implement a new global peace and conflict transformation program at the boarding school, work with the varsity athletic coaches and help in the admissions office. Hicks said the search for a new dean will begin immediately.
“Simply put, we’re members of the same tribe, you and I,” Hicks said in his e-mail. “We were drawn to this place for the same reasons: to make our world bigger, to live a life of consequence to others, to prepare ourselves for meaningful service to new places. Seniors, too, feel it these days in their bones; just like them: I love it — and cannot stay.”
Hicks, who was in Pierson College during his time at Yale, received his doctorate in 19th-century American literature from Princeton University. He taught English at Boston University and coached lacrosse at Brown University before returning to his alma mater as a lecturer in the English Department. He currently teaches a spring semester junior seminar on Nathaniel Hawthorne, in addition to fulfilling his regular duties as dean.
Though Hicks said he was unable to comment for this article, he said in his e-mail that he will miss Yale and Berkeley.
“I can’t begin to express how difficult — how truly surreal, in fact — it is for us to contemplate leaving Yale generally, and Berkeley College specifically,” he said.
Berkeley College Master Marvin Chun — whom Hicks called a “great and lifelong friend” — said Hicks is his mentor and is “legendary.” Though Hicks and his wife will be leaving, Chun said they will leave a lasting impression on the community.
Inside the classroom and out, students said, Hicks is recognized for his disarming sense of humor, compassion and intelligence. Known for his collection of massive belt buckles, Hicks is also loved for his soul, drive and energy, said English professor and former Berkeley Master John Rogers ’84 GRD ’89. Hicks’ departure will leave a void, Rogers added, describing the dean as witty, “honey-tongued” and inspirational.
Indeed, Elizabeth Bewley ’10, the head freshman counselor in Berkeley, said Hicks encourages his students to transcend their own awkwardness with his catchphrase: “Be comfortable in your own discomfort.”
“He genuinely cares about each of his students and keeps track of them in a way that is admirable,” Bewley said. “He doesn’t forget about conversations he’s had with you.”
Berkeleyite Jeb Benkowski ’13 said Hicks’ smile, personality and beard cannot be replicated. Hicks has a gift for relating to students on a personal level and advises them on matters not limited to academics, Benkowski said, calling Hicks “the guy you knew you could go to if you had a problem — far and beyond anyone else.”.
Elizabeth Deutsch ’11, who is taking Hicks’ seminar this semester, called Hicks a “passionate educator” and said he is “whole-heartedly invested in the development and well-being of his students.”
“His departure is truly Yale’s loss,” she said in an e-mail.
Norma Thompson, a lecturer and associate director of the Whitney Humanities Center, worked with Hicks during her time as acting master of Berkeley College during the 2006-’07 academic year.
“Dean Hicks exemplifies the old Yale and the new; sagacity and empathy, the tough cop and the good cop in one learned and eloquent leader,” Thompson said in an e-mail.
But Hicks said he will not be leaving for good: As Berkeley College fellows, he and his wife will return for artistic performances, athletic contests and Chief Investment Officer David Swensen’s thrice-yearly beer and wine tastings, Hicks said.
“We’re leaving, as you will one day leave, but we’re coming back from time to time, just as you will, too,” Hicks said in the e-mail.
A college’s master generally chairs the search committees for a new dean, Yale College Dean Mary Miller said, explaining that Dean of Undergraduate Education Joseph Gordon and Dean of Academic Affairs Mark Schenker will work with her and Chun to form the committee.