Speculation that University President Richard Levin could be appointed director of the National Economic Council has left many wondering who would step in as his replacement if he leaves Yale.

Levin has served since 1993, so Yale has not witnessed a presidential search in nearly two decades. Those familiar with past searches said that the process is substantial, and it would likely be more than a year before the University would have a new president. Still, the Yale Corporation, the University’s highest governing body, would need to select an interim replacement almost immediately, and experts said precedent suggests this would be a high-ranking Yale insider.

A temporary successor

Yale historian Gaddis Smith ’54 GRD ’61 said he assumed Provost Peter Salovey would be selected for the role of interim president, given that in the past, the provost has often been selected to serve as interim president when the president steps down.

“[Salovey] certainly has great administrative experience and a lot of knowledge of Yale,” said former Deputy Provost Charles “Chip” Long, who worked at the University for 44 years before retiring last summer.

But there is not enough precedent to say definitively who the successor would be, Long said. For instance, he said, when President Benno Schmidt stepped down in 1992, Howard Lamar — who had formerly served as dean of Yale College rather than provost — was selected to serve as interim president. Salovey also served as Yale College Dean beginning in 2004 before taking the position of Provost in October 2008.

Long said the selection of an interim president would depend on who is best equipped to deal with the current issues facing the University.

“Obviously [the interim president would be] someone with deep knowledge of Yale, great administrative experience and good judgment,” he said. “I think their consideration would be what is the best move for Yale right now.”

In a Dec. 15 interview with the News, Salovey declined to comment on whether he would be a primary candidate to succeed Levin as University President.

Vice President and Secretary Linda Lorimer said in an e-mail to the News that it is “premature and speculative” to consider Levin’s replacement, but she added that she has not spoken with the Yale Corporation about serving as interim president.

Former Dean of the Graduate School Jon Butler, who was recently tapped to fill the role of University Librarian, declined to comment on whether he would be willing to serve as interim president.

The search for a replacement

Although the appointment of an interim replacement would occur quickly, the selection of Levin’s long-term replacement would be a more drawn-out process, conducted by a committee appointed by the Corporation.

If Levin should step down to fill a role in the Obama administration, the task of selecting his interim and eventual successors would fall to the Yale Corporation. In a Dec. 16 interview with the News, Yale Corporation Senior Fellow Roland Betts ’68 declined to comment on whom the Corporation would select as Levin’s interim successor, but said they are prepared to appoint one early next semester if Levin steps down to work in Washington.

Before Levin was selected as University President, it took an entire year to perform the search that led to his inauguration, Smith said.

“I think the University needs a very thorough search,” he added.

The committee that led the search process invited alumni, faculty and students to send in suggestions for candidates for the selection process, Smith said, adding that he believes hundreds of names were submitted.

Long said past presidential searches have always been both “very deep” and national in scope, including candidates from both inside and outside the University.

Although presidents of the University have often been alumni and members of the faculty — Levin received his doctorate degree from Yale in 1974 and has been a member of the economics department ever since — neither of these criteria are mandatory for a president, Smith said.

“That is not the determining factor,” Smith said. “It’s quite possible that [the replacement] wouldn’t be a member of the Yale faculty or someone with a Yale degree.”

Smith noted that the search that led to Bart Giamatti’s ’60 GRD ‘64 appointment as University President in 1978 had offered the position to Henry Rosovsky, then dean of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences at Harvard, who declined the position.

It remains too early to tell who would be selected as Levin’s permanent replacement if the University president is appointed Obama’s economic adviser.

But at least one candidate under speculation for the job of University President, when interviewed, seemed to indicate he would not be interested in the role.

When contacted by the News to ask if he would be interested in serving as University President, Richard Brodhead ’68 GRD ’72, former dean of Yale College and current president of Duke University, described the reporter as “imaginative… Wildly so, in this case.”

Levin has been University President since 1993. He is currently the longest-serving president in the Ivy League.

Alison Griswold and Zoe Gorman contributed reporting