As members of campus absorbed the news of University President Richard Levin’s coming departure, it didn’t take long for the question to arise: Who will be next?
The search for Yale’s 23rd president has yet to begin, and multiple administrators declined to comment Thursday on matters regarding Levin’s potential successor. But with Levin’s days in office definitively numbered, speculation has begun as to whether the top candidate to take the helm of the University is already close at hand. Chief among potential successors, Provost Peter Salovey — the University’s second highest-ranking administrator — has been mentioned as a candidate who might be prepared to take the reins.
Yale Historian Gaddis Smith ’54 GRD ’61 said Salovey, who came to Yale in 1986 as a professor of psychology, has earned “high qualifications” for the presidential post through his current role as provost, to which Levin appointed him in August 2008. Before his provostship began, Salovey served as dean of Yale College for four years and as dean of the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences for about a year — the post Levin held before he became president in 1993.
Roland Betts ’68, a former member of the Yale Corporation who was appointed in 1999 and served as senior fellow for eight years, said that Salovey “is obviously going to be a candidate.”
“He’s had University-wide responsibility for 10 years as dean and provost. He’s an obvious one,” Betts said. “Who the others will be, I have no idea.”
In examining potential candidates, the Corporation’s search committee will consider a number of factors, such as age, experience and relationship to the University. The search committee will also decide between choosing a candidate from within Yale or one external to the University.
Smith said the majority of people picked for the Yale presidency have come from within the University. Of Levin’s two predecessors, A. Bartlett Giamatti ’60 GRD ’64 was a professor of English and comparative literature and master of Ezra Stiles College before his appointment, while Benno Schmidt Jr. ’63 LAW ’66 came from the deanship of Columbia Law School. Schmidt’s tenure, which spanned from 1986-’92, was marked by poor relations with the faculty and he is widely regarded as having been an unsuccessful president.
Judith Chevalier ’89, a finance and economics professor at the School of Management, said she thinks it would be “unusual” to appoint a president with no past connections to the University.
“I deeply suspect in the end, it would make sense to have a choice of someone who knows Yale, either as a faculty member or a former student,” said Chevalier, a former deputy provost whose name has also been floated as a potential presidential candidate. “But that doesn’t have to be someone at Yale now.”
If Salovey were chosen to be president, he would not be the first Yale provost to take leadership at a major university. Under Levin, four consecutive provosts went on to become presidents at the University of Pennsylvania and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and vice-chancellors of the University of Oxford and the University of Cambridge.
President of Duke University Richard Brodhead ’68 GRD ’72, who served as dean of Yale College between 1993 and 2004, told the News that many of Yale’s greatest academic leaders — Levin, former University of Pennsylvania President Judith Rodin, former University of Cambridge Vice Chancellor Alison Richard and himself — first developed administrative skills while serving on influential academic committees.
“He was a major figure on the  Yale Education Committee,” Brodhead said of Salovey. “How long do you wager until Peter’s president of a major university?”
Reached Thursday night, Salovey deflected questions on whether he feels prepared to be president or would be interested in serving as the president of a university.
“I think all I can say is I love the University, and I know the Corporation will make an excellent decision,” he said. “I’ve loved every role that I’ve played at Yale but I really don’t want to speculate.”
Salovey said Levin’s impact on the University has been “multidimensional,” pointing to how he has helped expand Yale internationally, revitalize New Haven, diversify the faculty and improve the school’s physical plant. He said Levin will be missed, but called periods such as these “natural transitions in the life of a university.”
In a Thursday interview with the News, Levin said he hopes that his successor will continue the University’s global push — including the creation of a new liberal arts college in Singapore — and that Yale’s efforts in New Haven will be longstanding. The next president will need to focus on continued improvement of physical facilities and advancement in Yale’s approach to online education, he said.
Howard Gardner, a professor at the Harvard Graduate School of Education, said in an Aug. 14 email that schools satisfied with their presidents generally act conservatively when choosing a successor and look to “someone who will carry on his predecessor’s legacy.” If a school is “eager for change,” then it tends to seek candidates who differ greatly from their predecessor in areas such as “age, demography, vision, even disciplinary background.” The 54-year-old Salovey is significantly older than Levin was when he assumed the presidency at age 45.
“If I had to make a prediction, I would predict that Yale will pick someone who is much like President Levin was 20 years ago,” Gardner said.
The Corporation met earlier this week to begin planning for the search for Levin’s successor, current Senior Fellow Edward Bass ’67 ARC ’72 said in a Thursday email to the News. He said the Corporation anticipates selecting its appointee before June 30, 2013, when Levin plans to step down.
“The selection of the President is the most important responsibility of the Yale Corporation, and we are committed to recruiting an individual who will be an exceptional leader for Yale in the years ahead and who will continue the extraordinary momentum achieved during Rick Levin’s two decades as president,” Bass said.
The committee that appointed Levin as president took 10 months to make its decision, but Levin said he expects the upcoming search to last only four or five. Betts said he expects the Corporation to take an “aggressive approach” in order to find a successor by the spring, while Smith said he anticipates a longer search, similar to the one in 1993.
Bass said the Yale Community will receive an email today discussing the selection process.