Freshmen stepping foot onto campus for the first time this fall were not just welcomed by crisply mowed lawns and newly renovated rooms. They were also greeted by newly appointed University administrators — freshmen in their own right.
Over the summer, Yale welcomed three new deans into the upper echelons of University governance. Jonathan Holloway and Lynn Cooley stepped into their new positions as Yale College Dean and Dean of the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, respectively, and Tamar Gendler became Yale’s first-ever Dean of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences (FAS). Since University President Peter Salovey and Provost Benjamin Polak only assumed their posts in 2013, the five most senior administrators at Yale have all been in their positions for 18 months or less.
Gendler’s position is brand-new, created in an effort to divide the traditional responsibilities of the Yale College Dean and the Provost and to give faculty more administrative representation.
As administrators drafted the potential reshuffling of Yale’s leadership last year, they planned for the new trio of deans to steer the University in a strategic and focused direction — especially as Yale navigates the construction of the two new residential colleges while facing a multi-million dollar budget deficit.
“We want to get to the place where we can think in broad terms,” Holloway said.
He added that the three deans plan on meeting on a weekly basis to “take the temperature” of the University.
While the deans each have their own distinct constituency — Holloway’s is undergraduates, Cooley’s is graduate students and Gendler’s is the faculty — Holloway mentioned that there are a number of gray areas where all three must work together. Holloway and Cooley both cited a push to improve the teaching fellow program as an ongoing collaboration of the three deans.
But each of the deans also has his or her own priorities. Holloway put the planning of the new residential colleges at the top of his to-do list. Cooley said a major priority is expanding career services for graduate students. For Gendler, being what she calls an “intellectual matchmaker” for professors across the University is an important task right now.
“The good thing is we like each other,” Holloway said. “That’s no small deal.”
For his part, Polak noted that the new organizational structure will improve the University by having a dean solely concerned with the faculty. For Yale to remain among the top two or three universities in the world, it must always be worried about the quality of its faculty, he added.
“It’s a competitive world out there,” Polak said. “Maintaining that razor-sharp attention that we have to have the very best people … that’s worth somebody’s full attention.”
Gendler said the most important part of her job is interacting with all faculty across the University.
She added that the new decanal structure streamlines the operations of the FAS by improving access to important resources and answering questions more efficiently.
“We’re both able to act more quickly and act on better information,” she said. “We’re making better decisions faster.”
While over a dozen faculty members interviewed said it is far too early to judge the effectiveness of the administrative changes, several have expressed cautious approval of the new structure.
History Department chair Naomi Lamoreaux said the change is improving access to the upper administration.
“Everything was concentrated in the provost’s office last year, and we all had to work through the deputy provosts, who had limited authority,” she said. “We already have more access to the FAS Dean.”
Psychology professor Steve Chang said faculty members would be more motivated to speak to the FAS dean than to the provost or president.
The communication from the new deans to members of the faculty has already been quite impressive, said English professor and African American Studies chair Jacqueline Goldsby GRD ’98.
Wai Chee Dimock GRD ’82, an English professor, said the current administration is already fairly accessible, thanks to the affable personalities at its head. The trend toward increasing accessibility will probably continue as a result of both the informal administrative culture and the new decanal structure, she said.
But others disagree. History professor Carlos Eire GRD ’79 said the reorganization makes no difference in terms of accessibility.
“This is just a reshuffling of the deck chairs,” he said. “The President and Provost have always controlled the ultimate power — that of funding — and this rearrangement of decision-makers who have no control of the University’s purse makes no difference insofar as ‘access’ or ‘mediation’ is concerned.”
The three new deans stepped into office on July 1 of this year.