After four decades at Yale, Deputy Dean of Yale College and Dean of Undergraduate Education Joseph Gordon will retire next January.
Dean of Yale College Jonathan Holloway announced Gordon’s planned departure in a Thursday afternoon email to selected members of the Yale community. Detailing Gordon’s accomplishments, Holloway said it is difficult to imagine Yale without him. Faculty and administrators who have worked with Gordon — from members of the Dean’s Office to curators in Beinecke Library — described him as an indispensable confidant and a font of information on Yale College issues.
“His record of service is so extensive, and his contributions so numerous, that it is impossible to imagine an aspect of undergraduate education that has not involved him,” Holloway wrote.
After coming to Yale as a graduate student in English in 1970, Gordon joined the department as an assistant professor in 1976. Despite holding disparate roles since then, Gordon — who became deputy dean in 1998 — has maintained a hand in Yale’s academics. He served on the Committee on Yale College Education, spent 20 years on the Course of Study Committee and chaired the Committee on Honors and Academic Standing. He has been involved at every level, from serving as Yale’s first openly gay college master in Pierson in 1987–88, to filling every specialized position on the Executive Committee, to stepping in as a fry cook on an understaffed food line in Commons during the blizzard that shut campus down for two days in 2013.
In an email to the News, Gordon said he does not plan to leave New Haven, adding that he may even return to teaching in the English department from time to time. He said he hopes to continue to support students and colleagues.
“It is indeed hard to contemplate leaving the Yale College Dean’s Office,” Gordon said. “But there comes a time when others should get the chance to do the work I’ve tried to do as well as I could, and to experience some of what I have had. If we believe in the value of education, it is in part because we understand that our world is one of mutability, both in our own individual lives and in the lives of institutions.”
In the unstudied role of deputy dean, Gordon has sought to coordinate the work of Yale’s special academic programs. Director of Education Studies Lizzy Carroll said he has been an ally of Education Studies and an important leader for all the special academic programs, as well as a supportive colleague for her personally.
Gordon also co-chaired the first report explaining academic plans for the two new residential colleges, a project in which he plans to remain involved through the coming year.
In addition to serving as Acting Dean of Yale College in fall 2007, Gordon worked with seven different deans of Yale College. Holloway, who has shared the Dean’s Office with Gordon for less than a year, said he considers Gordon a mentor. Among members of the Dean’s Office, former Yale College Dean Mary Miller said, “no one works harder than Joe Gordon.”
George Chauncey, professor of History and American Studies and former chair of LGBT Studies, called Gordon “one of the most beloved people on campus.” Gordon has been involved with LGBT Studies since the program’s inception in 1986, chairing its committee. Faculty members on the committee rely on his advice, intimate knowledge of University procedures, humor and ethical fortitude, Chauncey said. Timothy Young, a curator at the Beinecke, said Gordon has been a calm voice on the committee tasked with overseeing the still-developing field of LGBT Studies.
“He has not just worked for Yale, he has also become a standard-bearer of scholarly and pedagogical ethics at Yale,” said Kathryn Lofton, professor of Religious Studies and chair of Women’s, Gender and Sexuality Studies. “That he did so while being an out gay man was a quiet sort of revolution: nobody could question the capacity of LGBT people to lead, think, and participate in Yale as full citizens of this place.”
Special Assistant to the President and Jonathan Edwards College Master Penelope Laurans, who has been Gordon’s colleague for over three decades, said it may be impossible to fill the void left by his departure. Laurans lauded his wisdom, discretion and ability to listen.
Even while spearheading major policy initiatives for the college, Gordon has made a point of mentoring students and junior colleagues, said Assistant Dean of Academic Affairs George Levesque.
“Rarely does a conversation about a problem end without the conclusion, ‘I think we should ask Joe,’” Levesque said.