In the past year, three top administrators have decided to say goodbye to the institution to which they have each dedicated four decades of their lives. These announcements come in a string of other administrative changes, including departures from the Office of General Counsel to the Provost’s Office to the Yale College Dean’s Office. Though the University welcomed a new top legal counselor, Yale has seen the shuffling of several of the president’s top advisers and is now preparing for the departure of four college masters.
Some Yale administrators, faculty and staff attributed these changes in administration to the departure of former University President Richard Levin in fall 2013 or recent retirement incentive offerings. Others, however, said they were merely flukes of timing. But regardless of the reasons for the turnover, administrators interviewed agreed that the change provides an opportunity for Yale to evaluate the direction it will take.
“There’s always a tension at a university between the tradition and innovation,” said Yale College Dean Jonathan Holloway.
Deputy Dean of Yale College and Dean of Undergraduate Education Joseph Gordon, who will leave Yale next January after 40 years of service, said recent retirement incentive offerings and Levin’s departure were key to this turnover.
“That there had been a period of unusual stability was one of the positive effects of Rick Levin’s long tenure as president,” Gordon said. “And then there is the direct effect of the Baby Boomer generation reaching conventional retirement age all at once.”
School of Management professor Sharon Oster said in December that some administrators — such as former Vice President for Global and Strategic Initiatives Linda Lorimer — might have made the decision to leave after Levin’s departure, but remained at Yale for a year or two in order to facilitate the transition.
“Some [administrators] actually postponed their life plans a little bit to help with the transition,” Provost Benjamin Polak said. “[They] all felt a responsibility to help us with the transition, and I am personally incredibly grateful.”
Some administrators interviewed said much of the turnover may also be due to retirement incentives offered in 2014, which former Yale College Dean Mary Miller said “[were] certainly advertised as a one-time only opportunity.”
According to an email sent to managerial and professional employees last March by Human Resources & Administration Vice President Michael Peel, these “workplace flexibility” options come as part of an effort to cut costs.
“As you know, Yale continues to face budget challenges, both to put the remaining deficit from the 2008 financial crisis behind us, as well as to build the financial flexibility needed to be able to invest in opportunities important to the University’s future,” Peel wrote.
The email also outlined provisions for several retirement options, including phased retirement and voluntary layoff.
University spokeswoman Karen Peart added that although Yale may have realized a slight budget surplus in the past year, it is continuing to exert “careful financial controls” in its budget planning.
Several recently departed administrators — including former Associate Dean for Student Organizations and Physical Resources John Meeske and former Director of the Teaching Fellow Program Judith Hackman — took advantage of the “voluntary layoff” option, which Hackman said will guarantee her a full year of her current salary after she retires.
University Secretary and Vice President for Student Life Kimberly Goff-Crews said it is not unusual to have some administrative turnover when a new president takes office. But Goff-Crews also noted that the most interesting aspect of the turnover is that so much of it is due to longtime University administrators retiring, rather than leaving for new positions.For some, the decision to leave now comes as a result of all the recent changes.
While Hackman said the retirement incentives were one of her motivations for leaving Yale now, she also cited the lack of transparency surrounding decisions to restructure responsibilities following the introduction of a new dean of Yale College, dean of the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences and dean of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences — an entirely new position this fall.
In particular, Hackman said she does not understand why several resources that were formerly under the purview of the Graduate School — such as the Center for Language Study and the Writing Center — have been placed in the new Center for Teaching and Learning. She also cited confusion surrounding the overlapping duties of Goff-Crews and Dean of Student Affairs Marichal Gentry.
“There have been several major changes without any clear explanation of why they’re being made,” Hackman said. “That’s one piece of it — there is enormous uncertainty right now about what’s going to happen.”
Other changes in administrative structure have also led to certain departures. The creation of academic divisional director positions for the humanities, sciences and social sciences last September — and the subsequent appointment of Morse Master Amy Hungerford as divisional director of the humanities — was cited by Hungerford herself as a reason for her stepping down from her mastership.
“To remain the master of Morse while taking on this role would be unfair to both communities,” Hungerford wrote in the Sept. 17 email to Morse College in which she announced her decision.
Holloway explained that many changes — including some of the decisions surrounding the Center for Teaching and Learning — predate his deanship. He also said many of these decisions have been made in an effort to further integrate the many disparate pedagogical resources Yale offers.
Still, he acknowledged that recent administrative turnover has made it difficult to be as transparent as would be ideal.
“There’s so much change happening in administrative structure right now. It’s hard to keep pace of who’s where at any given moment,” Holloway said. “Everybody in the central administration needs to work really hard on being as transparent as possible and communicating [our reasoning].”
Holloway added that he expects this problem to resolve itself While some administrators interviewed noted that the high amounts of turnover may result in a loss of institutional memory, they were optimistic about the opportunity for change that such turnover brings, especially as the University looks toward expansion.
Silliman Master and Council of Masters Chair Judith Krauss said that while the departure of four masters in one year — one-third of the Council’s membership — is more than usual, half of the remaining masters are in their second or third terms and will serve as mentors for the new Masters of Silliman, Timothy Dwight, Saybrook and Morse Colleges.
Krauss added that the council will continue to work with Holloway in planning for the two new residential colleges — a process that will include adding two new members to their group.
“Whenever new masters join the council there are opportunities for new direction — welcome opportunities,” Krauss wrote in an email to the News. “We are always rethinking our policies and work based on the ‘here and now’ and ‘future’ consideration, and having new members is a plus.”
Holloway said that while loss of institutional memory poses a challenge in planning for the future, it also creates a “golden opportunity” for lower-ranking administrators with talent and potential to ascend to higher ranks.
“Whatever its causes, this moment does present the University with the opportunity to promote the next generation of leaders, both from within and without,” Gordon said. “I am excited and optimistic, because I know personally how many extraordinary folks there are who are ready to step up to new positions, and there must be many more than the ones I know.”