This story has been updated to reflect the version that ran in print on Feb. 27.
Sociology professor Nicholas Christakis ’84 will be the next master of Silliman College, University President Peter Salovey announced in the Silliman dining hall Thursday.
Christakis will succeed current master Judith Krauss NUR ’70, who will retire from Yale this spring after serving as master for 15 years. Standing before 300 Silliman students, Salovey praised Christakis for his broad range of academic accomplishments and warm nature. Christakis’s five-year term will officially begin on July 1.
“Professor Christakis is recognized widely as a visionary scholar and researcher, selected by Time magazine as one of the 100 most influential people in the world and twice cited among the ‘Top 100 Global Thinkers’ by Foreign Policy magazine,” Salovey and Yale College Dean Jonathan Holloway wrote in an email to the Silliman community after the announcement.
Christakis runs the Human Nature Lab at Yale, which engages in biosocial science research, and is also the co-director of the Yale Institute for Network Science, an interdisciplinary institute that focuses on diverse problems in network science and in the social, physical, biological and engineering sciences. His book, “Connected: The Surprising Power of Our Social Networks and How They Shape Our Lives” has been translated into almost 20 foreign languages. Before coming to Yale in 2013, Christakis spent over a decade teaching sociology and medicine at Harvard, where he also served as master of Pforzheimer House — one of Harvard’s 12 houses — for five years.
At Yale, Christakis teaches the popular “Health of the Public” lecture.
“Professor Christakis is passionate about public health, bad action movies and good chocolate,” Salovey told the dining hall. “And when discipline needs to be doled out, he has a black belt in Shotokan Karate — just to warn you in advance.”
Krauss, who is currently the longest-serving sitting college master, announced in October that after 44 years at Yale, she would depart at the end of this academic year. Beyond her more than four decades as a nursing professor, Krauss also served as dean of the School of Nursing for 13 years and, in 1985, founded the “Archives of Psychiatric Nursing,” a research, practice and policy journal. Krauss currently serves as the chair of the Council of Masters, a post she has filled before.
While students said they are excited to welcome a new master, many also said they will miss Krauss’s presence on campus. Charlotte Juergens ’16 described Krauss as a lovely person, and Josh Eisenstat ’15 said she has been a great master during his four years.
Christakis will be joined by his wife, Erika Christakis, a lecturer on early childhood education in Yale’s Zigler Center in Child Development and Social Policy, as associate master. The couple has three children, one of whom is currently a sophomore in Ezra Stiles College. Additionally, the couple has had over the years what Salovey described as “a menagerie of pets.”
Christakis told students that the family’s two dogs are available for sleepovers, a remark that was met with whooping applause.
School of Forestry and Environmental Studies professor David Skelly, who served on the Silliman master’s search committee, said Christakis is an outstanding choice for the mastership, citing his impressive scholarship and genuine interest in how good communities can allow individuals to excel.
“While there is no doubt that he has big shoes to fill, I can’t imagine a better person for the role,” Skelly said.
Silliman Dean Jessie Hill said she is excited to work with Christakis, citing his intellectual depth and proven history of compassionate care for students. He and his wife will be welcomed into the community, she added.
However, despite the enthusiasm of his colleagues, not all students were familiar with Christakis or his work. Of 25 students interviewed, only six said they knew of him.
After the announcement, dozens of students lined up to meet or greet their new master, and students who knew Christakis already met the news with excitement.
Chainey Boroski ’18, who met Christakis shortly after the announcement, said the new master is very engaging. He will likely bring personality and perspective, she added.
Nishwant Swami ’17, a student in “Health of the Public,” said Christakis’s strengths in the classroom will likely translate to the college courtyard as well.
“It’s a 300-person lecture, but he knows his students’ names,” Swami said. “He is willing to make those relationships, and I think he’ll be a great master.”
Zach Young ’17, who met Christakis last summer in a chance encounter, said the professor’s affability is well-suited for his new role as master. Young and Christakis, who was having his photo taken for a Yale Alumni Magazine profile of him, found themselves stuck in an elevator with each other. According to Young, Christakis cracked jokes the whole time and even gave Young a signed copy of his book afterwards to thank him for his patience.
Sukriti Mohan ’17, another of Christakis’s students, said she believes Christakis will work to emphasize equality and promote diversity within the college community.
“He places a big emphasis on equality and working to eliminate any disparities that arise from socio-economic differences,” Mohan said. “This is a wonderful characteristic to have in a master, because the Silliman community is very diverse, and we have students from all walks of life.”
Joana Andoh ’17 said Christakis’s immediate ties to the University as an alumnus and parent give him great insight into the curriculum and environment at Yale and will be very useful for the Silliman community.
Christakis will be Silliman’s ninth master.