Marvin Chun, the first Asian-American to become a residential college master, will step down as Berkeley College master at the end of this academic year.
Chun, a psychology professor, announced his decision in a Thursday email to the Berkeley community. Chun told the News he plans to request a year of sabbatical leave in order to focus on his academic work and spend more time with his family. Berkeley students interviewed expressed surprise about the announcement and also spoke fondly of Chun’s mastership, highlighting his attentiveness and welcoming nature.
“I’ve gained so much from this experience, from all of you, that I don’t know if I can ever fully give back,” Chun wrote in his announcement email. “But the mastership is not a lifetime appointment, and in my ninth year, this feels like the right time for me to share this honor with another colleague who can bring fresh ideas to the community.”
In his announcement, Chun paid tribute to his colleagues in the Berkeley community, including Berkeley Dean Mia Reinoso Genoni and Yale Chief Investment Officer and Berkeley Fellow David Swensen. Chun cited Swensen’s “legendary” beer tastings for Berkeley seniors and the renaming of the Berkeley Master’s House as the Swensen House as two highlights of his mastership.
Reflecting on his time as the master of Berkeley, Chun called the experience “a fairy tale dream,” adding that as a high school student, he could not even fantasize about attending an institution like Yale.
“What I love about Yale residential colleges is that our communities are diverse, so students get to meet and frequently develop close friendships with people different from themselves,” Chun told the News. “My mastership has strengthened my belief that Yale is the best college in the world.”
In addition to his role as Berkeley master, Chun directs the Visual Cognitive Neuroscience Laboratory, which uses functional brain imaging to understand how to improve memory, attention, conscious perception and decision-making. He is also known for teaching the popular “Introduction to Psychology” lecture, most recently in fall 2014. Chun has won multiple teaching awards for his work in the course.
Chun said that during his sabbatical, he plans to focus on research that uses brain imaging to predict behavior and finish a cognitive psychology textbook to be published by Oxford University Press.
Faculty members who have worked closely with Chun in his capacity as master praised his dedication to the position and said he will be missed.
Stephen Davis, head of Pierson College and chair of the Council of Masters, said he has always been impressed by Chun’s thoughtfulness as well as his open, good-humored outlook on life. Davis also said he appreciate the support Chun extended to him.
“During my first year in the job at Pierson, [Chun] was one of my two assigned mentors on the Council,” Davis said. “This meant that I would call him up with questions at strange hours, but he always took the call and was unfailingly patient in offering me the wisdom and guidance I needed. Truth be told, I still call him for advice, and that is one of the many reasons I’ll miss him next year.”
Genoni said she marvels at Chun’s unparalleled gift for creating events that helped build Berkeley’s community, and that the two had many opportunities to share in their students’ joy and college camaraderie, such as during the Inner Tube Water Polo championship.
Chun is also well-known for hosting popular, food-centric social events. During his tenure as master, Chun introduced the semesterly “Berkeley Thunder Brunch,” in which his office partners with the Berkeley dining hall to treats students to an especially savory Sunday brunch. In addition to Thunder Brunch, Chun hosts an annual Halloween party, an Oktoberfest celebration for seniors and an Italian Dinner at the beginning of the academic year. Chun and Genoni also take each sophomore suite out to dinner over the course of the year.
Berkeley students interviewed responded to Chun’s departure with surprise and disappointment.
“It’s hard to imagine Berkeley without Master Chun,” Berkeley Master’s Aide Artem Osherov ’17 said.
Students spoke fondly Chun’s involvement in student life. Chun takes pictures and cheers on Berkeley teams at every intramural championship, even taking student players out to eat after games to celebrate victories, said Josh Hayden ‘17, another Berkeley master’s aide. Eugenia Zhukovsky ’18 said Chun’s enthusiasm for everything he does, as well as receptions at the Master’s House, play a large role in making Berkeley feel more welcoming. Chun’s investment in his role makes students feel as if they all have a personal connection with him, Ben Rosenbluth ’17 said.
Hayden also recalled the silence in the room when Chun first informed the Berkeley administrative staff of his decision before the announcement.
“I feel like there was definitely a void in the room because he’s been such an integral part to all of our Berkeley experiences,” Hayden said. “Master Chun goes above and beyond the call of duty so that everyone feels at home and special.”
Master’s Aide Bianka Ukleja ’18 said Chun’s quiet nature, in contrast to Genoni’s more outgoing character, brings balance to the Berkeley leadership. Ukleja praised Chun for being emotionally intelligent, commenting on how his academic background in psychology well fit his role.
“He’s not very outgoing, but he knows how to read students and make them feel like they’re loved,” Ukleja said. “It brings this warm environment where you’re not intimidated by your master.”
For Julian Drucker ’17, an important quality in a master is awareness. Drucker described a conversation he had with Chun after running into him over the summer. Drucker said Chun knew he would be taking a year off to tour with the Whiffenpoofs, and Chun offered him the opportunity to attend senior events for both his original graduating class and the class of 2017. Drucker said he was touched at the effort Chun puts into getting to know each of his students.
A search committee made up of Berkeley community members will start searching for the next Berkeley master later this semester, according to Yale College Dean Jonathan Holloway.