Courtesy of Kathryn Lofton

Religious Studies Department Chair Kathryn Lofton will serve as the inaugural Faculty of Arts and Sciences deputy dean for diversity and faculty development, FAS Dean Tamar Gendler wrote to the FAS in a Monday email.

The new administrative position, which was announced as part of University President Peter Salovey’s Nov. 17 “Toward a Better Yale” initiative, was created in order to address persistent issues of faculty diversity within the FAS. Lofton will oversee a broad range of issues relating to diversity, including recruitment, retention, budget allocation and mentorship support. She will fill the position on an interim basis for a year and a half, during which she will develop a “robust vision” for what the position should look like in the future, Gendler wrote.

Lofton told the News she looks forward to fostering discussions about the definition of excellence and how it relates to diversity and inclusion.

“My job is to work to identify what makes Yale not as equal or as open as it ought to be,” Lofton said. “It is to call for all members of the Yale community to take up the charge to rethink privilege in its many forms and to ensure the cultivation of criticism on this score from wherever it may come.”

Gendler praised Lofton for her effectiveness as a leader as well as for her wide range of leadership roles across the University. Gendler said she received 16 formal nominations and self-nominations for the position over the past few months, and she also interviewed 15 other faculty members for additional suggestions, before selecting Lofton.

“Even on a campus filled with extraordinary people, Lofton stands out as uncannily thoughtful, articulate, imaginative, energetic and — most importantly — wise,” Gendler told the News. “The job of the deputy dean will be to advise me on FAS implementation of the campuswide diversity initiative, and to coordinate support and mentoring for FAS faculty.”

As deputy dean, Lofton will oversee faculty diversity efforts at both the conceptualization and implementation stages. She will identify and establish best practices in the recruitment, retention, promotion and support of FAS faculty, with a special attention toward issues of climate for faculty who bring diversity to the institution. She will also work with FAS department chairs, search committees and faculty members to ensure that these best practices are indeed followed. Several professors recently interviewed have claimed that certain departments are not held accountable for a lack of attention to diversity.

She will also work with the Office of Institutional Research and the Provost’s Office — including Deputy Provost for Faculty Development and Diversity Richard Bribiescas — to gather and distribute analytics related to faculty diversity and excellence.

Lofton has held administrative and leadership roles at various levels of the University. She has served as Chair of the Women’s, Gender and Sexuality Studies Department and has been involved with various FAS and University-wide committees, including the Humanities Tenure and Appointments Committee, the University-Wide Committee on Sexual Misconduct, the Standing Committee on Yale College Expansion and a committee that is currently evaluating Yale’s tenure and appointments policy.

Lofton is also an elected member of the FAS Senate, and has co-authored two of the Senate’s major reports: one on the new faculty conduct standards and one on how Yale will accommodate two new residential colleges.

Faculty members and colleagues praised the FAS Dean’s Office’s decision and spoke highly about Lofton’s qualities as a leader adept at navigating the inner workings of the institution.

“She is an agile diplomat who has the University’s best interests at heart and who is already inside the administrative conversations at the highest levels, having just served on the [tenure policy] review committee that just completed its very constructive recommendations for improving the tenure system,” WGSS Chair Margaret Homans said. Homans added that if Lofton is given resources and sufficient authority, she could do a “great deal” to help Yale retain and build its faculty diversity.

Ethnicity, Race and Migration Chair Matthew Jacobson called Lofton “institutionally savvy” and “unswerving” in her commitment to equity.

Jacobson added that the interim period is critical, both for defining the new deputy dean position going forward, and for thinking about the kind of scholar or professional who should hold the post in its first regular term.

“Lofton is exceptionally well-equipped to lead the discussion on both counts,” he said.

Lofton is also a professor of American Studies, history, WGSS and divinity.