Months after a controversial email helped spur sustained student protests last fall, Nicholas and Erika Christakis will step down as head and associate head of Silliman College, effective this July.
In a Wednesday afternoon email to the Silliman community, Nicholas Christakis announced that he submitted his resignation to University President Peter Salovey last week. The couple drew national attention last fall when a Halloween weekend email from Erika Christakis defending students’ rights to wear culturally appropriative costumes sparked outrage on campus.
At the time, many students and alumni called for the couple to resign their roles at the helm of Silliman College, arguing that the two could no longer serve as effective leaders of a college community designed to create a home for undergraduates. But others said their removal would constitute a serious blow to free speech on college campuses.
In his resignation announcement, Nicholas Christakis emphasized the importance of open intellectual debate, a stance which caused controversy last fall as many students argued that the emphasis on free speech came at the cost of student wellbeing and safety.
“We have great respect for every member of our community, friend and critic alike,” Nicholas Christakis wrote. “We remain hopeful that students at Yale can express themselves and engage complex ideas within an intellectually plural community. But we feel it is time to return full-time to our respective fields of public health and early childhood education.”’
In a Nov. 17 email, weeks after the first student outcry against the Christakises, Salovey and Yale College Dean Jonathan Holloway affirmed their support for the couple and expressed faith in their “longstanding and deep dedication to undergraduates.” Vice President for Communications Eileen O’Connor said Wednesday that Salovey’s stance has not changed.
“He didn’t encourage their resignation,” O’Connor said. “Salovey has expressed his support throughout the year for Nicholas and Erika and that continues to be the case.”
While the Christakises retained their administrative roles in the college in the aftermath of the protests, they canceled their spring courses: Erika Christakis did not offer her popular course “The Concept of the Problem Child,” while Nicholas took a sabbatical and cancelled his lecture “Health of the Public.”
The announcement comes just days after the University’s commencement festivities. Traditionally, the heads of each residential college bestow diplomas upon their graduating seniors, but at Silliman College’s graduation ceremony on Monday, some students refused to accept their diplomas from Nicholas Christakis.
In a Wednesday email to the News after the Christakises’ announcement, Holloway praised the couple for their service to the Silliman and Yale College communities.
“This has been a year of great challenges for everyone and I respect their decision to step down in order to devote their undivided attention to their scholarship and teaching,” Holloway said. “I fully expect that they will continue to make important contributions to our community in the years ahead.”
The Christakises’ one-year stint as the heads of a residential college is almost unprecedentedly short; Holloway said that besides a series of interim masterships, there have been only a few that have lasted one year, according to his estimation. Heads of college normally serve two five-year terms, with a three-term limit.
The Christakises’ resignation adds to a slew of administrative changes in the residential college system, as Nicholas Christakis becomes the third head of college to step down this academic year. Still, Holloway said that the search process for the new head of Silliman college should be relatively straightforward as the last Silliman search was done quite recently, after longtime head Judith Krauss stepped down in October 2014.
“Since the Silliman search was so recently conducted I think the president has a good sense of his options for Silliman,” Holloway said. “Given that, I expect that he will be able to move forward quite quickly.”