Astronomy professor Charles Bailyn ’81 and East Asian Languages and Literatures professor Tina Lu will serve as the inaugural heads of college for Benjamin Franklin and Pauli Murray College, University President Peter Salovey and Yale College Dean Jonathan Holloway announced Thursday.
The announcement comes just over one year from the colleges’ opening in the fall of 2017, a dramatic expansion of the undergraduate student body that has been a decade in the making. The two college names, announced April 27, drew criticism from much of the campus community, many of whom felt that both colleges should have been named after diverse figures. Students informally rechristened Benjamin Franklin College to honor famed singer Aretha Franklin and expressed concern that Franklin was chosen because he was a “personal role model” of Charles Johnson ‘54, whose $250 million donation toward the colleges’ construction was the largest in University history.
Bailyn served as the inaugural dean of Yale-NUS College in Singapore from 2011 to 2016. He completed his undergraduate degree in physics at Yale, where he was a member of the Duke’s Men, and returned to campus shortly after as a member of the faculty. He studies black holes and has carried out research with the Hubble Space Telescope. He was awarded Yale’s highest honor for teaching in the natural sciences in 2004. Bailyn will be joined by his wife, history lecturer and colonial historian Rebecca Tannenbaum, and their 14-year-old daughter.
Lu — Yale’s second-ever Asian American female head of college, after current Timothy Dwight College Head Mary Lui — specializes in Chinese literature from 1550 to 1750. She has taught as a visiting professor with the Yale-PKU program in Beijing, and also as a consulting faculty member to Yale-NUS college. She will be joined by her husband, senior history and humanities lecturer Stuart Semmel, and their five children, who all attend New Haven public schools.
“The family are avid travelers, sometimes referring to themselves as the Traveling Semmel-Lus, and have spent semesters abroad in both China and Singapore,” Salovey wrote. They look forward to hosting—and perhaps playing in—musical events in the college. Although it sometimes is a challenge for them to all agree on a movie, they usually manage to find something.”
Salovey added that that each new college head holds a connection to their respective college namesakes: Bailyn has a long connection to colonial American history, through both his wife and his father, also a force in the field. And Lu describes Pauli Murray as “the embodiment of Yale’s highest ideals of lux et veritas,” he wrote.
The deans of the new colleges will be announced sometime over the next year, along with other staff members.
The search for the two new heads of colleges was atypical in that there was no constituency to whom the YCDO could turn to for consultation. In normal cases, the search committee are comprised of college fellows and students. Instead, the Two New Colleges Steering Committee — a group of faculty, undergraduates and administrators who have been planning the logistics for Murray and Franklin colleges — were charged with the searches, Holloway said.
Students interviewed this week expressed enthusiasm about the decisions.
“As an Asian American, I’m proud to see my ethnicity being represented [by Lu],” Kevin Tan ’16 said, adding that as a physics major, he is also glad to see a STEM scholar, Bailyn, chosen as the social leader of a community.
Tan said it is “interesting” that Lu, a woman of color, will head Pauli Murray College — which honors a woman of color — while Bailyn, a white male, will lead Franklin College.
“I don’t know if [this arrangement] is random or not,” Tan said.
Sang Ik Han ’16, who has taken two classes with Lu, said he is heartened by Lu’s appointment.
A graduate from a public school in Korean, Han found humanities at Yale particularly daunting. He recalled that Lu was able to introduce him to the fun of humanities, and cared about her students both academically and personally.
Other students interviewed said they cared more about the naming of the two colleges than the leadership.
“The naming really took me off, not the head of college,” Kassandra Ajro ’18 said. She added that the most important quality for heads of the new colleges is the ability to begin a tradition that will last for generations.