Over the course of the 2015–2016 academic year, the University confronted departures in more than a dozen administrative positions.
Since last fall, eight residential college deans and heads from Trumbull, Jonathan Edwards, Pierson, Berkeley, Silliman and Ezra Stiles colleges have stepped down from their positions to take up new roles both inside and outside the University. These administrative changes were compounded by the addition of four new inaugural assistant directors for each of the cultural centers as well as the resignation of Asian American Cultural Center Dean Saveena Dhall. The inaugural heads of Benjamin Franklin College and Pauli Murray College will also begin their tenure this fall.
But despite the rate of administrative turnover, perhaps the highest profile Yale College resignations last year were those of Nicholas and Erika Christakis, who stepped down as head and associate head of Silliman College in May. The couple made national headlines following an email sent by Erika Christakis over Halloween weekend defending students’ rights to wear culturally appropriative costumes.
In the weeks and months that followed, many students and alumni called for the couple to resign from their administrative positions, citing concerns that the two were unable to create a welcoming home for undergraduates. While some argued that the Christakises’ actions signaled systemic racism within the University, others came to the couple’s defense and said their resignation would deal a blow to free speech on campus.
Christakis has been replaced as Silliman head by psychology professor Laurie Santos, dubbed a “leading campus celebrity” in 2013 by Time Magazine. In an email to Silliman students after her appointment was announced, Santos reflected on how she first learned of Silliman years before from her graduate school roommate, a Silliman alumnus, who made the college “feel like the kind of place anyone would love to call home.”
This year, Berkeley and Jonathan Edwards are replacing both their deans and heads of college. Former JE dean Jody Spooner ’91 will become the president of Ferrum College in Virginia, while former JE head Penelope Laurans will retire after working for the University for 43 years. They will be replaced by Christina Ferando ’97, a scholar of art history and recent Chester Dale Fellow at The Metropolitan Museum of Art, and chemical and biomedical engineering professor Mark Saltzman, respectively.
On the opposite side of Elm Street, Renita Miller, the former director of studies of Forbes College at Princeton University, will replace former Berkeley Dean Mia Reinoso Genoni. Geology and geophysics professor David Evans ’92 will serve as the next head of Berkeley College, succeeding Marvin Chun, a psychology professor who has been at the helm of the college since 2007. In a June interview, Yale College Dean Jonathan Holloway said that having a new head of college and new dean in the same year is tough, but manageable.
“Living at Yale, both as a student and as a dean, was rarely, if ever, easy; but the perspective and peace borne from my own difficult moments and seeming insurmountable challenges have provided me with the strength, courage and faith to believe even the impossible could be achieved,” Spooner wrote in a June email to Jonathan Edwards college. “[It] has led me to personal happiness and professional fulfillment far, far beyond my undergraduate dreams.”
These administrative changes are not unique to Yale College. The School of Forestry and Environmental Studies will have a new dean, Ingrid C. Burke, as will the School of Architecture in Deborah Berke. Berke will be the School of Architecture’s first-ever female dean, making it the third of Yale’s 12 graduate and professional schools to be led by a woman.
“Many members of the School of Architecture’s student body and faculty are excited that a woman was selected as the school’s new dean,” Alexander Kruhly ARC ’17 told the News last year. “Women have been historically underrepresented in the architectural profession; the selection of Berke signifies a commitment to broadening the diversity of voices within the school.”
Yale-NUS founding president Pericles Lewis will step down after May 2017 to assume the inaugural role of vice president for global strategy and deputy provost for international affairs at Yale. Lewis told the News in July that the position will be similar to one formerly held by Senior Counselor to the President and Provost Linda Lorimer, albeit with a more academic focus.