Courtesy Frances Rosenbluth
Seven Yale professors were inducted into the American Academy of Arts and Sciences this year.
The faculty members — chemistry professor Scott Miller, economics professor Samuel Kortum, philosophy professor Shelly Kagan, law professor emeritus Peter Schuck, applied physics professor Robert Schoelkopf, computer science professor Vladimir Rokhlin and molecular biophysics and biochemistry professor Mark Hochstrasser — were notified of their admissions into the academy this spring, with most attending the official induction ceremony in October. The academy is an honorary society and policy research center, founded by John Adams, which elects approximately 200 members annually.
“It is a testament to the breadth of Yale’s academic excellence that our newly inducted AAAS members include representatives of all four of the traditional [Faculty of Arts and Sciences] divisions: humanities, social sciences, biological sciences and physical sciences, as well as a distinguished member of our law faculty,” FAS Dean Tamar Gendler said.
Faculty members interviewed said the news of their acceptance in the spring came as a surprise. Kagan said he did not know he was being considered and was “taken completely by surprise and … tremendously pleased” to find the admission letter in the department office. Kortum described the letter as a “random piece of good news that arrived on [his] desk one day in the spring.”
Professors said their new status as academy members would likely not impact their future teaching and research. Schuck said his academic goals have not changed since he was inducted.
“Truth be told, I don’t expect selection to affect my teaching or research in any way,” Kagan said. “It is of course wonderful to think that others think my work worthy of this sort of accolade. But I really don’t see it having any influence on what I teach, how I teach, how I interact with students, what I study, what I write on or anything like that.”
Members of the academy have the option of participating in research projects with other academy members on topics ranging from the educational system to nuclear proliferation, according to Kortum. He added that while academy membership will not affect his teaching, he might participate in one such project in the future.
The induction ceremony took place the weekend of Oct. 7 at the academy’s headquarters near Harvard’s campus, according to Kortum, who attended the event. He said the ceremony includes official rites of passage such as shaking hands onstage and signing the academy’s historical book. The highlight was hearing inductees from various fields give talks and performances such as a song by Judy Collins, Kortum added.
New members who are unable to attend the ceremony in the year of their acceptance can attend in future years. Kagan said he was not able to attend last month’s ceremony because of prior commitments, but has already marked next year’s date on his calendar.
“New members are asked to write a letter of acceptance,” Kagan said. “I said something to the effect of how many of my friends and colleagues had been writing me, saying how much I deserved this honor. I noted in my letter that I had actually written a book on desert — which is true — and I doubted that this was really the case. But who was I to argue?”
Mark Robinson, chief operating officer of the academy, said the process of election begins with nomination by two current members, followed by two successive ballot elections. Nominees are first voted on by members within their academic field and then by the academy’s council and board of directors. Robinson added that the academy considers about 1,200 nominations a year.
Political science professor Frances Rosenbluth, who has been a member of the academy since 2007, said the remaining candidates are voted on by all the members in an online election in April.
“While the primary criteria for election are excellence in the field and a record of continued accomplishment, members are also asked to consider the nominees’ potential participation in the academy’s work in service to the nation,” Robinson said.
According to Rosenbluth, recognition of Yale faculty by establishments such as the academy ensures that the University continues to hire the most qualified professors possible to remain at “the top in every field.” Yale faculty membership in similar honorary academies reminds the administration to prioritize faculty excellence, she added.
Rosenbluth said Yale students should be proud of their “world-class” faculty and the professors who are “doing scholarship that merits the respect of their peers.”
However, she also noted that this year’s academy inductees were all male.
“It’s really important to make sure that women get the necessary support to do the scholarship that gets them these honors,” Rosenbluth said. “That’s kind of a meta question through all of this — what are we doing to make sure we set up our faculty so that they can excel? And this is a kind of a barometer or benchmark for that.”
The American Academy of Arts and Sciences was established in 1780.
Correction, Nov. 14: A previous version of this article incorrectly reported that five Yale faculty members were inducted into the American Academy of Arts and Sciences this year. In fact, there were seven.