Yale College Dean Jonathan Holloway — the first African-American to hold the position and a former graduate student, department chair and residential college head at Yale — announced last week that he will step down in June.
Holloway, who was thrust into the national spotlight last year amid racially charged protests that swept campus, wrote that he informed University President Peter Salovey of his decision on Nov. 10, and that he will serve as the provost of Northwestern University starting July 1. The dean of Yale College is appointed to serve a five-year term. Holloway will leave Yale on June 30, three years after he started the job.
“Becoming a dean gave me a whole new perspective on what everything at Yale College is all about,” Holloway told the News. “It’s been challenging, but there’s no doubt I’d rather have it be challenging and interesting than just an easy gig.”
After receiving his history Ph.D. from Yale in 1995, Holloway joined the University’s history department as an assistant professor in 1999 and received tenure five years later. He served as the head of Calhoun College for nearly a decade and chaired the African American Studies Department from 2013 to 2014. Holloway took over from Mary Miller GRD ’81 as Yale College dean two and a half years ago.
“I have held a wide variety of positions at Yale over the course of these years, but from any perspective one thing remains clear: This is a very special place,” Holloway wrote in an email to the Yale community announcing his departure. “Though we have a sterling faculty and a dedicated staff, the students have always been the greatest source of inspiration to me. And so, to every student who is reading this message, please accept my heartfelt thanks.”
After Miller left the deanship in 2014, Yale administrators split the role in half, allocating oversight of the academic portion of Yale College — including issues like faculty promotion and tenure — to the newly created position of dean of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences. The new system left Holloway free to administer other aspects of the college, such as curricular reviews and the opening of the two new residential colleges.
In an email to the Yale community last Monday, Salovey described Holloway as “a calm and compassionate presence in turbulent times” and a trusted colleague whose loss to Yale is “incalculable.”
Holloway told the News that said his Chicago plans only came together in the last four weeks, after he got a phone call from Northwestern President Morton Schapiro.
“This really caught me by surprise,” Holloway said. “I was basically minding my own business, when I received a phone call inquiring whether I was willing to consider a move.”
“I know there’s a lot of speculation,” he added. “I was not pushed out, I’m not leaving in a huff or a tizzy or anything like that. This is just a really exciting professional opportunity.”
Holloway will depart Yale just two months before the two new residential colleges open on Prospect Street. He said he will be disappointed not to see the colleges open, but that his role in administering the transition has mostly ended.
As racial protests swept Yale last year, Holloway became a potent symbol for hundreds of activists on campus. He was criticized for taking several days to respond to two racially charged incidents that took place over Halloween weekend. On a dramatic day last November, he stood atop the Women’s Table on Cross Campus to address a crowd of students, vowing to “do better.”
Holloway told the News that the Cross Campus gathering last November — a three-hour emotional marathon in which black students told him stories about many of the same ingrained racial biases that he has studied for decades — stands out as one of his most memorable experiences at Yale.
Holloway’s role as the first black dean of Yale College also forced him to balance the demands of his administrative job description and the symbolic imperatives of African-American leadership.
“There were some people who expected that the first black dean of Yale College would be the first person who would be able to almost single-handedly solve these complicated racial dynamics,” Holloway said. “That seems a bit unreasonable, but I get where it’s coming from. I’m a realist about it.”
Holloway is the author of two books about modern African-American history. His first book, “Confronting the Veil,” discusses radical black social scientists in the 1930s. And his latest book, “Jim Crow Wisdom,” centers on African-American memory and identity since 1940.
African American Studies professor Glenda Gilmore, a member of the Yale search committee that hired Holloway, described “Confronting the Veil” as “a major intervention in African-American political economy” and called “Jim Crow Wisdom” a “lyrical historical mediation.”
Azmar Williams ’15, a Ph.D candidate in history at Harvard who worked with Holloway as an undergraduate at Yale, said the themes of Holloway’s academic work are deeply intertwined with his administrative priorities.
“Something that runs throughout his academic work is the emphasis on citizenship, and what it means to be a good citizen. That was the theme of the term during his course, this idea of citizenship and how it transforms from the year after emancipation,” Williams said, referring to Holloway’s popular lecture course on African-American history since emancipation. “That’s a huge undercurrent of everything he does — what it means to be a good citizen, what it means to be a good steward of the institution.”
Salovey wrote in his email that the University will soon select an advisory committee for the appointment of the next Yale College dean.