Yale College Dean Jonathan Holloway’s departure from the University, announced on Nov. 21, is one in a series of administrative exits in the last academic year.
Since fall 2015, at least seven residential college heads and deans have stepped down from their positions, including administrators in Jonathan Edwards, Silliman, Berkeley, Pierson, Ezra Stiles and Trumbull colleges. Still, administrators interviewed said while the turnover rate is high compared to that of previous years, the turnover of faculty in leadership roles is expected, and many residential college administrators are leaving after long terms of service.
“It’s not a concern, it’s a phenomenon,” Holloway said. “It’s fluke-ish. With the residential college deans, we had a number of them go on to really exciting positions here or elsewhere. With the college heads, we had a period of very long stability, long service, and there was very little turnover for quite a while.”
Turnover of faculty in leadership roles is widely discussed within the Faculty of Arts and Sciences, FAS Senate Chair Emily Greenwood said. She added that there are three main reasons for the current spike in turnovers: The University is undergoing a transition between administrations, talented faculty are often targeted by recruitment efforts at peer institutions and the responsibilities and challenges of holding such leadership positions often makes them hard to occupy for long periods of time.
Greenwood said she thinks the Yale community knows it would be desirable to make the responsibilities of these jobs easier to manage. Members of the FAS can become impatient with the high turnover rate, she said, but added that University President Peter Salovey’s administration is taking the issue of retention seriously and has made progress in addressing such concerns.
“I think that Yale College cares better for its students year on year, but we also need to be alert for the pressures on those overseeing undergraduate education, student welfare and pastoral care,” Greenwood said. “Whatever the reasons behind any given departure, the rate of turnover itself can become self-perpetuating, as the uncertainty created by successive departures creates instability and additional work for everyone, as new structures are put in place and new appointees find their ground.”
Holloway said the recent rise in turnover is unusual, but follows a long period of administrative stability. Residential college heads and deans, many of whom completed long terms of service at Yale, are leaving for reasons for a number of reasons including a desire to pursue other paths or job opportunities, he said.
Paul McKinley, director of strategic communications for Yale College, said it is not uncommon for residential college heads and deans to arrive or depart simultaneously, as has been the case this last year. When he arrived in Saybrook College as dean, the head of college was also new, McKinley said. Some of Yale’s best heads and deans have been “excellent right from the beginning,” he said.
Students also voiced concern about the turnover rate but expressed optimism for the new leadership, both at the residential college and Yale College levels.
“I’m not overly concerned [about the turnover] because I know that whomever Yale taps to fill vacant leadership positions, including Dean Holloway’s, they will find the best fit for the job,” Claire Williamson ’17 said. “However, if there continues to be turnover every two or three years, I would hope that Yale would look into why everyone seems to be leaving, or implement some guarantee that people will stay in their positions for a minimum amount of time.”
While Williamson said she is slightly concerned about the current turnover rate, she said she understands that career shifts are natural and new leaders bring valuable additions to residential college communities. As a senior in Jonathan Edwards, Williamson was worried about continuity in the college’s traditions with new administrators, but praised the new leadership and the traditions that will be formed in coming years.
Jason Hu ’19 said having both a new head and dean in Berkeley College this year brings advantages and disadvantages, as it was sad to see the former administrators leave and exciting to welcome new ones. The waiting period before new Berkeley administrators were appointed was filled with uncertainty, he said, but getting to know the head and dean has been positive for Hu. He added he feels similarly nervous but optimistic about Holloway’s departure and replacement.
Although Hu said he did not know Holloway well, he will be sad to see him go, and his announced departure adds a level of uncertainty about who will replace him. Hu added that he hopes Holloway’s replacement will be someone who cares as much for the students as the current leadership does.
“I’ve experienced administrative turnover firsthand this year as Berkeley’s dean and head of college were both replaced,” Ethan Young ’18, a Berkeley College aide, said. “Although it was difficult to say goodbye to Marvin Chun and Mia Genoni, both administrators prudently left transition-ready models in place. Regardless, the transition relies heavily upon the expertise and wisdom of the college administrative staff who have seen several new heads of college and deans throughout their careers.”
Fellow Berkeley College aide Bianka Ukleja ’18 said having a new residential college dean and head in the same year has been a largely positive experience, as it has fostered a lot of constructive conversation about what Berkeley students love about their college.
The administrative transition in Berkeley has been smooth, Ukleja said. Head of College David Evans distributed a survey at the beginning of his term to gauge the community’s feelings, and Dean Renita Miller sends frequent helpful to the college community, she added.
“Any initial doubt in the new Berkeley administration has been replaced with excitement about our strong residential college community,” Joshua Hayden ’17 said. “Dean Miller and Head Evans are wonderful individuals with great families, and I am honored to have them as leaders in our community.”
In Jonathan Edwards, which lost both Dean Jody Spooner ’91 and Head Penelope Laurans last year, students are adjusting well to the new leadership.
Evan Smith ’19 said the administrative turnover in JE has made it more rewarding to be a student on the JE College Council and be involved in making contributions that will remain even throughout changes in leadership.
“Ultimately, as the JE College Council and the rest of the JE community have seen, it’s the students that set the tone of the college and maintain continuity throughout our time here, regardless of the administrative turnover,” Smith said. “I have confidence in the community to stand up for things that they feel should be kept constant during transitions, but also be open to change.”
Drake Williams ’19 said the turnover in Silliman leadership from former Head Nicholas Christakis to current Head Laurie Santos has been “overwhelmingly positive,” with Santos bolstering the sense of community and support in the college. Santos introduced the Silliman Wellness Initiative, which hosts study breaks, teas and TED talk viewings aimed at improving students’ state of mind.
While Silliman students have a range of perspectives on the Christakises’ departure, they all support the new leadership and are collectively committed to making the college a more welcoming space, Omeed Ziari ’19 said.
“I am not concerned about administration changes,” Williams said. “While it may seem distressing that so many administrators are leaving, I find it more useful to look to the future, as those who fill the gaps might be spectacular.”
Holloway will serve as the provost of Northwestern University starting July 1.
David Yaffe-Bellany and Anastasiia Posnova contributed reporting.
Correction, Dec. 5: A previous version of this story quoted a student who incorrectly stated that former JE head Penny Laurans still lives in the college and that her departure was linked to that of Dean Jody Spooner ’91.