In a series of four hourlong listening sessions held this week, the Yale College dean search advisory committee sought to gather student input that its representatives said would help the committee “define the essential qualities” of the next dean.
But the committee faced a challenge in soliciting this feedback: Only three students showed up to its four meetings.
“I think it’s a matter of people feeling like going wouldn’t make a difference,” said Ruhi Manek ’20, who did not attend a meeting, but said she would have if she had known they were taking place. “Because at the end of the day, it’s going to be a higher power that decides anyway.”
Pilar Montalvo, director of administrative affairs in the Office of the President, said that while students are “enthusiastic” about the dean search, multiple commitments make it challenging to reach everyone. Manek also acknowledged that students’ busy schedules could have been a reason for the low turnout at the listening sessions, which were held on Friday, Sunday, Monday and Tuesday in various residential colleges and in Dwight Hall.
Rita Wang ’19, who attended Friday’s meeting in the Morse common room, said she decided to attend the session because she had noticed a dearth of student conversation about the new dean. She added that she remembered how Next Yale, a student activist group formed in fall 2015, had expressed fears about Yale College Dean Jonathan Holloway and University President Peter Salovey leaving their jobs and being replaced by less “open and patient administrators” — concerns that she felt should be expressed to the search committee.
“I feel like there is sometimes a distrust of the administration, … but I do think that working toward a more inclusive environment means advocating for change in and out of the system, so I’d encourage people to contact members of the dean search advisory committee so that they can talk to them about their search,” said Wang.
Holloway — the first African-American to hold the deanship and a former Yale graduate student, professor and master of Calhoun College — announced his resignation in November, three years into his first term. He will assume the post of provost at Northwestern University on July 1.
Despite their lack of participation, students interviewed said they believe it is important for undergraduates to have a voice in the dean search process.
According to Jessica Hernandez ’16, the University has an obligation to include students because the deanship is an intermediary between students and the administration. The dean search advisory committee includes just one student member, Brandon Marks ’18.
“I think the basic responsibility of the administration is to have an opportunity for students to give opinions,” Hernandez said. “It’s valuable when students come and contribute to that, but the nature of the disconnect between the position and students’ day-to-day lives [makes it hard to].”
Yale College Council President Peter Huang ’18 said the next dean should be able to have frank discussions with students, adding that, like Holloway, the next dean should be open to hearing student opinions on campus issues and providing his or her own. Two members of the dean search advisory committee, Montalvo and Marks, joined the YCC on Sunday during the body’s regularly scheduled meeting to discuss the search process and solicit student input.
Vicki Beizer ’18, the public relations spokesperson for the Women’s Center, said the next dean should be able to resonate with the various experiences and backgrounds of the student body. She added that she hopes Holloway’s successor will continue to foster learning on campus using initiatives that affect students’ development, such as issues of faculty diversity in tenure and retention.
Hernandez said she would like to see the next dean not be a white male but added that considerations of race and gender should not necessarily eliminate a qualified candidate who might be the best person for the job. Wang said it is important that the committee be aware of how race, gender and class affect students’ lives and consider these factors during the search process.
“The most important thing is that [the new dean is] patient and caring about student activism and the needs of minority students on campus,” Wang said. “I would love for them to be a person of color, or not a man, but I also realize that administrative positions, if given to faculty of color, reduce the amount of faculty of color students of color have to advise and mentor them in a school where there are already so few faculty of color.”
In addition to student feedback, the committee is seeking input from faculty and staff members. Montalvo added that the advisory group has met with members of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences Senate and other individual faculty members.
According to molecular biophysics and biochemistry professor Enrique De La Cruz, the chair of the 13-member search committee, the search for Holloway’s successor is still in a “data collection stage.” There is no firm timeline for the search, he said, and the new dean will be announced at Salovey’s discretion.
In searching for the next dean, De La Cruz said the committee is looking across disciplines and areas of expertise, adding that diversity and inclusion are also important considerations.
Although the listening sessions have now concluded, students, faculty and staff members can continue to share their ideas regarding the next Yale College dean on the Office of the President’s website, Montalvo said.