Psychology and neuroscience professor Marvin Chun will serve as the next dean of Yale College, University President Peter Salovey announced in an email Thursday afternoon.
Chun, who will become the first Asian-American to hold the deanship, served as the head of Berkeley College from 2007 to 2016. He will succeed current Dean Jonathan Holloway — who is leaving to assume the role of provost at Northwestern University — and serve a five-year term effective July 1.
In his email, Salovey praised Chun’s dedication to teaching and contributions to undergraduate life through his popular introductory psychology course and his service as Berkeley’s head of college for nine years.
Shortly before the email was sent out to the campus community, Salovey announced Chun’s appointment to University administrators — including the heads and deans of the residential colleges and members of the Yale College Dean’s Office — and various faculty members in Connecticut Hall.
“While I feel humbled by the weight and legacy of this appointment, I am also confident in how vigorously I can pursue President Salovey’s number one goal ‘to be the research university most committed to teaching and learning,’” Chun said in a brief address following the announcement to faculty. “The students here are so brilliant, curious, energetic and intrinsically motivated, that if you do not feel uplifted after an hour with them in the classroom, then you cannot teach anywhere.”
In his email, Salovey noted that Chun will assume the leadership of Yale College at an exciting moment, adding that Chun has a passionate commitment to education and is prepared to “renew and reinvigorate” Yale College.
Chun, who received his doctorate from the Department of Brain and Cognitive Sciences at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 1994, served as an assistant professor in Yale’s Department of Psychology and Interdepartmental Neuroscience Program in the late 1990s. He then taught at Vanderbilt University before being rehired at Yale in 2003.
Since then, Chun has won the Lex Hixon Prize for Teaching Excellence in the Social Sciences as well as the Phi Beta Kappa William DeClyde DeVane Award in recognition of character, teaching and scholarship.
“I’m just thrilled,” said Holloway, the first African-American dean of Yale College and a former graduate student, professor and head of college at Yale. “I’m a huge fan of Marvin Chun and a friend as well. So this is going to be, I think, a very seamless transition.”
Chun, who is best known for his innovative uses of brain imaging and behavioral methods to study attention, perception, memory and learning, has published more than 100 articles about his work. He won the Troland Research Award from the U.S. National Academy of Sciences, as well as the American Psychological Association Distinguished Scientific Award for an Early Career Contribution to Psychology. He is also a fellow of the American Psychological Association and Society of Experimental Psychologists.
“He combines his research and teaching expertise to create opportunities for students,” Salovey wrote in his email to the Yale community. “Investigators at all stages of their careers have flourished under his leadership. In his lab, undergraduates, graduate students and postdoctoral fellows have successfully completed projects and published their work in neuroscience and psychology journals.”
Chun recently spearheaded a joint effort by the Department of Psychology and the Department of Molecular, Cellular and Developmental Biology to create a new undergraduate neuroscience major, which was announced this spring. He also chaired the Yale-NUS Advisory Committee, a faculty group that provided guidance on and informed University faculty about the progress of Yale-NUS in Singapore.
During his speech in Connecticut Hall, Chun said his work as dean will be shaped by several key principles. For example, he said residential colleges are a place where students should feel at home after a long day of classes, but are also real-world communities where students encounter new perspectives.
He also said that diversity is not a trade-off with quality, but is itself a feature of excellence, according to scientific evolution.
Chun said he will work to strengthen the “universal values” of Yale’s liberal arts education, adding that every student must learn to communicate effectively, analyze and interpret quantitative data and understand the limitations of empirical evidence. He also emphasized the importance of balancing intellectual pursuits with physical well-being.
“Towards sustainable and resilient life habits, we must nurture our physical, psychological, spiritual and social well-being together,” Chun said. “Towards a model society, Yale should be a place in which everyone feels valued, for which everyone feels grateful, and from which we make the world better for others.”
The Yale College dean search committee began its work earlier this year. The 13-member committee, which was officially named in February, was chaired by professor of molecular biophysics and biochemistry Enrique De La Cruz and included several college heads and deans, faculty members from across departments, University Chaplain Sharon Kugler and Pilar Montalvo, director of administrative affairs for the president. Brandon Marks ’18 served on the advisory group as the only student member.
Professor of Geology and Geophysics Bhart-Anjan Bhullar ’05, a member of the search committee, described Chun as an “absolute leader” in his field of scholarship. He added that “utter generosity” was a quality repeatedly brought up when members of the committee discussed Chun’s nomination.
“Ideally … you want someone who is a recognized and leading scholar, a popular and committed teacher, and who is or has been directly involved in central aspects of undergraduate life,” said Shelly Kagan, a philosophy professor and search committee member. “Marvin Chun stands out spectacularly in all these dimensions. He is a fantastic choice for the position.”
University Chaplain Sharon Kugler, who also served on the committee, said she could not be happier with Chun’s appointment. Kugler described Chun as an “inspired voice” and a “wonderful colleague,” adding that Chun was one of the earliest supporters of Yale’s Chaplaincy Fellows program, which is now in its sixth year.
Laurie Santos, head of Silliman College and a psychology professor, praised Chun as an accomplished teacher and researcher. In addition to working alongside each other in the psychology department, Santos and Chun served on the Council of Heads together last year.
Santos said faculty members were delighted with Chun’s appointment, adding that the audience in Connecticut Hall burst into applause when Salovey announced the news on Thursday.
Former Yale College Dean Mary Miller GRD ’81, Holloway’s predecessor, praised Chun for his ability to connect with students on an individual level even as he teaches lecture classes with hundreds of students enrolled.
Several Berkeley students who were interviewed by the News described Chun as a beloved head of college and said he will make a great dean.
“I am thrilled with the announcement,” said Diksha Brahmbhatt ’18, a student in Berkeley. “Marvin Chun is the epitome of emotional intelligence, compassion, thoughtfulness and long-term vision. Above all else, he cares passionately about the well-being of students. All hail the Chuncellor! That’s Berkeley’s affectionate nickname for him, but I guess Yale College can borrow it for a while.”
Jaclyn Price ’19, a Berkeley College aide, likened Chun to the college “dad,” supporting his students at intramural events and inviting them into his home.
She added that after the political turmoil and student protests in fall 2015, the former head hosted weekly meetings in the fellow’s lounge to check in with Berkeley students. Price emphasized that Chun worked to create an inclusive Berkeley community and an inclusive Yale community at-large.
In fact, Chun served as a panelist at the Race at Yale Teach-in in November 2015, where he discussed microaggressions and mental health issues as they relate to communities of color at Yale.
As Chun is the first Asian dean of Yale College, his appointment bears historical and cultural significance. Asian-American students at Yale celebrated Chun’s appointment as a move towards greater representation of people of color in the University administration.
“I’m really excited about seeing Asian-American representation in leadership,” Liana Wang ’20 said. “[Chun] has such a warm, open personality. I think he’ll be great for representing student interests, and I personally love that he dispels so many of the stereotypes often applied to Asian-Americans.”
Mimi Pham ’17, the head peer liaison at the Asian American Cultural Center, stated that she often has conversations with peers and mentors at the center about the lack of Asian and Asian-American representation in the administrative arm of higher education. Although Chun’s qualifications earned him the job, the fact that he is Asian American is “uplifting and inspiring” for the Asian and Asian-American communities at Yale, Pham said.
Several students and faculty members, including Yale College Dean’s Office administrator Sarah DelVecchio, commented on the fact that with his background in science, Chun is also a representative of, and likely a boon for, the STEM community.
Berkeley student Azeezat Adeleke ’17 said that a psychology background — which Salovey also possesses — can help administrators navigate their work and communicate with students in a more compassionate manner.
“I think both [Chun and Salovey] are people who know about a lot of the factors that play into mental health for students,” said Mila Dorji ’20, a prospective neuroscience major in Berkeley College and one of Chun’s advisees. “For the dean, who is in charge of setting a lot of the atmosphere and the policies here, it’s important to understand that side of things.”
Ryan Gittler contributed reporting.
This post was updated to cover the version that ran in print on April 28.