Yale Daily News

More than two years after the former Dean of the Yale School of Engineering and Applied Sciences Kyle Vanderlick announced her resignation from the post, the School has yet to announce a successor.

Following an email announcement by University President Peter Salovey to the Yale community in January 2017, Vanderlick stepped down from the deanship in December at the end of her term. In November 2017, Faculty of Arts and Sciences Dean Tamar Gendler named mechanical engineering and materials science professor Mitchell Smooke as the acting dean of the School. In a facultywide email at the time, Gendler said that FAS hopes to appoint a long-term dean who she said would begin working in July 2018, January 2019 or July 2019.

In an email to the News on Wednesday, Gendler said the committee made an offer to a candidate in February 2018, but the candidate “decided to remain at their home institution, for a range of academic and personal reasons.”

When the search reopened in the fall of 2018, the University hired a search firm Witt/Kieffer to help “secure the strongest pool possible,” Gendler said. Noting that the University will be soliciting applications from candidates for the dean search until Jan. 31, Gendler added that a “robust slate” of candidates have applied for the position. She said the next steps in the search will take place in “the next weeks and months,” but did not specify a date by which the University hopes to appoint a new dean.

“In late March 2018, when it became clear that the outstanding candidate that we had identified as our top choice would be remaining at their home institution, we considered what to do next,” Gendler told the News. “It was clear that we were in a position to attract someone superb: The candidate who almost joined us showed what quality we could be aiming for. But there was no one else in the pool at quite that level of excellence. Fortunately, we had an excellent acting dean in place. This meant that we were in the enviable position of not needing to rush.”

Smooke declined to comment on all matters related to the dean search. Salovey did not respond to request for comment.

According to Gendler, the search for a new SEAS dean began in June 2017, when the first-round advisory committee — composed of a number of the School’s faculty members — was convened to identify candidates for the post and select a group of “semi-finalists.” Computer science professor Holly Rushmeier, who previously served as the chair of the department, was appointed to lead the search committee. In November 2017, Gendler stated in an email to the SEAS faculty members that the committee had identified a list of roughly 15 potential candidates from inside and outside of Yale. In the email, Gendler said she had also appointed a second-round committee of senior faculty, which was tasked with cutting the list to between three and five finalists.

In an email to the News on Wednesday, Gendler said that between December 2017 and February 2018, the second-round committee identified a short list of candidates and interviewed them over Skype. Some of those candidates were then brought to campus, Gendler added. She said that the one candidate who was offered the position was particularly excited by the position because it would allow them to oversee SEAS and play a central role in the FAS governance as one of the four FAS divisional deans.

But when the candidate declined the offer, Gendler said the University decided to put the search on hold until the release of the University Science Strategy Committee report, which identified top priorities for science investment at Yale and was published last June.

In an email to SEAS faculty in November, Gendler announced that Yale suspended the initial search for the new dean and said Witt/Kieffer will help conduct the second search. She added that Witt/Kieffer “successfully helped to identify engineering deans for a range of peer institutions.”

According to Gendler, a small committee of senior faculty members — including Rushmeier, biomedical engineering professor Mark Saltzman, electrical engineering professor Jung Han and Dean of Science Jeff Brock — will advise the new search “from the Yale side.”

“Our search during 2017 had drawn heavily on our faculty,” Gendler said in a statement to the News. “Without the support of an outside search firm, the burden of identifying and filtering candidates fell to our already busy colleagues.”

According to nine SEAS faculty members interviewed by the News, the confidential nature of the searches raised questions about why the School failed to appoint a new dean in the first search.

The News obtained a series of emails between a senior administrative assistant at the FAS dean’s office and a potential candidate for the deanship, who was recommended by a current faculty member at the School. In September 2017, the assistant sent an email to the candidate and explained that the University hopes that the candidate will consider the opportunity. But in response to the email, the candidate reached out to the search committee chair Rushmeier and explained that “having [an] administrative assistant send a form letter to potential applicants is, in itself, a turn-off.” The News chose not to identify the recommended candidate because all correspondence between the search committee and the potential candidates is confidential.

“I know how most search committees work but if you do have a hot lead, I hope you take the time to write a personalized note, or at the least, have the email come from you directly. (ha, perhaps I am NOT a hot lead),” the email stated.

Rushmeier declined to comment on the confidential communication with candidates for the deanship. Still, she said the committee communicated with all faculty members being considered for the post through emails, phone calls and in-person conversations.

Four SEAS faculty members interviewed by the News — all of whom requested anonymity to avoid offending the University administration — said the University is having difficulties recruiting Vanderlick’s successor because the dean of SEAS lacks authority when compared to other professional school deans. Unlike the School of Medicine or Law School, SEAS is both a school within the University and a division within FAS. According to Gendler, the dean of the School is “the counterpart of the deans of Humanities, Social Science, and Science, each of whom oversees between seven and twenty departments.”

“While the position is, indeed, somewhat nontraditional, what we found last year is that for a candidate who shares Yale’s commitment to the continuity between engineering, applied science, science, social science, Humanities, and the arts, the Yale role is uniquely appealing,” Gendler said in a statement to the News.

Three of the anonymous faculty members added that members of the SEAS community should have been more actively consulted when the USSC discussed areas of Yale’s science investment priorities. Out of the 14 faculty members on the USSC, only two held an appointment at the SEAS. On the other hand, ten held an appointment in the FAS and five were affiliated with the Yale School of Medicine.

But in an email to the News, Gendler claimed that the USSC report emphasized the centrality of engineering and applied science to the entire campuswide science strategy. She added that every single department in SEAS is a “key element of one of the top five priorities” identified in the report.

The School of Engineering and Applied Science was founded in 1852.

Serena Cho | serena.cho@yale.edu .