As a Yale undergrad, Murphy Temple ’12 aspired to one day be a residential dean. Two weeks ago, she walked through the gates of Ezra Stiles College, primed to take on her dream job, albeit under exceptional circumstances.
Dean of Yale College Marvin Chun wrote an email to the Stiles community on March 18 announcing Temple’s appointment. The announcement came less than one week after students learned classes would take place online for the remainder of the term due to the novel coronavirus outbreak. Her first weeks as dean are especially unique because there are currently no students living in Stiles, with most at home or others housed in different colleges to make room for emergency responders.
Despite the difficulties, however, Temple said she is figuring out the best ways to get to know the students in Ezra Stiles, most of whom are not in New Haven.
“I can suspect that people might not feel comfortable going to a new person whom they’ve never met in person before,” Temple said. “So figuring out how to make people feel comfortable checking in with me and talking to me … is something I have to sort out.”
Temple replaced Nilakshi Parndigamage ’06, who stepped down from the position on March 10 to become the academic initiatives project manager in the Provost’s Office. Parndigamage announced her departure in January, and a selection committee of students, fellows and administrators quickly formed to find her replacement.
“It’s a crazy trajectory to come from a trailer in Mississippi to the Stiles tower and be the dean of a college,” Temple said. “Over the last couple of days, I keep walking around campus and shaking my head, being like, ‘I can’t believe that now I’m here, being the dean.’”
Temple, who comes from a first-generation, low-income background, said she has been surrounded by academic communities for much of her life. She went to boarding school at Phillips Academy Andover and matriculated at Yale in 2008. After graduating, she studied at Cambridge University and then returned to Andover to teach history and coach the crew team. She then went to Stanford University to pursue a doctorate in modern British history.
Stiles Head of College Stephen Pitti — who chaired the search committee — told the News that while they were “deeply sad” for Parndigamage to depart the college, he is confident that Temple was the most qualified candidate for the position.
“We were thrilled to meet Murphy Temple and to imagine her as the chief academic officer of this college,” Pitti said. “She brings to Yale a strong record of scholarship and teaching at Stanford and at Andover, experience in residential life, dedication to the well-being of undergraduates and a capacity to be an excellent administrator.”
According to Pitti, the search began in January with discussions with Chun and the Yale College Dean’s Office regarding the qualities to base their search on. After carefully selecting semifinalists from dozens of applications, Pitti said they narrowed it down to four finalists.
Pitti added that Temple came across as a wise, energetic and understanding candidate — as well as being “committed to shaping an inclusive, dynamic community.”
“Her experiences in the academy, her hobbies and ability to speak with a wide range of students, and her proven commitment to students from a wide range of backgrounds really impressed the students, faculty and staff members who were involved in the search,” Pitti said. “Dean Temple was very highly recommended by everyone who met her when she visited campus.”
He noted that Temple will also excel as an instructor and that her experiences as a student add to her intimate comprehension of the residential college system.
Temple said she has always felt “really, really seen and supported” by residential academic communities.
“Growing up in a background like [mine] … you don’t know what academia is,” Temple said. “But from my early days at Yale … I knew I wanted to do some sort of high level administrative role at a university or a boarding school, and I just kind of figured to get there I need a Ph.D.”
She will receive her doctorate in June, although her graduation ceremony has been postponed due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Temple noted that she is now in the “good [and] sad company” with Yale seniors, whose graduation ceremony will also not take place as scheduled.
Temple was given two weeks to move into Stiles once she heard she had gotten the job. As she was packing up her apartment on March 16, the Bay Area came under a shelter-in-place order. Temple said she quickly emptied out her apartment and rescheduled her flight, ultimately making it to Yale only 10 days after she learned she was hired.
She offered many thanks to the Stiles staff for facilitating her hectic move in, expressing gratitude for the many people who “made sure I had a place to stay.”
“I can’t recommend trying to have a full cross-country move in the middle of COVID,” Temple added.
Annabelle Pan ’20, who was on the search committee that helped select Temple, said the new dean is an “amazing person.” Pan added that Temple has already been in touch with many students in Stiles and is helping them transition into university life during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Temple assumed her role as dean on March 23.
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