Yale News

In an email accompanied by one of his signature playlists  — this one themed around difficult decisions — professor Mark Saltzman announced on Sunday that he will step down as Head of Jonathan Edwards College after six years in the position.

Saltzman announced the departure in his weekly message to the JE community, explaining that his term as Head will end officially on June 30, 2022. Also a professor of biomedical engineering, chemical and environmental engineering and physiology and director of the Saltzman Research Group, Saltzman plans to devote his time to teaching and research.

“I came here to Yale to start the biomedical engineering program and spent the first 15 years at Yale teaching and doing research,” Saltzman said. “I had the good fortune to be invited to be head of college at JE, which has been a tremendously joyful experience for me. But it’s just hard to do all of those things together, so I feel like I need to prioritize my research and teaching over the next few years.”

Saltzman emphasized how difficult his decision had been. He said stepping down as head of college felt “terrible,” but that it was a necessary step for him to continue to teach and do research at the highest level. 

Reflecting on his experience as head of college, Saltzman described the meaningful relationships he was able to forge with students while living among them in the college.

“When you have incidental interactions with people at all times of the day and night, you just get to know people and appreciate them better,” Saltzman said. “I was used to seeing people come into my classroom and excel, but to see them come into the classroom and excel and also be star gymnasts, or musicians, or writers or whatever other wonderful things they are — it feels very different.” 

With restrictions relaxed on in-person gatherings, Saltzman said that he hoped the college could return to hosting some of its traditional events before he departs as head of college. 

Before his term ends, Saltzman will oversee two graduation ceremonies for JE students this spring — one for the class of 2022 and one for students who graduated in 2020 but were unable to experience an in-person commencement. Saltzman said that he anticipates the dual graduations being both “fun and exhausting.” 

Although Saltzman said that he will not be involved in the process of selecting a new head of college for JE, he noted that it is important for the head to be honest and available to students, and that “students are really good at telling if you’re authentic or not.”

Saltzman’s emphasis on authenticity did not go unnoticed by students in JE. 

“He told us stories from his life that we could often relate to, and I could tell from the way he spoke about his time in JE with his children that many students who had been around longer than I had begun to love his whole family,” Brook Smith ’25 wrote in an email to the News.

Smith added that Saltzman seemed like one of few “real adults” on campus who took the time to engage with students in a meaningful way. 

Sophie Ascheim ’23, a JE college aide, recalled a similar sense of familiarity with Saltzman and his family, including his two young children.

“It’s really sad to see Head Saltzman and his family go,” Ascheim said. “They have truly been such a bright part of our time in JE. I for one will miss hearing Willa and Noa enjoy their adventures in the courtyard, as well as the many times he has poked his head into the head of college office while I’m on shift, just to say hi.” 

Although current first-year students will only have known Saltzman for a year when he departs, Yakeleen Almazan ’25 emphasized the role he played in her transition to college life. 

Almazan said Saltzman and JE Dean Christina Ferando helped her feel welcome at Yale, especially at the beginning of the year. 

“Head Saltzman made me and other JE first-years feel like we were a puzzle piece within this larger community, which I appreciated,” Almazan said. 

All students interviewed recalled fond memories of the playlists which Saltzman made for students: themed lists of songs which he included at the end of his weekly emails to the JE community, aptly named “Spider Bytes.”

Once, Anne Northrup ’22 responded with some song recommendations of her own, and she and Saltzman had “a nice little exchange” about their respective tastes in music.

“From the beginning of the semester, my suitemates and I were infatuated by his music choices: CHVRCHES, Mitski, Phoebe Bridgers… we always said he knew how to give the people what they wanted,” Smith wrote. “In fact, I listened to one of his playlists just this morning; I don’t know how he managed to do it, but he created a collection of indie songs that perfectly sum up the Yale experience.” 

Ascheim added that it was fun to “trace his messages” through Saltzman’s playlists, which are often themed. 

The email Saltzman sent announcing his departure featured a playlist including The Clash’s “Should I Stay or Should I Go,” My Morning Jacket’s “Big Decisions,” and Sinéad O’Connor’s “Nothing Compares 2 U.”

“I don’t have much context for how other heads of college engage with their students,” Smith wrote, “but I think we’re all hoping that our next head of college has half the music taste of Mark Saltzman.” 

Saltzman was appointed head of Jonathan Edwards College in May 2016

Lucy Hodgman is the editor-in-chief and president of the News. She previously covered student life and the Yale College Council. Originally from Brooklyn, New York, she is a junior in Grace Hopper majoring in English.