Tim Tai, Staff Photographer

Dean of Yale College Marvin Chun announced last month that he will end his tenure after one term. A committee has begun searching for his successor — but who is even eligible for the role?

Looking to the experiences past Yale College Deans brought to the role may provide clues as to who will be the next. Previous deans’ search committees have typically submitted eight or more candidates for consideration, based on feedback gathered from professors and the student body. Those lists remain confidential, with the final choice approved and announced by University President Peter Salovey.

“Important factors [for the future dean to possess include] exceptional scholarship and a demonstrated commitment to undergraduate education and student well-being,” Chun wrote in an email to the News. “Helpful for my work as dean was my experience as a head of college and as a teacher of a large introductory class.”

Four Yale College Deans have been appointed in the 21st century: Salovey himself, who became dean in 2004, Mary Miller in 2009, Jonathan Holloway in 2014, and Chun in 2017. All four held substantive administrative posts before being appointed: Salovey was chair of the Psychology Department and Dean of the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, Miller was chair of the History of Art Department and the head of Saybrook College, Holloway chaired the African American Studies Department and was head of Hopper of College and Chun was the head of Berkeley College. 

Dean of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences Tamar Gendler told the News that deans are chosen from within the Yale community, typically long-serving tenured professors who have held significant administrative positions. Leading a department with many faculty and students or teaching large introductory lectures can be helpful preparation for the wide-ranging responsibilities of a dean, she said.

The Yale College Dean’s role shifted substantially upon Miller’s departure. Holloway was appointed to dean of Yale College, and at the same time, Gendler took on the newly-created position of dean of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences, which included some of the tasks previously steered by the College dean. This left Holloway and Chun to focus more on student-facing tasks. Two YCC officials — Zoe Hsu ’24 and Joaquín Lara Midkiff ’24 — both stressed their desire for a new dean that forms strong and direct relationships with students.

Another similarity among previous deans: Salovey, Holloway and Chun all won the William DeClyde DeVane Award for distinguished undergraduate instruction. However, most of the recent awardees are retired or have not held administrative posts.

“Mary Miller, Jonathan Holloway, and Marvin Chun were all well-loved heads of college, outstanding teachers and world-class academics,” Gendler said. “It’s highly unlikely that we would end up with somebody in the Yale College Dean role who didn’t have one of the following experiences: they have been head of college, they have been chair of a department, or they have run a large center or Institute.”

The News spoke to 20 undergraduates about who they believe could be chosen. Five said that they had no idea, while the other 15 mentioned Head of Silliman College Laurie Santos as a possible choice. The celebrity professor of psychology, whose name was immediately floated on Librex and Twitter as a candidate following Chun’s departure announcement, is by far the most visible head of college at Yale. Her undergraduate course, “Psychology and the Good Life” is the College’s highest-enrolled course in history — a distinction previously held by Salovey’s “Psychology and the Law’. A satire email posing as a message from Chun to the student body on Feb. 17 also joked that Santos would be his successor.

But Santos announced a one-year leave from her post last month, citing a desire to avoid burnout. With Chun leaving the deanship in June, Santos seems an unlikely choice. 

Additionally, Santos told the Silliman community that she would return to her Head of College responsibilities in fall 2023.

Still, the path of the previous four deans narrows the year’s field. Whoever is recommended and chosen as dean is likely a long-time faculty member at Yale who has either served as a head of college or as a department chair, if not both. 

Other than Santos, three heads of colleges — Franklin’s Charles Bailyn, Davenport’s John Witt, and Jonathan Edwards’ Mark Saltzman — have announced their departures during the current academic year. Though all three remain at Yale and are still eligible for deanship, each seems unlikely to take the Dean position. Witt and Saltzman both expressed a desire to return to teaching and research. Bailyn, who was once floated as a front-runner for the job, will serve one extra year as head and step down after the 2022-23 academic year. 

Other than Saltzman, who served as chair of Biomedical Engineering, five current heads of colleges have also served as department chairs: Murray’s Tina Lu chaired the East Asian Languages and Literatures department, Hopper’s Julia Adams is a former chair of Sociology, Branford’s Enrique De La Cruz is currently chair of Molecular Biophysics & Biochemistry, Saybrook’s Thomas Near is current chair of Ecology & Evolutionary Biology and Stiles’ Alicia Schmidt-Camacho was previously chair of Ethnicity, Race & Migration. Lu is serving on the dean’s search committee, as is Trumbull Head of College Margaret Clark, who will chair the committee, though there is no rule that prevents members of the search committee from being selected themselves, Gendler explained.

Of the remaining heads of colleges, Near and Timothy Dwight’s Mary Lui have both taught large introductory courses in their respective departments. Schmidt-Camacho and De La Cruz have also taught large courses.

Of the current heads of colleges, Clark and Pierson’s Stephen Davis are the longest-serving, having been appointed in 2013, while Adams has served since 2014. Schmidt-Camacho is the greenest, having been appointed as Stiles Head in 2020, though she served for many years as the college’s associate head during her husband Stephen Pitti’s terms as head. De La Cruz is currently under review for re-appointment for a second five-year term. 

The new dean could also be a former head of college who remains on the Faculty of Arts and Sciences, though Miller, Holloway and Chun each served around two terms, or ten years, as heads of their respective colleges directly before assuming the deanship. 

Beyond experience, the dean search committee may also consider diverse representation in the candidates it selects. The last three deans have each been a ‘first’: Miller was the first female dean, Holloway the first African American dean and Chun the first Asian American dean. 

Gendler, who sat on the committee that resulted in Miller’s appointment, said that race, gender and other identities are not typically decisive factors. Still, they may influence the committee’s deliberation and the Yale community’s response. Of the faculty so far mentioned in this article, four would also mark milestones. Schmidt-Camacho and De La Cruz would each be the first Latinx dean if appointed. Lu and Lui would each be the first Asian American female dean.

Lucy Hodgman and Carter Dewees contributed reporting.

Correction, Feb. 24: This story has been updated to reflect that there are six total heads of colleges who have also served as department chairs, not five.

Isaac Yu was the News' managing editor. He covered transportation and faculty as a reporter and laid out the front page of the weekly print edition. He co-founded the News' Audience desk, which oversees social media and the newsletter. He was a leader of the News' Asian American and low-income affinity groups. Hailing from Garland, Texas, Isaac is a Berkeley College junior majoring in American Studies.