Marvin Chun, first Asian American dean of Yale College, reflects on term
Chun will conclude his five-year term in June. His successor has not yet been announced.
As the end of his term nears, Dean of Yale College Marvin Chun is feeling sentimental.
Chun, a professor of psychology, neuroscience and cognitive science and the first Asian American dean of Yale College, announced at the beginning of the semester that he would step down on June 30, marking the end of his five-year term. Chun spoke to the News about his time as Dean, his proudest accomplishments and his plans for the future — but not without a reminder that, “you know me, I don’t like attention.”
“Yale is like my second family,” Chun said. “It’s so much a part of my being. Most of my professional career was here, but in my role as dean, I was involved with the University in very deep and extensive ways. I feel very plugged into the institution. I feel that my wellbeing is directly tied to the institutional wellbeing in many respects. It’s just a big part of my life.”
After earning his doctorate from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Chun joined Yale’s faculty in 2003. He served as a professor in the psychology department and held joint appointments at Yale College as well as the Yale School of Medicine and other graduate schools. In 2007, he was appointed head of Berkeley College, a position he held for nine years.
When Chun was named dean by University President Peter Salovey in 2017, it marked the first time an Asian American was selected to oversee Yale College.
In general, Chun told the News, his focus during his term has been on being the best and most committed dean he can be, regardless of his status as a “first.” But if the example he is setting as the first Asian American dean is one that has a positive impact on students, he said, then he is happy to serve in that role.
“In that regard, if a student says, ‘Well, it’s kind of cool to see an Asian American in administration,’ if any student feels that way, then I feel very happy and proud to see them as well,” Chun said.
The significance of Chun’s appointment as the first Asian American dean was not lost on Joliana Yee, an assistant dean of Yale College and the director of the Asian American Cultural Center.
Chun’s leadership, Yee explained, was a reminder that Asian Americans could effectively lead an institution like Yale.
“It is important to have expansive representation in positions of leadership at Yale so that the heterogeneity of perspectives, lived experiences, history and cultures within the Asian diaspora can permeate and shape the institution,” Yee said.
Chun also emphasized the importance of representation at the highest levels of University administration. Even beyond the role of dean, he explained, the administration should “look like what the student body looks like.”
During Chun’s tenure, he oversaw efforts to diversify the student body, such as increasing financial aid packages, eliminating parental tuition for families making less than $75,000 a year and improving aid and benefits for students in the Eli Whitney Students Program, which supports nontraditional students who pursue a Yale education.
He also developed The Community Initiative and expanded the Science, Technology and Research Scholars Program by 60 percent, both of which are administrative efforts that seek to support first-generation, low-income students.
In his time as dean, Chun has also overseen expansions to the University’s mental health care resources, including the addition of the Yale College Community Care Program and the reform of the University’s reinstatement and readmission policies.
These reforms, he said, represent “a lot of hard work from a lot of people,” emphasizing his appreciation for his colleagues in the dean’s office and beyond.
Senior Associate Dean of Strategic Initiatives and Communications Paul McKinley emphatically told the News that if a survey were conducted of all of Chun’s colleagues, it would certainly reveal that they feel “terrible” about him leaving.
“We really like him,” McKinley said. “He’s been a great dean. Mission accomplished. We hope that the [new] dean is great, that the president will name a very good successor. I think that’s probably true, but until that happens, we’re also feeling very sentimental and really regret seeing him going.”
Yee also described her supportive working relationship with Chun, noting that she was always amazed at how much energy he brought to the room, even after a long day.
“While Marvin is someone my direct supervisor reports to, he has always maintained an open-door policy and has always responded enthusiastically to event invitations, questions, new ideas and learning what he can do to ensure Yale College students as well as colleagues feel supported,” Yee said.
In January, Chun told the News that before the conclusion of his term, he hoped to see Yale return to a sense of normalcy in relation to the COVID-19 pandemic. Now, Chun says, things feel “pretty normal,” — a realization of his January hope.
While he is sad to be leaving, Chun said, he also feels enormously grateful. He emphasized his excitement to return to his lab and the classroom, as well as to see who would be named as his successor.
“It’s the best job in the world,” Chun told the News, when asked what advice he would give to the next dean of the college. “I’ll share some advice which I got as well, which is to stay very closely connected to the students. One, it’ll help you do your job better, but two, it’s also just the fun, rewarding part of the job. We can never lose sight of the fact that this job is about making our student experience on campus and even beyond campus, the best possible.”
Marvin Chun has served as the dean of Yale College since July 2017.