Multiple Heads of College resign between 2018-2022
From the time the Class of ’22 joined Yale, four heads of college have stepped down, three of which stepped down in the 2021-22 school year, and one has announced a year-long leave.
Tim Tai, Staff Photographer
Many students in the Class of 2022 witnessed their Heads of College step down and be replaced during their time at Yale — with the majority of Heads leaving their posts along with this graduating class.
Members of the Ezra Stiles College class of 2022 came into Yale shortly before their first Head of College left. Stephen Pitti ’91 announced in November 2019 that he would step down from his post as head of Stiles after 11 years. In his email to the students, Pitti described how leading the college, which was his home as a student at Yale, was a privilege to him. Pitti also explained that neither he nor his associate head of college Alicia Schmidt Camacho planned to go too far from the community after leaving.
“He’s an incredible person, and played an important role in making me feel welcomed and accepted in Stiles,” Jacob Abdallah ’21 told the News upon Pitti’s announcement. “I wish him the best in anything and everything he does.”
Pitti resigned right before the University’s in-person shut down due to COVID-19. Despite the disruptions to everyday life, however, Yale did still decide on a new head of college for Stiles — Camacho, Pitti’s Associate Head of College and partner.
Camacho served as Associate Head of Stiles for 12 years and was also the chair and professor of Ethnicity, Race, and Migration. In response to her appointment, students exclaimed their pleasure at returning to Stiles to see familiar faces.
“[The appointment] feels like an honor and a statement of trust in [Pitti and I],” Camacho told the News. “The residential community is a really important part of … higher education and this university. It is what connects us most directly to New Haven. In a moment of crisis … that connection is ultra important.”
Over the next school year, all of Yale’s Heads of College chose to remain in their position while the University and its students contended with the upheaval of the pandemic. However, once it seemed that life at Yale returned to normal, the College was inundated with resignations.
The first of the resignations came from Jonathan Edwards College. In November 2021, Head of College Mark Saltzman announced that he would be stepping down after six years in the position. He explained that he wanted to devote more time to teaching and researching as a professor of biomedical engineering, chemical and environmental engineering and physiology, as well as the director of the Saltzman Research Group. Saltzman elaborated that the decision to step down was a difficult one, but ultimately necessary to prioritize his research and his students.
Students in JE noted that they will miss the authenticity that Saltzman brought to the college. Many became familiar not only with Saltzman but with his family, in no small part because of the personal stories that he frequently shared. He will also be remembered for the themed weekly playlists that he attached to his emails to the college, which he named “Spider Bytes.”
“I don’t have much context for how other heads of college engage with their students,” Brook Smith ’25 told the News, “but I think we’re all hoping that our next head of college has half the music taste of Mark Saltzman.”
A few months after Saltzman’s declaration, Davenport’s Head of College sent a similar email to his college. John Witt ’94 LAW ’99 GRD ’00 announced in January that he would be leaving the Head of College position after the end of the spring 2022 semester. Known as J-Witt to his students, Witt also explained that he wanted to devote more time to teaching and researching after five years as Head.
“[This decision] means stepping away from a community full of amazing students and generous fellows and lots of intellectual and cultural excitement that has really been a wonderful part of my life for the last five years, so those are all really difficult things to step away from,” Witt said. “But right now, my teaching, my law students, my grad students and my research — I’ve had them on hold for a little bit too long and I need to get back to them.”
Several students reported Witt’s remarkable ability to help them feel at home in Davenport, making it a point to know students’ names as they arrive on campus their first-year and help them in any way possible from then on. They also explained how Witt will not be the only one missed upon his departure—his dog Pixie will, as well.
The inaugural Head of Benjamin Franklin College, Charles Bailyn, announced in February his intention to step down from his position at the end of the 2022-23 school year. The professor of astronomy and physics is staying on as Head of College for one year longer than his initial five-year term. He explained that the notion of staying on for a second five-year term was daunting due to how much energy being a Head of College took. However, he said he was reluctant to abandon the college as the University is coming out of the COVID-19 restrictions.
Some Franklin students have explained that Bailyn felt like the perfect fit for Head, with an infectious passion for the things he studies. Others, however, expressed disapproval of Bailyn’s perceived lack of care for or engagement with the college, reportedly brushing off some student complaints about residential living. At the end of the 2022-23 school year, Bailyn will return to full-time teaching and research.
Laurie Santos, head of Silliman College and teacher of the incredibly popular course “Psychology and the Good Life,” also announced in February, 2022 that she would take a year-long leave to address her feelings of burnout.
“I teach my students about the importance of time affluence — feeling like you have some free time — and I simply wasn’t prioritizing that in my own life,” Santos told the News. “If one of my Sillimanders had told me that they were feeling as time famished as I have been these days, I would have demanded that they take something off their plate ASAP. It felt hypocritical not to follow the same advice myself, even though I know I’ll miss Silliman and all my students terribly while I’m away next year.”
Silliman faculty fellow, college advisor and professor of psychology Arielle Baskin-Sommers will serve as Acting Head of College in Santos’s absence.
Although Bailyn’s successor has not yet been announced, both Saltzman’s and Witt’s replacements were named at the same time. Paul North, professor of Germanic languages and literature, will take over as head of JE, while Anjelica Gonzalez, associate professor of biomedical engineering and faculty director of Tsai CITY, will replace Witt in Davenport.
Gonzalez was the first in her family to receive a bachelor’s degree after graduating from Utah State University with a B.S. in biomedical engineering, after which she got a doctorate from the Baylor College of Medicine. She will join the Davenport community in July 2022, with her husband and two sons. Since coming to Yale, Gonzalez has invented PremieBreathe, a low-cost mobile neonatal respiratory device meant to treat breathing problems in prematurely born babies. She and her team have worked to distribute these to underfunded hospitals in Ethiopia.
“I’m just here to continue to be part of what’s already great,” Gonzalez said. “And hopefully add a little bit more flavor if I can.”
North will be bringing his partner, two children, and two cats to JE with him. He graduated with a Bachelor of Arts in English literature from SUNY Binghamton, after which he got a master’s degree in comparative literature from CUNY Graduate Center and a doctorate in comparative literature from Northwestern University. North has published multiple critically acclaimed books, for which he has won several awards, a spot on the editorial board of the Diacritics journal and as an editor on the Fordham University Press.
Both Davenport College and Jonathan Edwards College were founded in 1933.