Pericles Lewis named Dean of Yale College
Lewis — professor of Comparative Literature and English, vice president for global strategy and vice provost for academic initiatives — was selected to succeed Marvin Chun, who will conclude his five-year term at the end of June.
Pericles Lewis, professor of Comparative Literature and English, will serve as the next Dean of Yale College, University president Peter Salovey announced Wednesday afternoon.
Lewis served as the founding president of Yale-NUS College and is currently the University’s vice president for global strategy and vice provost for academic initiatives. According to an email from Salovey to the Yale community, Lewis will step down from his roles as vice president and vice provost on June 30 in order to focus his attention on Yale College.
“I really care a lot about undergraduate education,” Lewis told the News. “So I look forward to making sure that the curriculum and pedagogy are as excellent as ever, that the student life is supportive and that our diverse community flourishes together. I want to support students in their wellness and their work-life balance. All of those dimensions of the job are really exciting for me.”
Lewis’ term will begin on July 1, after outgoing Dean of Yale College Marvin Chun officially steps down from the role on June 30. Over the course of his five-year term, Chun prioritized student mental health care and academic reform, including the expansion of Credit/D/Fail opportunities and changes to the course registration process. Among his priorities as Dean, Lewis said, is strengthening the advising process for first-year students and sophomores, as well as continuing the expansion of the College’s mental health resources. More broadly, he explained, he hopes to carry on many of the initiatives spearheaded during Chun’s term in order to “keep the ship on a steady course.”
The search for the new Yale College Dean was spearheaded by an eight-person search advisory committee, which was created this February by Salovey. Chaired by Trumbull College head Margaret Clark, the committee was intended to “consult broadly” with the Yale College community to determine the essential qualities of the next dean.
“In partnership with other university leaders and faculty members, [Lewis] will guide the curriculum, intellectual life, student affairs, and residential experience of the Yale College community,” Salovey wrote in a Wednesday email to the Yale community. “Professor Lewis will build on Dean Marvin Chun’s immense accomplishments and set a vision for the future of undergraduate education that will continue to serve as a model for the world.”
Lewis said that in preparation for his term, he would likely spend some time considering the broader strategy for the next five years and receiving input from different members of the Yale community.
“The most important characteristic in academic leadership is humility, which is something I’ve been trying to improve in,” Lewis told the News. “Being able to listen to people, understand what people’s needs are and bring people together in a consensus way, that’s extremely important.”
Lewis received his B.A. in English literature from McGill University in 1990 and his Ph.D. in comparative literature from Stanford University in 1997. As a scholar of literary modernism, Lewis has authored three books on the social contexts of modern literature — Modernism, Nationalism, and the Novel; The Cambridge Introduction to Modernism; and Religious Experience and the Modernist Novel — in addition to dozens of articles and essays.
Recently, Lewis has focused his writing on the development of liberal education in the United States and worldwide. According to Salovey’s email, he is currently working on a manuscript on “the role of liberal education in developing character, fostering community, preparing young people for citizenship, and encouraging the pursuit of knowledge.”
At Yale, Lewis has balanced a teaching career with numerous high-level roles in the University’s administration. In his email to the University community, Salovey wrote that Lewis has remained “deeply engaged in the academic life of our campus” since he joined Yale’ faculty in 1998.
Lewis has taught courses ranging from first-year to graduate seminars, including courses on English poetry, the European epic tradition, literary theory and modernism in literature and the arts. From 2000 to 2006, Lewis acted as director of undergraduate studies in the comparative literature major, and in 2005 he joined the Yale College Committee on majors, of which he would later become the chair.
“I’ve been teaching in Yale College for almost 25 years, and teaching is a really big part of what matters to me,” Lewis said. “Seeing that undergraduates are learning and having an opportunity to grow personally as well as intellectually is really key for me, so I really look forward to it.”
In his roles as vice president for global strategy and vice provost for academic initiatives, Lewis expanded international educational programs for Yale students, partnering with the MacMillan Center, Yale Center Beijing and the Yale Young Global Scholars Program. Alongside the deans of the schools of medicine, nursing and public health, Lewis established the Yale Institute for Global Health and continues to serve on its leadership advisory committee.
In 2012, Lewis moved to Singapore to serve as the founding president of Yale-NUS College. He stayed in this role until 2017, overseeing the development of Yale-NUS College’s curriculum and the recruitment of students, faculty and staff. Yale’s partnership with NUS ultimately dissolved in the fall of 2021, and Yale will officially withdraw from the collaboration in 2025.
More recently, Lewis has guided planning for the opening of the Schwarzman Center and the development of the new Yale Jackson School for Global Affairs. Lewis also advised Salovey on the University’s initial response to the COVID-19 pandemic, acting as chair of the Academic Continuity Committee and as a member of the Operating Policy Committee.
“Consulting with colleagues and students around campus, he helped to ensure the academic continuity of the university and developed strategies that enabled us to welcome students safely back to campus,” Salovey wrote.
Of all of the roles he has held at Yale, Lewis said his position as Yale-NUS president would likely be most similar to that of Dean of Yale College.
“Yale-NUS is much smaller, so that’s one big difference, and it’s newer — I was the first president, whereas the College has been around for 320 years now,” Lewis said. “But the similarity is orientation towards the students, the curriculum, residential life, preparation for careers, international experiences, all of those things that are essential to undergraduate education.”
As he begins his term as Dean, Lewis told the News that he is excited to return to “student-oriented,” rather than “behind-the-scenes” work, at the University.
Lewis will continue to teach his course Purposes of College Education this fall.
“A couple of people said I might be mistaken to [continue teaching],” Lewis said. “But I really feel it’s important to interact with students on that level. So I won’t teach every semester, but I hope to teach from time to time.”
Lewis’ wife, Sheila Hayre, teaches at Quinnipiac Law School, and their two children are in the Yale College class of 2022 and 2024, respectively.