Giovanna Truong

When Marvin Chun was named dean of Yale College in April 2017, he said, “Yale should be a place in which everyone feels valued, for which everyone feels grateful, and from which we make the world better for others.”

Three years into his deanship, Chun — the first Asian American to hold that title — has instituted policy changes to the academic curriculum and worked toward strengthening bonds with students.

“You want someone who is a recognized and leading scholar, a popular and committed teacher, and who is or has been directly involved in central aspects of undergraduate life,” said philosophy professor Shelly Kagan at the time of Chun’s appointment. “Marvin Chun stands out spectacularly in all these dimensions. He is a fantastic choice for the position.”

During his first year as dean, Chun instituted changes to the Credit/D/Fail and language credit policies to provide more flexibility for students. He also created the Domestic Summer Award — his first major policy initiative — offering students on financial aid the opportunity to work in an unpaid summer position with compensation from the University.

Most recently, Chun made the decision to adopt a universal pass/fail grading policy for Yale College in light of the COVID-19 crisis, citing faculty and Yale College Council polls in his decision. He also announced an expansion of the DSA award for this summer.

Yet Chun began his deanship amid controversies surrounding national immigration policies and sexual misconduct on campus. He responded by opening communication with students. Early into his first year, Chun hosted an open forum on the potential impacts of repealing the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals Program — an Obama-era policy that allows certain undocumented immigrants who were brought to the United States as children to receive a renewable two-year deferral from deportation. He also attended student-organized rallies aimed at showing solidarity for immigrants and sexual assault survivors.

But despite calls from students to continue an open dialogue, Chun remained silent during several campus controversies, including allegations of sexual misconduct against two-time Yale alumnus and now Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh ’87 LAW ’90. Chun noted that he is restricted from making political statements or commenting on controversies, unless they directly impact “how Yale does business.”

“I think sometimes there are expectations that I do something on a larger scale … like blocking Kavanaugh’s nomination. To speak out on political issues is just something that I just can’t do,” Chun told the News. “That’s not my role. I’m not an elected representative of Yale, I’m a servant of Yale and I have to be apolitical, and that’s not easy.”

Chun has since continued regular interactions with students via town halls, lunch gatherings and YCC reports. In 2018, YCC representatives praised Chun for his effective leadership and interest in soliciting student feedback. According to former YCC Presidents Matt Guido ’19 and Saloni Rao ’20, Chun met with the YCC more frequently and for longer durations of time than his predecessors.

Rao noted that Chun “cares deeply” about students’ well-being and the quality of life at Yale. In fall 2018, Chun specifically requested that the YCC introduce a question on its annual fall survey asking students whether they are satisfied with their Yale experience — a question that had not been asked in previous years.

Chun said his study of psychology plays an important part in informing his practices as dean. When thinking of ways to improve campus policies as a psychologist, Chun thinks about “what makes people better people.” Driven by his love for psychology and access to close interactions with students, Chun taught “Introduction to Psychology” last spring.

Besides his administrative duties and research, Chun harbors a great love for food. When Chun was head of Berkeley College, he initiated the college’s infamous annual banquet: “ThunderBrunch.” After he assumed his position as dean, the Dean’s Office and Yale Dining expanded the celebration to an event that could be enjoyed by students of all residential colleges — the sophomore brunch. “I want to be a role model for my good taste in food,” Chun told the News.

Berkeley college student Diksha Brahmbhatt ’18 was “thrilled” with Chun’s appointment as dean.

“Marvin Chun is the epitome of emotional intelligence, compassion, thoughtfulness and long-term vision,” Brahmbhatt said. “Above all else, he cares passionately about the well-being of students. All hail the Chuncellor! That’s Berkeley’s affectionate nickname for him, but I guess Yale College can borrow it for a while.”

Chun succeeded as dean former professor of African American studies Jonathan Holloway, who is currently provost at Northwestern University. Holloway was recently named president of Rutgers University, a position he will begin on July 1.

Giovanna Truong |