Light & Verity

Changes in Yale's top ranks

A new provost and the college's first female dean.

Thomas Kaplan ’10, editor in chief of the Yale Daily News his junior year, covered the provost's office for the newspaper in 2007–08.

Julie Brown

Julie Brown

Mary Miller '81PhD will take over as dean of Yale College in December, succeeding Peter Salovey '86PhD, who is now provost of the university. View full image

Peter Salovey ’86PhD walked into the Yale College dean's office one morning in September to find a box of framed pictures next to the door of his old office. Turning to deputy dean Joseph W. Gordon ’78PhD, he shrugged. "They're kicking me out already!" Salovey said. But it was nothing personal: Salovey was about to move from being dean of Yale College to provost of the university. And to replace him, President Richard Levin announced a few weeks later, Mary Miller ’81PhD, a Sterling Professor of the History of Art, will move in on December 1.

Salovey says he gave up the deanship reluctantly. He relinquishes everyday contact with undergraduates -- who tend to see him as a kind of folk hero -- for the responsibility of overseeing Yale's multi-billion-dollar budget during an expansion of Yale College and the development of the new West Campus. But the 50-year-old Salovey also says there couldn't be a better time to become Yale's chief academic officer. "It really is a moment to think about what we do, and how to use the looming expansion as the opportunity to make things even better," he says.

Miller, 55, comes to the deanship with a reputation for outstanding scholarship in Mesoamerican art. Besides serving as chair of her department, she has been master of Saybrook College for the last nine years. (She had planned to step down as master in June; her husband, Japanese professor Edward Kamens ’74, ’82PhD, will serve as acting master for the rest of the academic year.) In announcing the appointment, Levin said Miller "has been a conspicuous advocate for her undergraduates." Her agenda will include the expansion of Yale College and the addition of two new residential colleges, a plan she helped shape last year as a member of the Study Group to Consider New Residential Colleges.

Some faculty in the sciences expressed reservations about Miller's appointment, which marks the first time since 1992 that the university has not had a scientist in any of its four leading academic positions: besides Salovey, Miller, and Levin (an economist), Graduate School dean Jon Butler is a historian. Levin told the faculty that "the attention paid to the sciences will not slacken in the slightest."

Salovey took office on October 1, succeeding Andrew Hamilton, a chemistry professor who next fall will take the helm of the University of Oxford as its vice-chancellor. Hamilton is the fourth consecutive Yale provost to be tapped to lead an elite university, and Salovey is a good contender to continue that streak. Upon Salovey's appointment in August, Levin said of him that "few in Yale's history have been so well prepared to become provost," and he wasn't exaggerating; the psychology professor has served in virtually every position short of football coach. After joining the faculty in 1986 and publishing groundbreaking work on emotional intelligence, he served the psychology department as director of graduate studies, director of undergraduate studies, and chair; he then spent a year and a half as dean of the Graduate School before assuming the undergraduate deanship in 2004. (Bassist for a group called the Professors of Bluegrass, he also regularly conducts the band at football games.)

With that kind of résumé, it might seem, Salovey is well positioned to succeed Levin someday. But Yale's new second-in-command isn't looking that far ahead. In fact, as the picture frames piled up in cartons outside his office, Salovey could not avoid a bit of nostalgia for the job he is leaving.

"I loved being dean of Yale College," he said. "This quotation you see a lot -- about it being the best job in higher education in America? It's true." A few weeks later, Salovey learned he would be able to keep at least a sliver of that dream job. When Levin announced her appointment on October 10, Miller had good news for her new colleague: she would leave Salovey his band-conducting duties.

"That's such a relief!" he exclaimed.

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