Light & Verity

Lewis is new Yale College dean

The former Yale-NUS president returns to undergraduate education.

Dan Renzetti

Dan Renzetti

Pericles Lewis served as the first president of Yale-NUS College before returning to Yale as a vice president and vice provost. View full image

Pericles Lewis has done a lot of thinking about the nature of undergraduate education. After more than a decade as a professor of English and comparative literature at Yale, he got involved in the planning of Yale–NUS College in Singapore—a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to design a liberal arts college from scratch—and he shepherded the college’s launch as its first president from 2012 to 2017. Since then, while back at Yale as vice president for global strategy and vice provost for academic initiatives, he has focused his writing on liberal education and taught an undergraduate course called The Purposes of a College Education.

So the announcement in May that Lewis would become dean of Yale College made more than a little sense, despite the fact his most recent roles have involved issues beyond undergraduate education: he has overseen initiatives ranging from the launch of the Jackson School of Global Affairs to the Schwarzman Center. “I’ve really enjoyed institution building behind the scenes,” he says, “but I also love being directly engaged with undergraduate education.”

Lewis, who is 53, majored in English at McGill University and got his PhD in comparative literature at Stanford. A scholar of literary modernism, he joined the Yale faculty in 1998. He is the Douglas Tracy Smith Professor of Comparative Literature.

Lewis succeeds psychology professor Marvin Chun as dean after two difficult pandemic years, when everything from teaching to housing to extracurriculars had to be reinvented on the fly. Lewis says he’s hopeful that next semester will be even closer to normal than last spring’s—with fewer restrictions on music and theater performances, for example. The college will still be a little bigger than usual, since many students took time off or delayed their start at Yale during COVID.

Even before the pandemic, students and other activists were raising concerns about student mental health at Yale. Lewis believes new programs like Yale College Community Care, which increases counseling options for undergraduates, are making a difference. But he says there’s more to be done. “I feel that we as professors and staff have to find a way to model a healthier balance of life and work and help people manage the stresses of society,” he says.

Besides his professional experiences, Lewis has another useful perspective, as the father of a new Yale College alum (Class of ’22) and a current student (Class of ’24). He says their experience at Yale has brought home to him the fact that “students face an overwhelming array of choices. It’s a great opportunity, but it’s also daunting.” One of his goals as dean will be to improve the advising process for first- and second-year students.

Lewis stepped down from his provostial and vice-presidential duties on June 30, but he will continue to have some responsibility for the Schwarzman Center. For one thing, he is the official permittee on the liquor license for the center’s new pub, The Well. And he has been seen there behind the bar, drawing pints for patrons, on at least one occasion.   

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