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A Familiar Face—With or Without Mustache—for Yale’s New President

Originally published November 8, 2012 at 5:19 p.m.

The announcement this afternoon that provost Peter Salovey ’86PhD will be the 23rd president of Yale did not take place in one of the spaces most central to ceremonial Yale, like Woodbridge Hall, Commons, Woolsey Hall, or Sterling Memorial Library. Instead, the news was delivered in the wood-paneled common room of the McDougal Center, the student-life hub for the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences. Whether the choice was a practical or symbolic one, it had resonance for Salovey.

“As a social psychologist,” Salovey said, “I’ve always been fascinated by the importance and power of place. Just as physical settings can generate profound nostalgia, so they can inspire.” Salovey said the room represented not just his introduction to Yale as a graduate student in 1981, but also his service as chair of the committee that planned the McDougal Center in the 1990s and his stint as dean of the Graduate School from 2003 to 2004. And at a university where many once felt that graduate and professional schools were considered less important than Yale College, the location underscored the fact that Salovey will be only the second president who got a graduate degree, but not an undergraduate degree, from the university. (Outgoing president Richard Levin ’74PhD was the first.)

Salovey’s appointment, the result of a two-month search process that began after Levin announced his resignation in August, was not a surprise. As Edward Bass ’67, the Senior Fellow of the Yale Corporation, pointed out in announcing the appointment, Salovey will the first president of Yale who has served as chair of his academic department, dean of the Graduate School, dean of Yale College, and provost. (“It appears I can’t keep a job,” Salovey joked after the announcement.) If anyone has the résumé for the job, it is Salovey, especially if the Corporation is interested in appointing someone who can keep Yale on its current track.

 Nevertheless, Bass said the search committee “considered over 150 individuals” for the job and “interviewed numerous candidates” before settling on Salovey. Bass said that Salovey was a unanimous choice and praised him for his “profound understanding of Yale,” his “impeccable integrity and character,” and his “great ability to build strong and effective relationships.”

After being introduced by Bass, Salovey said he had been asked by a search committee what he envisioned for Yale. He responded that he wanted to see “a more unified Yale, a more innovative Yale, a more accessible Yale, and a more excellent Yale.” He spoke of the help he’d be wanting from various parts of the Yale community, including faculty, staff, students, and alumni. Of alumni, he asked, “what would make you even more proud of Yale, and how might we benefit even further from your leadership?”

Salovey took a moment, too, to thank his wife, Marta Moret ’84MPH, for her support. Moret, a graduate of the School of Public Health, is president of a public health consulting group called Urban Policy Strategies. She and Salovey met when they both served in the Graduate and Professional Student Senate at Yale in the 1980s. Moret said that she and Salovey will live in the President’s House at 43 Hillhouse—unlike the Levins, who chose to stay in their own East Rock home and use the President’s House for official functions.

In conversation after the announcement, Salovey said his new assignment was “thrilling and exciting.” Levin, who stayed on the sidelines at the event, said afterward: “I feel great. I feel inspired and thrilled for Peter and for Yale.”

Salovey, the Chris Argyris Professor of Psychology, got his undergraduate degree from Stanford, just as Levin did. He has been at Yale, first as a student and then as a faculty member and administrator, for more than 30 years. As a scholar, he is known for his research on human emotion and health behavior, some of which was popularized in a 1995 book by Daniel Goleman called Emotional Intelligence. As a teacher, he won prizes and attracted auditoria full of students for his lecture courses (and picked up the nickname “Easy-A Salovey”). And as an administrator, he became popular with students for his pushbroom mustache (which he shaved off in 2009) and his occasional habit of conducting the Yale Precision Marching Band at football and hockey games.

Finally, while we haven’t confirmed this yet, we believe that Salovey is the first bass player in a bluegrass group (The Professors of Bluegrass—see and hear them here) to be appointed president of an Ivy League university.

Filed under presidential search, Peter Salovey
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