Is there something in the water in New Haven? Yale President Richard Levin can’t keep a provost on his staff.
It was announced yesterday that the current Provost, Andrew Hamilton, has been nominated to serve as the next Vice Chancellor of the University of Oxford. British universities are unlike their American counterparts in many ways, and titles are among them. The VC at Oxford is, in effect, the president of the University.
If you’re a Yalie or if you’ve otherwise been keeping score at home, you’ll recognize that this is the fourth consecutive Yale provost to leave the relative comforts of New Haven. Judith Rodin moved on to the presidency of the University of Pennsylvania. Alison Richard became VC of the University of Cambridge. Susan Hockfield took the helm at MIT. And now Andrew Hamilton (who, I must note, is a former member of the Pittsburgh chemistry faculty and who remains a Steelers fan!) is departing for Oxford. While I’m at it, I’ll toss in the fact that former Yale College Dean Richard Brodhead is now the president at Duke.
This parade of successes can’t be an accident. There is something going on at Yale that invites analysis with respect to academic and not-for-profit administration generally. I’ll invite commenters to share what they think the lessons are. (For example, it might be thought that these are simply elite institutions trading on the prestige and credentials of each other and their respective faculties.) But here is a preliminary thought: Among its peer institutions, Yale claims to put an uncommon emphasis on classroom teaching by all of its tenured and tenure-stream faculty (Yale calls them “ladder” faculty, though the university may be trying to move away from that term). Yale has no monopoly on good university teaching, but in recent years especially it appears to have prized good teaching in its administrators. I’ve never met or sat in a classroom with Susan Hockfield. I did sit in classrooms with Judy Rodin (psychology) and Alison Richard (anthropology), and they were both extraordinary teachers. I’ve listened to enough presentations by Andy Hamilton, and I’ve spent enough time talking with him one-to-one, that I can conclude safely that he, too, is a gifted teacher. And almost every Yale College graduate of the last 35 years can attest to Dick Broadhead’s stature in the classroom. I can’t suppose that there is any necessary connection between good teaching and academic leadership or administrative skill. But those two qualities do coincide from time to time, and Yale seems to have mined quite a rich vein in its selection of provosts. In other words, Yale is not only grooming successful academic leaders but it is doing so by paying attention to an overlap between teaching and administration. Are UPenn, Cambridge, Oxford, MIT, and Duke picking up on not (only) the shadow of Rick Levin, administrator and mentor, but also the teaching ethos that characterizes these individuals?
And should other, less elite institutions do the same?