On June 30, Peter Salovey, Ph.D., the Chris Argyris Professor of Psychology, became Yale University’s 23rd president, replacing President Richard Levin, who stepped down after 20 years at the helm, having served his institution longer than any other president currently in the Ivy League or the 61-member Association of American Universities.
Salovey’s selection for the presidency by the Yale Corporation from a pool of 150 candidates was unanimous. He has walked the campus for 31 years, first as a graduate student in psychology, then as professor, department chair, dean of the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, and dean of Yale College. For the past four years, he has been the university provost.
That broad and deep Yale experience, together with his upbeat and genial personal style, made him seem like a natural for the job to many insiders. “People at the medical school were very enthusiastic about the appointment. I certainly was,” says Robert J. Alpern, M.D., dean and Ensign Professor of Medicine. “Across the university, he would have been my number-one choice.”
Salovey, also professor of Epidemiology and Public Health and in the School of Management, is a highly productive scholar of human emotion and health-related behavior, having written or edited 13 books and 350 articles or essays. He is perhaps best known for having helped pioneer the now-commonplace concept of emotional intelligence.
No stranger to the medical school, Salovey holds an appointment in the School of Public Health, where he researches the development of effective messages about disease prevention for inner-city populations, and is a member of Yale Cancer Center. He was also critical in helping to develop the National Institutes of Health–funded Yale Center for Interdisciplinary Research on AIDS (CIRA). As provost, Salovey has worked with Alpern and with Carolyn W. Slayman, Ph.D., deputy dean for academic and scientific affairs, Sterling Professor of Genetics, and professor of cellular and molecular physiology, to review potential faculty slots, as well as settling administrative questions at the medical school.
“He’s got a structure in his mind about how the medical school is organized, how it works, and what our priorities are,” says Slayman. “That fund of knowledge will get us off to a quick start in working with him in his new role.” In addition, she says, “I’m impressed at his ability to listen to a complicated set of issues, really pay attention to what people are saying, and synthesize an approach that can allow people to arrive at consensus.”
Salovey is also a popular educator who has mentored numerous graduate students and taught introductory psychology for decades. On the national stage, Salovey has held prominent national leadership positions, serving on panels and working groups with the National Institute of Mental Health and the National Science Foundation.
Salovey has said he would like to focus on entrepreneurial opportunities and economic development, as exemplified by Yale’s Science Park and by West Campus, in Orange, Conn. Collaboration is also a priority: in his acceptance speech, Salovey said he hopes to make Yale “more unified … innovative … accessible … and excellent.” As he said in an interview with Yale Alumni Magazine, “By ‘unified,’ I mean interconnected or interdependent. When departments, programs, and schools collaborate, the whole becomes greater than the sum of the parts.”
Slayman points out that Yale’s compact geography eases the way for cross-campus collaboration—as with the Department of Biomedical Engineering, a young and highly innovative department staffed by both the medical school and the School of Engineering and Applied Science. “Peter, of course, has helped to foster this,” she says. “I think he will continue to help us build joint programs with other parts of Yale. Who knows what it’ll be next?”
Alpern says that “there’s every reason to believe Peter’s going to be a fantastic president. We will miss Rick Levin, because Rick has been so terrific for the medical school. But I think Peter is just going to continue that.”