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Dean of Yale College becomes third scientist named as provost

Yale Medicine Magazine, 2009 - Winter


Last fall, during his final freshman address as dean of Yale College, Peter Salovey, Ph.D. ’83, exhorted members of the Class of 2012 to go their own way, to “say goodbye to what is familiar, even to what we have grown to love, and leave it for uncharted waters.”

He could have been giving himself a pep talk in the bathroom mirror. After four years as dean, a job he readily admits he loved, Salovey was offered the job of provost, the university’s chief academic officer after the president. “I’m delighted to have this new set of challenges,” he said, “but to walk away from something you love is a difficult thing to do.”

Salovey, the Chris Argyris Professor of Psychology and professor of epidemiology and public health, is Yale’s third consecutive provost to be chosen from the health-related sciences. He succeeds Andrew Hamilton, Ph.D., an organic chemist who left Yale to become vice chancellor of the University of Oxford in England, and Susan Hockfield, Ph.D., a neurobiologist who is now president of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Salovey doesn’t think this is a coincidence. “There is no doubt that for Yale to remain in the top tier of universities, we have to strengthen science and engineering on both sides of campus,” he said. “This is an area of priority and has been for some years.”

The acquisition of West Campus, a former pharmaceutical company lab and office complex in neighboring West Haven and Orange, is critical to this effort, Salovey said, and he sees it as part of his new job to work with Michael Donoghue, Ph.D., the vice president for West Campus Planning and Program Development, to use that facility as an incentive to attract world-class researchers to Yale.

Noting his numerous research collaborations with faculty from the schools of medicine and public health (he was co-director of the Center for Interdisciplinary Research on AIDS for nine years), Salovey said he understands the challenges faced by the medical school faculty. “My lab has the same pressures,” he said. “We look for funding the same way. We share the same struggles.”

Salovey joined the Yale faculty in 1986 after receiving his undergraduate degree from Stanford and his Ph.D. from Yale. He was appointed dean of the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences in 2003. A year later, he was named dean of Yale College, where he presided over growth in international programs and financial aid changes. His research has focused on human emotion and health psychology. With colleague John D. Mayer, Ph.D., he developed a concept called “emotional intelligence,” the theory that just as people have a range of intellectual abilities, they also have measurable emotional skills that affect their success in life.

Salovey knows his own emotional intelligence will be tested in his new job. “The stereotype of the provost’s office is the guy who says no,” he said. “But I think it’s a mistake to assume that the role of the provost is to frustrate all good ideas, intentions and creativity of the faculty. I would like to think of it as the office that helps you shape your ideas, clarify your goals and manage your expectations so that we can be saying ‘yes’ at least as often as we say no.”