ANALYSIS: Who could be Yale’s next president? One of these eight possible candidates may become Yale’s 24th president. Words by BENJAMIN HERNANDEZ

The Yale Corporation’s search for University President Peter Salovey’s successor is now well underway.

To compile a list of possible candidates, the News investigated the shared qualifications of former Yale presidents. This non-exhaustive set of eight possible presidential picks includes three who are currently affiliated with Yale and five who are not.

The University declined to disclose what, if any, credentials are required for consideration in the search process. Instead, University Spokesperson Karen Peart reiterated the Corporation’s commitment to a “robust and inclusive process” and said that feedback gathered from confidential web forms would inform the search committee’s approach.

“I am happy to speak with anyone who wants to know what the position is like and who is thinking of throwing their hat into the ring,” University President Peter Salovey told the News. “Once that next president is selected, I look forward to being a partner with that person in thinking through the first year or two of that person’s presidency and serving as a coach or advisor in any way that that person would like.”

Looking back on previous qualifications

The University has had 23 presidents in its 322-year history — all of whom have been men, with the exception of Hanna Holborn Gray, who served as interim president from 1977 to 1978, and all of whom have been white.

Salovey was announced as Yale’s 23rd president less than three months after former president Richard Levin said that he would step down from the role. Before his appointment, Salovey had been a part of the University for over three decades — as a graduate student, professor, department head and provost.

All eight potential candidates identified by the News share similar track records to former University presidents.

Prior to taking the helm, Yale’s presidents have generally led distinguished academic careers, often holding advanced degrees with a strong track record of scholarly research and publications. They have also typically served as deans, provosts or in other leadership roles at universities or colleges, including Yale.

Levin, for instance, was chairman of the Economics Department and dean of the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences before assuming the role of president. Benno C. Schmidt Jr. ’63 LAW ’66, the 20th president, who received his undergraduate and law degrees at the University, was dean of Columbia Law School. Kingman Brewster Jr. ’41, Yale’s 17th president, served as provost — the University’s second-highest-ranking administrative position — from 1960 until 1963, when he was tapped for the presidency by members of the Yale Corporation.

When Levin announced that he would be stepping down in 2013, Judith Chevalier ’89, a finance and economics professor at the School of Management, told the News that she “deeply suspect[ed]” the next University president would have some connection to the University.

She added, however, that the candidate did not necessarily have to presently be at Yale.

“It would make sense to have a choice of someone who knows Yale, either as a faculty member or a former student,” Chevalier previously told the News. “But that doesn’t have to be someone at Yale now.”

All eight candidates identified by the News — Tamar Gendler ’87, Pericles Lewis, Scott Strobel, Elizabeth Alexander ’84, Jonathan Holloway GRD ’95, Jennifer Martínez ’93, Elizabeth Bradley GRD ’96 and James Ryan ’88 — have current or prior affiliations with Yale.

Of these, only Gendler, Lewis and Strobel currently hold positions at the University.

Gendler, Lewis, Strobel, Holloway, Martínez and Bradley declined to comment; the News was unable to reach Ryan.

Tamar Gendler ’87

Gendler is the Dean of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences, as well as a professor of philosophy, psychology and cognitive science. She graduated from Yale College summa cum laude in 1987 with a double major in Humanities and Mathematics and Philosophy, then went on to receive a graduate degree in philosophy from Harvard University in 1996.

Prior to returning to Yale in 2006 as a professor of philosophy and to serve as chair of the University’s cognitive science program, Gendler was an assistant and then associate professor of philosophy at Syracuse University from 1997 to 2003. She was also an associate professor of philosophy and co-director of cognitive studies at Cornell University.

In 2010, Gendler was appointed as the first female philosophy chair in the department’s over 200-year history; she spent three years in the role.

The FAS website says this appointment made Gendler the first female graduate of Yale College to chair a department at the University. However, emeritus professor of history Glenda Gilmore told the News that Elizabeth Alexander — another member of the News’ presidential shortlist — was appointed chair of the African American studies department in 2008 and began her four-year tenure in 2009.

Yale Law School professor Tracey Meares confirmed Gilmore’s account. The University did not immediately respond to the News’ request for clarification, but the News obtained a copy of an email from the Department of African American Studies corroborating that Alexander began as chair in July of 2009 — roughly a year before Gendler was named chair of the philosophy department.

If Gendler were to receive and accept an offer to be the University’s next president, she would become the first woman to hold the role in a non-interim capacity.

Pericles Lewis

Lewis, a professor of comparative literature and the current Yale College dean, joined the University faculty as an assistant professor in 1998 and became a full professor in 2007. Lewis received a bachelor’s degree in English literature from McGill University in 1990 and a graduate degree in comparative literature from Stanford University in 1997.

From 2017 to 2022, Lewis served as the founding president of Yale-NUS College — a collaboration between Yale and the National University of Singapore that aimed to create a unique opportunity for liberal arts education in Asia. Yale-NUS is set to close its doors in 2025.

Lewis went on to serve as the University’s vice president for global strategy and vice provost for academic initiatives from 2017 to 2022. In both of these positions, Lewis played a pivotal role in planning the launch of the University’s Institute for Global Health, the Jackson School of Global Affairs and the Schwarzman Center.

Apart from his duties at Yale, Lewis serves on multiple editorial boards and has written for the Chronicle for Higher Education, The Harvard International Review, The Los Angeles Review of Books and Times Higher Education. He is also a former advisory board member for the American Comparative Literature Association.

Scott Strobel

University Provost Strobel, who is a professor in the Molecular Biophysics and Biochemistry Department, received a degree in biochemistry from Brigham Young University before obtaining a graduate degree in biology from the California Institute of Technology.

Strobel joined the University faculty in 1995 and served as MB&B department chair from 2006 to 2009. From 2009 to 2011, he served as vice president for West Campus Planning and Program Development. In 2014, Strobel also became the inaugural deputy provost for teaching and learning, where he oversaw the creation of the Poorvu Center for Teaching and Learning. He was appointed University Provost in 2020.

Elizabeth Alexander ’84

Alexander is the president of the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, a philanthropic grant-making institution that manages over $6 billion in assets. She graduated from the University with a bachelor’s degree in English in 1984; in 1987, she received a master’s degree in creative writing from Boston University and in 1992, a doctorate in English from the University of Pennsylvania.

Alexander taught poetry at the University from 2000 to 2015 and served as chair of the Department of African American Studies from 2009 to 2013. In 2015, she was appointed the University’s inaugural Frederick Iseman Professor of Poetry. Alexander was the first female graduate of Yale College to chair a department at the University, though the University’s FAS website inaccurately credits Tamar Gendler — who chaired the psychology department from 2010 to 2013 — with this.

Alexander has also been awarded ten honorary doctorate degrees, including a 2018 doctor of letters from Yale, and was selected to deliver the graduation address for the Yale College class of 2023.

Like Gendler, if Alexander were to accept an offer to be the University’s next president, she would become the first woman in the role long-term. Alexander would also become the first person of color ever in the position.

Jonathan Holloway GRD ’95

Holloway is the current president of Rutgers University. He earned his bachelor’s degree in American studies from Stanford University in 1989 and a graduate degree in history from Yale in 1995. Holloway joined the University as a faculty member in 1999 before becoming a full professor in 2004.

Holloway served as the first African American dean of Yale College from 2014 until 2017. Previously at Yale, he also served as head of Grace Hopper College and chair of the Department of African American Studies. In 2017, he left Yale to become provost of Northwestern University. He assumed his current role as Rutgers’ president in July 2020.

The Rutgers senate — which is made up of over 130 students, faculty, alumni and staff — voted no confidence in Holloway on Sept. 22. The decision came on the heels of a historic faculty strike last spring, a controversial decision in July to merge two of the university system’s medical schools and the ousting of the Rutgers-Newark chancellor in August.

Rutgers’ board of governors threw its weight behind Holloway, noting that the power to select Rutgers’ president lies solely with the board — not the senate.

If tapped, Holloway would, like Alexander, become the first person of color to run the University.

Jennifer Martinez ’93

Martínez has been the dean of Stanford Law School since 2019. She graduated cum laude with a degree in history from Yale College in 1993 and magna cum laude from Harvard Law School in 1997.

While a Yale undergraduate, she was a reporter and arts editor for the News.

Prior to joining the Stanford faculty in 2003, the American legal scholar was a senior research fellow at the University and an attorney at the law firm Jenner & Block.

Martínez has also clerked for Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer and Judge Guido Calabresi of the 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals, and she was an associate legal officer for the United Nations International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia. If to become the next president of Yale, Martínez would be the first woman in the role long-term.

Elizabeth Bradley GRD ’96

Bradley was appointed the 11th president of Vassar College in July 2017 after a 20-year tenure at Yale. In 2017, Bradley was also elected to the National Academy of Medicine.

She graduated magna cum laude and Phi Beta Kappa with a degree in economics from Harvard University in 1984 and with a business degree in 1986 from the University of Chicago, where she specialized in health administration and organizational behavior. Bradley also received a graduate degree in health economics from Yale in 1996.

Over her two decades at the University, Bradley served as a professor of grand strategy, head of Branford College and faculty director of the Yale Global Health Leadership Institute.

Bradley — like Martínez, Alexander and Gendler — could be the first woman president of the University in a non-interim capacity.

James Ryan ’88

Ryan has served as the University of Virginia president since 2018. He graduated Phi Beta Kappa with a degree in American Studies summa cum laude from Yale College in 1988 and received a law degree from the University of Virginia School of Law, where he graduated first in his class.

After law school, Ryan clerked for the late Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist from 1993 to 1994 and worked as a public interest lawyer in New Jersey before joining the UVA School of Law faculty in 1998.

Ryan served as the associate dean of UVA’s law school from 2005 to 2009. In 2009, he founded the Program in Law and Public Service, which he directed until 2013. He accepted an offer in 2013 to serve as the 11th dean of the Harvard Graduate School of Education, before returning to UVA as its ninth president five years later.

The search process

Yale’s presidential search committee is composed of 12 individuals, including eight trustees of the Yale Corporation and four faculty members who the University announced Sept. 27.

The committee does not include students, which has prompted the Yale College Council, along with the Graduate Student Assembly and the Graduate and Professional Student Senate, to pass a resolution formally condemning the Corporation and demanding greater student representation throughout the search process.

This week, the Yale Corporation also announced a series of listening sessions to solicit input from members of the Yale community before its first meeting on Sept. 30. The last of the listening sessions will be held Friday, Sept. 29, at Marsh Hall for students; in room 114 of Sheffield-Sterling-Strathcona Hall for faculty; and at the Conference Center Event rooms A&B on West Campus for West Campus affiliates.

Prior to Wednesday’s announcement, the News interviewed faculty and alumni about their preferences for Yale’s new president. Both groups reflected positively on Salovey’s time as president and told the News that they would like his successor to continue to emphasize diversity at Yale. Alumni also said that they hope issues of fundraising, mental health and affordability are priorities for Salovey’s successor.

Salovey intends to officially step down from his role on June 30, 2024.

Ben Raab contributed reporting.

Update, Sept. 29: The University FAS website incorrectly notes that Tamar Gendler ’87 is the first female graduate of Yale College to chair a department of the University. Instead, the News confirmed that Elizabeth Alexander ’87 began chairing the African American studies department at least a year before Gendler began chairing the philosophy department. This piece has been updated to remove inaccurate details sourced from the University website and now appropriately note Alexander as the first alumna of the College to chair a department at Yale. The University did not immediately respond to request for comment.

Photos from Yale News, Wikimedia Commons, John Abbott, Stanford Law School and the University of Virginia

Illustration by Michelle Foley & Spark by Collyn Robinson