Pericles Lewis, the Douglas Tracy Smith Professor of Comparative Literature, professor of English, vice president for global strategy, and vice provost for academic initiatives, has been appointed the next dean of Yale College, Yale President Peter Salovey announced today.
He will begin a five-year term on July 1.
Lewis, an internationally recognized expert on the qualities and purposes of a liberal education and a devoted educator and mentor, brings to the role over two decades of leadership experience at Yale and other institutions.
“During this time of complex geopolitical shifts, Professor Lewis brings to his new role a distinct range and depth of expertise that will benefit students aspiring to contribute to the betterment of humanity and shape national and global events,” Salovey said in a message to the Yale community. “In partnership with other university leaders and faculty members, he will guide the curriculum, intellectual life, student affairs, and residential experience of the Yale College community.”
He succeeds Marvin Chun, the Richard M. Colgate Professor of Psychology and professor of neuroscience and cognitive science, who is stepping down from the administrative post to focus on his laboratory research at Yale. Chun has been dean of Yale College since July 2017.
“Yale College is a remarkable institution dedicated to light and truth, and I am grateful to President Salovey for entrusting me with this important role,” said Lewis. “It is a particular honor to succeed Marvin Chun, who has been a tireless champion for the students of the College and a transformative leader even in the face of unprecedented challenges of the past two years.
“Yale’s world-leading research, our dedicated teachers, our distinctive residential college system, and what I think of as the civil society of Yale — the web of groups and traditions and activities that make up its unique culture — these are worth cherishing and preserving. I will work to ensure that Yale continues to offer the world’s best undergraduate education.”
Lewis, who joined the Yale faculty in 1998, has been deeply engaged in the academic life on campus ever since. As the vice president for global strategy and vice provost for academic initiatives, he works with faculty and staff to build on Yale’s position as an international leader in education and research.
Among his many accomplishments, he worked with the Yale School of Public Health to launch an online executive master’s degree program and the Jackson Institute for Global Affairs to create a new master’s degree in public policy. He worked with the deans of medicine, nursing, and public health to strengthen research in global health by establishing the Yale Institute for Global Health and has served on its leadership advisory group. He also has expanded domestic and international educational opportunities for Yale students by overseeing the development of programs with the MacMillan Center, Yale Center Beijing, the Yale Young Global Scholars Program, and a number of other departments and centers.
As director of undergraduate studies in the comparative literature major from 2000 to 2006, Lewis integrated two majors (literature and comparative literature) and updated the curriculum. In 2005, he began his work on the broader undergraduate curriculum as a member, and later chair, of the Yale College Committee on Majors. That committee helped launch two new undergraduate majors: South Asian studies and computing and the arts.
An eminent scholar of literary modernism, Lewis has authored three books on the social and intellectual contexts of modern literature: “Modernism, Nationalism, and the Novel,” “The Cambridge Introduction to Modernism,” and “Religious Experience and the Modernist Novel.” He is currently working on a manuscript on the role of liberal education in developing character, fostering community, preparing young people for citizenship, and encouraging the pursuit of knowledge. He also has published dozens of articles, essays, and book chapters, and he founded and edited the Modernism Lab, an early digital humanities research hub. He also serves as the primary editor for the 20th and 21st centuries of the “Norton Anthology of World Literature.”
During his time at Yale, Lewis has supervised 14 doctoral dissertations, and his students have gone on to teach at leading colleges and universities around the United States and the world. He has been recognized by Yale with the Samuel and Ronnie Heyman Prize for outstanding scholarly work by a junior faculty member in 2000 and a Graduate Mentor Award in 2004.
Between 2012 and 2017, Lewis left Yale to serve as the founding president of Yale-NUS College. In that role, he oversaw the development of the college’s innovative curriculum and the recruitment of a diverse group of students, faculty, and staff, establishing himself “as a respected authority on global arts and science education,” Salovey said.
“As a result of his foundational work, Yale-NUS College inspired transformations in undergraduate education at the National University of Singapore and other institutions throughout Asia,” Salovey added.
Over the past two years Lewis has advised President Salovey on the university’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic as chair of the Academic Continuity Committee and a member of the Operating Policy Committee. Consulting with colleagues and students around campus, he helped to ensure the academic continuity of the university and developed strategies that enabled Yale to welcome students safely back to campus.
“Pericles Lewis will be an outstanding dean of Yale College,” said Chun. “He’s a distinguished scholar and teacher, and it’s hard to think of someone with deeper administrative experience. I’ve long admired his leadership of Yale-NUS College, which he vaulted to be one of the best liberal arts colleges in the world.
“I look forward to seeing what new ideas and perspectives he will bring to our curriculum, residential colleges, and student life.”
Lewis also oversaw the Poorvu Center for Teaching and Learning, which provided critical support for online and hybrid education throughout the pandemic, and assisted students affected by the disruption. He also guided university planning for the Schwarzman Center, which has played a major role in reestablishing a sense of community for students and other members of the university this year, and the new Yale Jackson School of Global Affairs, which will open in the fall semester.
“I look forward to working with Pericles in this new role. Having worked with him closely for several years, I know that he is the right person at the right time to lead Yale College,” said Kimberly Goff-Crews, secretary and vice president for university life at Yale. “His experience leading an institution that had the goal of recognizing different cultures from the beginning bodes well for the work ahead.”
Leleda Beraki ’24, who was recently elected president of the Yale College Council (YCC), worked with Lewis on the university’s Academic Calendar Committee, where they discussed designing Yale’s academic structure in a student-friendly manner.
“Dean Lewis approached these conversations with the desire to prioritize student needs and I look forward to that same mentality as the YCC works with him next year to bring about institutional change,” she said.
Former YCC president Kahlil Greene ’21 worked closely with Lewis throughout the summer of 2020 to plan the university’s academic continuity plan after the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. “Based on that partnership, I enthusiastically predict that Pericles will be a fierce champion of innovation and student collaboration within Yale College as it emerges from the COVID crisis and settles into an all-new normal,” Greene said.
Said Steven Wilkinson, the Nilekani Professor of India and South Asia, professor of political science and international affairs, and acting FAS (Faculty of Arts and Sciences) dean of social science: “I have seen firsthand Pericles’ commitment to a liberal arts education and to enriching student life, most recently in the opening of the Schwarzman Center and in his efforts to bring students, faculty, and staff safely back to campus during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“This is a great choice for Yale.”
Added Nancy Brown, dean of Yale School of Medicine: “Over the time since I have been here, I have come to value Pericles’ insights and his commitment to Yale. He brings the perspective not only of a faculty scholar and able administrator, but also of a parent.”
Lewis earned his B.A. in English literature from McGill University. He went on to pursue his Ph.D. in comparative literature at Stanford University.
He will step down from his roles as vice president and vice provost, effective June 30, to concentrate fully on Yale College. He will help transition the global affairs activities he led to the Office of the Provost, and he will remain responsible for the Schwarzman Center in collaboration with Yale’s graduate and professional school deans.
“Professor Lewis will build on Dean Marvin Chun’s immense accomplishments and set a vision for the future of undergraduate education that will continue to serve as a model for the world,” Salovey said.
Salovey also thanked Dean Chun for his contributions to the excellence and well-being of the college, steady leadership during the pandemic, and commitment to Yale’s students. And he commended the members of the search advisory committee, chaired by Margaret Clark, the John M. Musser Professor of Psychology, for “their extensive outreach to the Yale College community, in-depth deliberations, and thoughtful recommendations.”
“It was a joy to work with all on the committee (to whom I give my heartfelt thanks) as we interviewed many, many students, faculty, administrators, and staff,” said Clark, who is also head of Trumbull College. “We worked hard. We learned a lot. Those to whom we talked identified important tasks for the new dean to tackle as we all emerge from the pandemic and work to strengthen teaching, learning, and student life at Yale. The goal must be for all students who enter Yale to thrive here and to be able to reach their personal goals. As we worked, we were pleased to discover how very many, very worthy, candidates exist in our midst.
“Of course, just one person can be chosen. It’s Pericles Lewis,” she said. “I’m confident he’ll be terrific. He works hard, has nurtured students in the classroom, and worked to make the Poorvu Center a terrific resource for all who want to improve their own teaching. He helped to create and run a new liberal arts college in Singapore, and he has fulfilled many other roles at Yale as well. He will work hard to make Yale College the best it can be. I am confident he’ll fulfill his role not only with hard work but also with his characteristic warmth, humor, and openness to advice from all quarters.”
Said Lewis: “While Yale College’s goal of educating talented young people for future leadership has not changed more than three centuries since its birth, Yale has continually expanded in the range of subjects we teach, the excellence of our pedagogy and research, and the diversity of our student body.
“I could not be prouder of the progress Yale has made in the last 50 years to become a college that better reflects the great diversity of the United States and that welcomes students, regardless of ability to pay, from around the world. There is of course more work to do, and I am excited to be a part of that work.”