Yale College Dean Marvin Chun to step down, return to research and teaching

Marvin Chun will step down from his administrative post as Yale College dean to return to full-time teaching and research when his term ends on June 30 of this year, President Peter Salovey announced today.

Chun, the Richard M. Colgate Professor of Psychology and professor of neuroscience and cognitive science, has served as the college dean since July 2017. In a letter sent today to dean’s office colleagues, he said he was eager to return to laboratory research at a time when developments in brain imaging and artificial intelligence are advancing so rapidly that it would be difficult to rebuild his research program if he delayed a return to his work. “Yale College is in your capable hands,” he wrote, “whereas my laboratory is missing direction that only I can provide.”

During his tenure as dean, Chun oversaw the expansion of the undergraduate student body and the establishment of two new residential colleges; was instrumental in leading enhancements in financial aid; launched four new multidisciplinary majors; added new support systems for students from lower-income families; expanded support for peer mentoring; enhanced student wellness through the creation of the Good Life Center and the residential college-based Yale College Community Care (YC3) pilot mental health counseling program; and guided Yale College’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic, including a transition to a necessary period of remote learning, among many other contributions.

I am grateful for Dean Chun’s steadfast championing of Yale’s educational mission and his commitment to the success of our students,” Salovey wrote in a letter to the Yale community. “Although this is bittersweet news, I am excited for the many students who will benefit from his award-winning teaching. I am also happy for all the cognitive neuroscientists who will begin their careers in his internationally renowned laboratory, which has advanced the use of brain imaging to study the mind and behavior.”

Salovey praised Chun for ensuring that Yale College “remains a place where exceptional education in the liberal arts, led by an eminent faculty devoted to teaching, is at the center of undergraduate life.” He highlighted Chun’s numerous contributions to academic life as dean, including launching multidisciplinary majors in neuroscience, statistics and data science, economics and computer science, and urban studies. Chun also created new certificate programs — from advanced language courses to computer programming — that allow students to broaden their knowledge outside their specialties. Additionally, Chun added early registration and extended Credit/D/F grading options, Salovey noted.

It has been a great joy to have the opportunity to work in partnership with Marvin Chun,” said Tamar Gendler, dean of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences. “Marvin is thoughtful, insightful, and deeply committed to the excellence of the student experience. His oversight of the college during the unprecedented challenges of COVID has been inspiring; he has shown wisdom, agility, and imagination. I will deeply miss his presence on the leadership team.”

Marvin Chun speaking to a crowd a Woolsey Hall.

In August 2017, during Chun’s first year as dean, Yale’s undergraduate student body grew with the opening of two new residential colleges, Pauli Murray and Benjamin Franklin colleges. The addition of the new colleges allows for an increase in enrollment by about 1,200 students, for a target undergraduate enrollment of 6,200.

In support of Salovey’s goal to make Yale more socioeconomically and ethnically diverse, Chun oversaw enhancements in financial aid that included eliminating parental tuition obligations for families with an annual income of less than $75,000 and reducing the student share by 34% for most students receiving financial aid (effective this fall). In addition, Chun increased aid and benefits for students in the Eli Whitney Students Program, which provides support for nontraditional students wishing to pursue Yale undergraduate education. The number of students in the program — including veterans and transfer students from community colleges — continues to grow, thanks to Chun’s leadership, Salovey said.

Chun piloted the Coalition of Allyship Advocates Program to encourage dialog among students with diverse viewpoints. He also introduced a range of new support systems for students, including the Yale Safety Net/Financial Literacy portal, which helps students better manage their finances and promotes transparency in allocating funds to students experiencing unexpected financial hardship. In partnership with the Poorvu Center for Teaching and Learning, he developed The Community Initiative, which helps support first-generation and low-income students throughout their academic experience.

He created the Summer Experience Award to enable students on financial aid to pursue internships or research at nonprofit organizations in the United States or abroad. And he has committed to doubling the number of students from underrepresented groups participating in undergraduate research through the Science, Technology, and Research Scholars Program, Salovey said. Since 2017, he expanded the First-year Scholars Program by 60%. That program allows first-generation students from low-income families to have an early introduction to Yale in the summer preceding their first year to help in their transition, and to receive other social supports and mentorship during their time on campus.

Along the way, Chun collaborated with Laurie Santos, the Chandrika and Ranjan Tandon Professor of Psychology and head of Silliman College, to create the Good Life Center, a student wellness center now based at the Schwarzman Center. The Yale Community Care pilot he launched in the residential colleges, coordinated in collaboration with Yale Mental Health and Counseling, added eight full-time staff members from diverse backgrounds to provide care, with short wait times, to students.

Salovey praised Chun’s efforts to expand support for students through an increase in peer liaisons, student staffing, and programming in Yale’s cultural centers. He worked with Student Accessibility Services and the Poorvu Center to create peer liaison and peer mentoring programs for students with disabilities. And working with Yale Athletics, he introduced the Student Athlete Mentoring Program. Under Chun’s leadership, some volunteer undergraduate peer mentoring positions became paid positions. Chun also introduced the YWork Award, which recognizes student employees for exceptional contributions.

Marvin Chun has been an inspirational dean of Yale College,” said Julia Adams, chair of the Council of Heads of College, head of Grace Hopper College, and the Margaret H. Marshall Professor of Sociology. “We have all benefited enormously from his leadership with respect to issues of student equity and wellbeing, in everything from significant improvements in financial aid, including the reduction in student share, to the transformational creation of SafetyNet. His YC3 is bringing health and wellness into residential college life in an unprecedented way.

The Council of Heads of College applauds Marvin’s care for academic foundations and collaborative pandemic leadership in difficult times, and looks forward to those signature Bulldog Bashes in future years.”

Yale alumnus Kahlil Greene ’21, who served as president of the Yale College Council from May 2019 to Sept. 2021, worked closely with Chun during his term. He said Chun was especially responsive to student concerns as the university adjusted to the challenges of the pandemic.

He used a data-driven approach to make initial pandemic-related decisions, but also used empathy to account for anecdotal experiences of the students most affected by the crisis,” Greene said. “After passing a universal Pass/Fail policy, he met with me and other student government leaders almost weekly during the summer to set up systems and guidelines for Yale College students to remain healthy and safe when they returned in the fall of 2020.”

Greene added: “Because so much of his labor is behind the scenes, most students will never know how much work Dean Chun put into his role, and how numerous and complex the campus challenges he faced truly were. However, every single student has and will benefit from Dean Chun’s diligent leadership and persistent advocacy on behalf of Yale College.”

In his letter, Salovey also praised Chun as a “compassionate and steady presence” as the university navigated the COVID-19 pandemic.

He guided the college through a successful pivot to remote learning and transition back to full in-person coursework,” he said. “During the height of the pandemic, while relaxing constraints for students to take leaves from school, he also ensured that the college could house as many students as possible on campus, especially students whose home environments did not support remote learning. His leadership has been extraordinary during this historic time, and he is firmly committed to overcoming the current challenges.”

University Provost Scott Strobel called Chun a “remarkable leader” for Yale College.

During his time as dean, he has consistently championed the needs and perspectives of Yale’s undergraduate students,” Strobel said. “He has enhanced the undergraduate curriculum, improved the student experience, and provided a steadying, compassionate presence during a once-in-a-generation pandemic. For staff and faculty alike, he has been and will continue to be a deeply trusted colleague. We are so grateful for his contributions.”

A member of the Yale faculty since 2003, Chun earned his Ph.D. from the Department of Brain and Cognitive Sciences at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. He has published hundreds of articles in his field and has been awarded numerous honors for his research, including a Troland Research Award from the U.S. National Academy of Sciences, the American Psychological Association Distinguished Scientific Award for an Early Career Contribution to Psychology, and the Samsung Ho-Am Prize in Science. Yale honored him with the Lex Hixon ’63 Prize for Teaching Excellence in the Social Sciences, and the Yale chapter of Phi Beta Kappa awarded him the William Clyde DeVane Medal in recognition of his character, scholarship, and undergraduate teaching. Chun served as head of Berkeley College from 2007 to 2016.

Marvin Chun is a superb exemplar of a university citizen — a pathbreaking scholar, an inspiring teacher, and a creative administrator. It has been a true pleasure to work alongside him as he transformed so much of Yale College with characteristic enthusiasm and a constant focus on improving the student experience at Yale,” said Lynn Cooley, dean of the Graduate School of Arts & Sciences, vice provost for postdoctoral affairs, and the C.N.H. Long Professor of Genetics. “I look forward to seeing what emerges from his research as he turns full attention back to neuroscience.”

Serving as dean has been the honor of a lifetime, and I am extremely grateful to you for helping Yale College flourish along with the broader university, especially through the pandemic challenges,” Chun wrote to colleagues. “… We’ve accomplished so much over the past four-and-a-half years, despite the pandemic, that the end of my term seems like a natural time to help a new dean transition into this privileged role.”

Salovey will appoint an advisory committee to assist him in selecting the next Yale College dean.

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