In a Thursday email to the Benjamin Franklin College community, inaugural Head of College Charles Bailyn announced that he will step down from his role as head at the end of the 2022-23 academic year.
Bailyn, who is a professor of astronomy and physics, was set to finish his five-year term as head at the end of the semester, but will stay on for an additional year without formal review for reappointment. Although Dean of Yale College Marvin Chun told the News that this was a “long-standing practice,” students have questioned the timing of Bailyn’s announcement of his imminent departure.
“It was difficult to know what to do — on the one hand I didn’t want to step away right now, just as we were coming out of covid and in the process of restarting traditions that had only barely begun before the pandemic hit, Bailyn wrote in an email to the News. “On the other hand, I was a bit daunted by the prospect of a second five year term — being a HoC takes a lot of energy! So in the end it seemed like the best solution was to stay on for one additional year, rather than to try to complete a full second term.”
Chun and University President Peter Salovey wrote in an email to Benjamin Franklin students on Jan. 13 that they had begun the process of Bailyn’s reappointment review. The email laid out the review committee that advised the process, which included three Benjamin Franklin College Fellows and four students.
Chun and Salovey’s email invited students to contribute feedback on Bailyn’s leadership to the review committee via an anonymous online form.
Bailyn announced that he would step down on Feb. 10. It is unclear how far the reappointment process had progressed at the time of his resignation announcement.
Reflecting on his time as Head of College, Bailyn pointed especially to his pride in developing new Benjamin Franklin traditions, including the college’s Founders Ball, Drink of the Month club and an annual Lord of the Rings movie marathon traditionally held in the Head of College House .
“[The movie marathon] was the last event we had in the Head of College House, three days before Yale shut down in March 2020, and I keep looking around the empty living room reliving that event,” Bailyn told the News. “In the coming week we’re going to start up events in the House again, and I’m really looking forward to that.”
But student reactions to Bailyn’s departure were mixed. The News spoke to five Benjamin Franklin students, three of whom criticized Bailyn’s leadership.
Some students, such as Hana Galijasevic ’22, told the News of their positive experiences with Bailyn . Galijasevic said that she often came to Bailyn to seek advice throughout her time at Yale.
“I think Head Bailyn was the perfect HOC fit for me personally — he’s passionate about unironically being a nerd and the conversations one has with him that tend to fit that energy are always insightful and cheerful or motivating,” Galijasevic said. “He welcomed me as a lost and scared international student by appealing to my interests and background — which he appeared eager to learn about.”
But other students said that Bailyn appeared disengaged from his position, and did not do enough to support the students under his purview.
Dannie Daley ’23 told the News that she did not remember the last time she spoke to Bailyn, and that her primary association with him was the emails he sent to the college.
“Even though I have been heavily involved in the HoC office (I was a college aid, buttery worker and manager, and a housing committee member) I can count on one hand the number of conversations and interactions I have had with Head Charles,” said Bianca Beck ’24. “Despite being the person meant to foster involvement in the Franklin community, he is, in my opinion, notably uninvolved.”
For one student who requested anonymity because they work within the Head of College Office, Bailyn’s perceived disengagement from Benjamin Franklin extended to his treatment of conflicts within the college.
One conflict occurred when careless conduct in shared bathrooms resulted in students exposing themselves to their floormates on multiple occasions. The student felt disappointed by Head Bailyn’s response to the situation.
“I quickly discovered that I couldn’t count on Head Bailyn when it came to serious matters,” one student said. “I have a lengthy history with encountering sexual harassment and assault and after a situation that occurred within the college, I decided to go to Head Bailyn. I was met with laughter and inept leadership. I don’t think I can wholly describe the devastation I felt after being laughed at while divulging a vulnerable and triggering experience to a position of authority.”
The student wrote that they had hoped to share this experience with the reappointment committee, but the announcement of Bailyn’s resignation, and one-year extension, came before they had the chance to.
Another student, who was also affected by the same situation, described a similar interaction with Bailyn upon raising the issue to his office. An email reviewed by the News shows that when Bailyn raised the issue to students, it was in a vague message in the final paragraph of his weekly message to the Benjamin Franklin community.
“I guess they simply decided that listening to student feedback is not a ‘longstanding practice,’” the student wrote.
Bailyn emphasized to the News that he had never and would never make light of sexual assault, and that any related complaints would be “handled with great care and seriousness,” and appropriate confidentiality.
Daley was alarmed by Bailyn’s decision to announce his resignation only after the reappointment process had begun. By resigning, Daley wrote that Bailyn received a “grace year of transition,” an option that she did not know was a possibility while following the process.
Bailyn declined to comment on whether the committee’s timeline affected his decision, but noted that he was “not privy to student [feedback]” that was sent to the committee.
Chun, however, told the News that the University only conducted formal reviews for full-term reappointments, not short-term extensions.
“As one current example for this long-standing practice, Professor Mark Saltzman, Head of Jonathan Edwards College, is generously serving an additional year now beyond his five-year term,” Chun wrote. “I am grateful to Professor Bailyn for devoting an extra year to Benjamin Franklin College. “
Multiple students told the News that Bailyn’s resignation came as a surprise due to the fact that his reappointment process seemed to already be underway.
“I was quite surprised when I saw the news,” Nina Huang ’23 said. “I don’t think I recall him expressing any similar sentiments about stepping down. Especially considering that I got emails about the review committee and about reappointing Head Bailyn for a second term a few weeks earlier, I thought that it implied that he would still be Head of College. I was quite caught off guard by that email.”
Huang emphasized, however, that she was happy for Bailyn in his decision. While Huang acknowledged that others in Benjamin Franklin “had very different impressions” of Bailyn, she said that he had always been accessible and helpful to her during her time in the college.
As Benjamin Franklin begins the search for a new head of college, Bailyn emphasized administrative skill and the ability to “relate to and support the students” as qualities that are crucial to the role.
When he steps down at the end of next year, Bailyn will return to full-time teaching and research.
“It’s been quite a while since I’ve been focused on teaching and research — before I was at Franklin I served for five years as Dean of Faculty at Yale-NUS College in Singapore.” Bailyn wrote. “I love teaching, and I’m excited to spend more time in the classroom. And the Universe — and research regarding it — seems to have gone on without me, and I’m looking forward to catching up.”
Bailyn was appointed as head of Benjamin Franklin College in 2016.