Light & Verity

McInnis named Yale's 24th president

An alumna and trustee with administrative experience.

Dan Renzetti

Dan Renzetti

Maurie McInnis ’96PhD (center) at the president’s house in May, with her two most recent predecessors as Yale president: Richard Levin ’74PhD (left) and Peter Salovey ’86PhD (right). View full image

Not long after Peter Salovey ’86PhD announced he would step down from the presidency of Yale last August, the job of a university president got a lot more complicated. The Hamas-Israel War ignited contentious protests on campuses across the nation, and presidents were being excoriated by students, donors, and Congressional committees over their responses to the protests. By late May, the New York Times dramatized the difficulty facing universities searching for a new leader with the headline, “Anyone Want to Be a College President?”

In the end, Yale’s search committee found someone who already was a college president. On May 29, the university announced on a YouTube livestream that Maurie McInnis ’96PhD, president of Stony Brook University in New York and a member of Yale’s Board of Trustees since 2022, would become the university’s 24th president on July 1.

McInnis came to Yale as a doctoral student in art history in 1989 after earning her undergraduate degree from the University of Virginia. She wrote her PhD dissertation about the cultural and political implications of classical art and architecture in Charleston before the Civil War. Her scholarly work has continued with that theme; she has written widely about art, politics, and slavery in the nineteenth-century South.

After leaving Yale, she spent two years on the faculty of James Madison University before returning to her undergraduate alma mater, where she taught from 1998 to 2016 and served as a vice provost. From 2016 to 2020 she was provost of the University of Texas at Austin.

In 2020, she was named president of Stony Brook, one of New York’s flagship state universities. A large research university—its enrollment is more than twice that of Yale—it is known for its medical center and its shared management of the US Department of Energy’s Brookhaven National Laboratory. She received both praise and criticism for her response to recent demonstrations on Stony Brook’s campus, where protesters were arrested on two occasions.

McInnis is the first Yale president to be selected from outside the university’s faculty since Benno Schmidt ’63, ’66LLB, in 1986, and only the third non-Yale-faculty choice since the eighteenth century. In announcing her appointment, senior trustee Josh Bekenstein ’80 said the search committee “was excited by a leader who brought new perspectives from around the country and cared deeply about the best of Yale’s traditions.”

As was much noted in the media after her appointment, McInnis is the first woman to be president of Yale on a non-interim basis. (Hanna Holborn Gray served as acting president in 1977–78 during the search that led to the appointment of A. Bartlett Giamatti ’60, ’64PhD; the Board of Trustees later retroactively dropped the “acting” from Gray’s title and declared her Yale’s eighteenth president.) She is also the fourth president in a row whose Yale degrees are from the Graduate School (including Howard Lamar ’51PhD, who served for a year in 1992–93).

“I’m filled with gratitude as I step into the role to lead this university, knowing firsthand the opportunity for learning it provides to students and the impact it has on millions of people around the world through life-changing scholarship and research,” McInnis said in the livestream announcement. “I have no doubt that there are many exciting times ahead for all of us, and many challenges. Through it all, I will seek the input of the community and urge all of us to listen with empathy and compassion for the experiences of others. Most importantly, I will encourage us to ask ourselves what change we wish to see in the world and how might we best accomplish that.” 

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