In Conversation

Vicky Chun to promote ‘winning culture,’ strong academics at Yale Athletics

Vicky M. Chun greets members of the Yale Athletics community after being announced as director.
Vicky Chun meets members of the Yale Athletics Office during the ceremony announcing her appointment as Yale’s next athletics director. (Photo by Mara Lavitt)

Yale recently announced that Victoria M. Chun has been named Yale’s director of athletics, physical education, and recreation. Chun, who has served as vice president and director of athletics at Colgate University for the past six years, will join Yale on July 1. Here, she discusses her vision for Yale Athletics.

Why did you want to be the athletics director (AD) at Yale and what attracted you to the position?

I firmly believe in the powerful combination of academics and athletics to bring together a university community and create leaders for society. The opportunity to help build on the strong athletic foundation that Athletic Director Tom Beckett created, at an institution with the incredible academic reputation of Yale, is simply unparalleled.

What are your priorities and vision for Yale athletics?

Yale is a world-class institution with a rich athletic tradition. My vision for our athletic department aligns with what Tom Beckett started and what President Salovey has stated — we are working to expand our winning culture, grounded in strong academics, built to support the entire Yale community near and far.

What is your plan to increase winning at Yale?

Winning is equal parts talent and expectation. We will match talent with expectations and then we will hold ourselves accountable. We will be intentional about our winning. It is expected and it will happen.

Success also requires support, and a unified Yale helps us do just that. We’ll be looking for ways to integrate our student-athletes more fully into campus life, and integrating students, alumni, faculty and the community even further into our athletic program.

I’d be remiss if I didn’t acknowledge the rivalry between Yale and Harvard, which as you know is the oldest and first rivalry in American college athletics. I’m certain that any competition between our great universities will continue to carry a little extra interest and excitement for our student-athletes, coaches, students and alumni. I’ve already circled Saturday, Nov. 17 on my calendar!

How are you going to make athletics successful and competitive at Yale, without lowering academic standards?

As I shared with Dean Chun and the selection committee, student-athletes are just that — students first, athletes second. My goal as the leader of the Yale athletic program is to foster excellence, create opportunities for student success, and offer alumni and supporters a rallying point for great things we can accomplish together. To do that, our students need to have success both on and off the field. I’m confident we’re going to attract the right talent — those who are passionate about their education and their sport.

How will being an AD in the Ivy League differ from the Patriot League?

Each league has its own personality. At Colgate, we worked hard to ensure our student-athletes had a competitive balance of non-conference and conference opportunities. Building those opportunities required working across leagues so I’m quite familiar with the Ivy League and look forward to working with my AD colleagues. In addition, Robin Harris (executive director of the Ivy League) and I have worked together for years on broader league and NCAA priorities. Throughout those opportunities and my relationship with her, I’ve learned even more about this storied league.

Dartmouth, Penn, and Princeton all have women AD’s, and now Yale … do you feel the hiring trend is moving in that direction?

Women have been leaders in college sports for decades, but I do think their leadership is being recognized in more concrete ways in recent years, and being selected to serve as athletic directors is a very tangible example. Society is looking more and more toward leaders who can collaborate, empathize, and in the case of Yale, build a winning program. I am proud to be the first woman athletic director at Yale.

You will be the first female and minority AD at Yale. What does that mean to you?

My folks instilled in me a love of learning and a love of sports. I value my intellectual side just as much as my athletic side. I am humbled, but proud, to be selected as the athletic director at such a storied institution as Yale — and my folks are very proud!

Randy Pausch, author of “The Last Lecture,” told his students at Carnegie Mellon that even in dangerous waters, one penguin had to be brave enough to take the first dive.  Those words of wisdom have always resonated with me. 

How are you going to encourage diversity in your department and across the campus?

You’ll hear me say this a lot as we get to know each other — it’s all about building a winning culture. Our team inside Yale’s athletic department will build and foster a culture that seeks and supports a wide variety of talents, ethnicities, backgrounds, and experiences. This diversity will make us stronger.

Do you think college programs are doing enough to mitigate the risk of head injuries in contact sports?

We all work to ensure our student-athletes are safe. And, science teaches us more and more each day. At Colgate, I created the first Head Injury Reduction Practice Plan for contact sports. This first-of-its-kind plan monitored contact and return to play during practice sessions. It is clearly an issue we need to continue to study, and then we should adjust practices based on those learnings.  I am also extremely supportive of the policies put in place by the Ivy League.

How do you plan to engage alumni?

The support of alumni and donors is a critical component of the success of a collegiate athletic program. Athletics plays a key role in fostering community beyond the campus boundaries and across generations. I fully intend to engage with alumni, share our vision for the program and build on the incredible legacy of Tom Beckett. We will celebrate our successes with alumni and ask for their input and support.

Have you had any chance to assess the state of Yale’s athletic facilities and do you have any initial thoughts on priorities?

As soon as I officially start, my first priority will be to spend time with our student-athletes, coaches, and staff and really get to know them. Facilities play a central role in the success of an athletic program and we will certainly evaluate where we are on that front and what our plans are for moving forward at the appropriate time. 

Are you related to Yale College Dean Marvin Chun?

It’s funny you ask. As I was going through the selection process, which Dean Chun did a wonderful job managing, my family asked with whom I was meeting. Upon learning one of the individuals helping lead the search had the last name Chun, my mother went straight to to try to establish a family connection. I can say with great certainty at this point, Dean Chun and I are not related.

I would like to take this opportunity to thank Dean Chun and the entire selection committee for their thoughtful and efficient process. Our discussions during this selection process made me so excited about coming to Yale. This is a special place and I am so energized to play a leadership role.

Boola Boola!