Forum addresses tenure for women, minorities

Diversity in the tenuring process is an issue often discussed by professors and graduate students. But Wednesday night, undergraduates gathered in Sudler Hall to participate in an open forum on the issue.

Yale College Dean Richard Brodhead, Economics chairman David Pearce and History chairman Jon Butler spoke to a small group of students in a discussion of hiring and granting tenure to women and minority faculty members.

Brodhead opened the Yale College Council-sponsored forum by giving a summary of the hiring process, addressing what the University looks for in new appointments and the process used to make those appointments.

In addition to seeking “people who are really, really smart,” Brodhead said, the University looks for scholars who are dedicated to and curious about their field, as well as those who will augment their professorships by serving as masters of the residential colleges.

He said that while the University does seek women and minority professors, no one would be hired solely on the basis of being a woman or minority.

“No one is appointed to the Yale faculty primarily or only because of the diversity they bring,” he said.

Brodhead added that it would be very unfortunate if any university were to use such considerations as primary criteria for hiring.

“God forbid that they do,” he said.

The panel addressed the issue of the small size of the pool of talented women and minority candidates, especially in the hard sciences. Brodhead said that while the percentage of women and minority faculty is increasing, it is important not to concentrate all the University’s diversity in one department.

“If it is important to variegate your faculty, then it is important to variegate all your departments,” Brodhead said.

Despite the emphasis on the lack of women and minorities in the sciences, Butler said the number of minorities who receive doctorates in history is “scandalously small.”

The problem with making diverse appointments at the senior level, all the panelists asserted, is that few people entered those fields three decades ago, so people who are of age and seniority to be named senior faculty are generally not women and minorities. That can be addressed for the future, they said, by encouraging minority and female students to enter disciplines in which they are traditionally underrepresented.

The panel also addressed the issue of the makeup of search committees. Butler said that virtually all the committees in the History Department contain women and minorities. Pearce said that only one woman is tenured in his department, and that she will not sit on every search committee.

“We don’t want to kill her with committee work,” he said.

The composition of the committee, the panelists said, generally does not affect the extraprofessional characteristics of the person the committee ultimately selects.

Many of the questions from students dealt more with the teaching ability of faculty members, rather than issues of race and sex.

“It has been my frustrating experience at Yale that some of the best teachers I have had have been denied tenure and forced to move on,” Luke Habberstad ’03 said.

He went on to ask the panel members about what role teaching ability, as compared with their scholarship, plays in the hiring process.

The panelists agreed that while teaching ability is important, it cannot be the primary criterion when hiring a new professor. Brodhead said good teachers do not contribute to Yale’s reputation as much as good scholars.

“Nobody is going to get tenure at Yale based on teaching ability alone,” Brodhead said. He added, “Teaching is not a virtue that travels a great distance.”

By hiring faculty members based on their ability to teach, he said, the reputation of the University would decline, and then it would be unable to attract top scholars or top teachers.

Butler said that teaching ability and scholarship are not mutually exclusive. He said he feels there is a “collusion between teaching and research.” He said that because active participation in the scholarly community keeps professors up to date, it also allows them to embrace new ideas rather than resist them, and bring them to the classroom.

“Most great scholars are also great teachers,” he said.

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