Female prof task force to study tenure

A group of female faculty members will launch a task force to review issues of faculty development and retention, including the University’s tenure system, professors said Monday.

Four members of the Women’s Faculty Forum have been planning the task force — whose members will also include other interested faculty members — this semester and will make a formal proposal to the entire group at a forum meeting Thursday afternoon. The task force may analyze Yale’s faculty statistics to find trends in faculty retention and tenure rates. Other proposals include conducting exit interviews with departing junior professors about their experiences at Yale and the tenure process, political science professor Seyla Benhabib said.

Some WFF members suspect Yale’s tenure system may be affecting female professors more negatively than male professors, which is why the WFF is concerning itself with tenure issues, Benhabib, one of the founders of the task force, said.

Benhabib said she hopes the WFF will be able to start an open campus dialogue about faculty issues and the tenure system. Yale is increasingly losing talented junior faculty to rival institutions with different institutional policies, such as a tenure track system, she said.

“In the case of junior faculty who move before they come up for tenure, some of them get swiped by Harvard and some get picked up by Princeton and other institutions,” Benhabib said. “A certain amount of this is going to happen in the [Ivy League schools] all the time … But the impression we have at the present is that more and more of this is happening across the board and it’s damaging to the institution at large.”

Benhabib, who serves as director of the Ethics, Politics and Economics Program, said Yale’s tenure system has adverse effects on special programs such as EP&E and Directed Studies. When junior professors depart, Behabib said the University loses “institutional memory.”

“Junior faculty who have been here anywhere from five to seven years are incredibly valuable members in terms of undergraduate and graduate education,” she said. “Every time we lose someone like that and we bring in faculty from the outside, we lose something institutionally and we have to start all over again. This has a lot of consequences because these are unique programs that are dependent on the good work and good effort of the junior faculty and losing them affects the flourishing of these programs.”

Benhabib, history professor Paula Hyman, genetics and immunobiology professor Paula Kavathas, and molecular biophysics and biochemistry professor Joan Steitz are spearheading the task force. Benhabib said such an interdivisional effort will help the task force.

Members said they hope to work with Yale administrators to change institutional policy. In interviews this month, several top administrators said the University is reviewing its tenure policy and may propose modest changes later this year.

“We’re in the process right now to make it a little bit friendlier and more supportive for the junior faculty that are here,” Deputy Provost Charles Long, whose office oversees faculty issues, said. “We’re not contemplating going to a tenure track institution, but we are looking at all of our components to see what proposals might gain us some of the positive features of a tenure track system.”

Benhabib said the task force may sponsor a series of panel discussions in the fall to highlight faculty retention issues.

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