In light of controversy regarding Yale’s tenure policies, the University’s Steering Committee of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences has been considering potential reforms to its tenure system in weekly meetings this semester.
The discussions between top administrators sitting on the committee, which is headed by Provost Susan Hockfield and includes Yale College Dean Peter Salovey and Graduate School Dean Jon Butler, come amid increased debate on tenure systems at Yale and Harvard universities. In April, Yale’s 500-member Women Faculty Forum launched a task force to review what members characterized as a problematic system for promoting and retaining junior faculty.
Yale and Harvard are among the only universities in the nation operating without a tenure track system, which makes them unique in the nation’s academic marketplace. Observers say the universities’ tenure policies are making it increasingly difficult for Yale and Harvard to recruit top professors.
Salovey said the committee’s weekly talks about tenure reforms have so far remained broad in scope.
“There’s still a lot to talk about,” Salovey said. “I think one conclusion is however we modify our process, should we modify our process, we just need to move toward something that is more transparent and understandable, especially to junior faculty.”
Butler said the committee has not yet decided whether to make any changes to Yale’s tenure system or what the magnitude of any changes would be.
“At this point, we’re just discussing the broad issue of tenure and how the Yale system works,” Butler said. “The question is, should we keep the system we have, which has produced a university of immense distinction, or should we follow the model of many other American universities, many of which are also immensely distinguished?”
In general, Yale’s demanding tenure review process does not guarantee junior professors a spot in the senior faculty the way a tenure track system would, basing tenure decisions solely on the strength of junior professors’ teaching, scholarship and citizenship. The University grants tenure based on the number of available spots in each department as well as individual reviews.
In recent years, Yale’s Physics Department began operating its own tenure system, shuffling faculty slots to make tenure reviews coincide with retirements.
Physics Department chairman Ramamurti Shankar said Salovey has been receptive to the system, but he does not know if the Yale administration will move to a similar system University-wide.
The Women Faculty Forum task force expects to spend the year examining the best practices of academic departments within Yale and at peer institutions in an effort to study promotion and retention trends of Yale’s junior faculty, according to its mission statement.
Meanwhile, at Harvard, President Lawrence Summers has made tenure reform one of his top priorities. Over the past few years, Summers has advocated that Harvard change course by identifying young scholars who are on the cutting edge of their respective fields rather than focusing on hiring seasoned scholars from outside who are in the later stages of their careers.
Complicating matters for Summers, the percentage of women hired for tenured positions at Harvard has steadily declined in each of the four years since he took office, dropping from 36 percent of tenured offers in the 2000-2001 academic year to 13 percent last year. The decline prompted a group of 26 Harvard professors to complain that Summers is not doing enough to recruit women, the Boston Globe reported last week.