Depts. to undergo review

Summer promotions have freed senior Yale officials to organize fundamental reevaluations of academic departments for the first time in nearly a decade, Deputy Provost Charles Long said this week.

Scholars from outside the University will be contracted by Yale to conduct comprehensive reviews of departments relative to similar universities, scrutinizing interplay within departments, faculty hires, facilities and operations. The administration will select three or four departments per year for review. Long said the departments for this year’s review have not yet been selected, but the provost’s office will solicit feedback from faculty and students in those selected departments prior to the weeklong outside review, which will end with a written report outlining recommendations for change.

Hiring the outside scholars will be inexpensive — Long estimated they would each be paid an honorarium of less than $1,000 — but the University has long addressed departmental issues internally because arranging external reviews is time-consuming. But when three assistant provosts were promoted to the associate level, they assumed new duties, allowing their supervisors to dedicate more time and resources to departmental reviews.

Long said the external reviewers will offer departments more comprehensive analyses than they received from internal University committees.

“It’s not that they don’t have regular maintenance, but we don’t often bring them in for the 50,000-mile comprehensive analysis,” he said. “We haven’t found the time to do that this decade, but we will now.”

Past departmental reviews have sometimes refocused departments with difficulty attracting non-majors. The Religious Studies and Classics Departments were among those that benefited from external reviews in the past, Long said. Gene Outka, former chair of the Religious Studies Department, said the outside review of his department helped motivate the faculty to make its programs more accessible during the past eight years, citing the addition of new introductory and comparative religion courses.

“We’ve always been as a department very focused on discrete traditions, but comparative work had been something we haven’t focused on much on, and we tried to change that even in terms of faculty appointments,” Outka said.

Outka said the review also prompted religious studies faculty to spend more time with students majoring in the discipline, including monthly lunches and doctoral student meetings.

Long said departments will be chosen based on the number of open positions and faculty dynamics.

“The process seldom creates massive changes in direction all at once, but it’s particularly good to do when you’re facing changes within a department,” he said. “It’s good to pick a department that has some questions about where it’s going. You don’t want to do it in departments with a brand-new chair or one with no openings.”

Emily Bakemeier, one of the newly-promoted associate provosts, said the reviews will likely be balanced among the three divisions of humanities and arts, natural sciences and social sciences. Bakemeier — who now holds the primary oversight responsibility for disciplines ranging from foreign languages and literature to women’s, gender and sexuality studies — said she and the other two new associate provosts now have very distinct duties but remain focused on the goals of the provost’s office as a whole.

“We all work very much as a team, and though I may have primary responsibility for the things listed, I’m still conscious of the group,” she said.

Provost Andrew Hamilton said he is optimistic that the reorganized provost’s office will be better able to address issues of concern not dealt with by other Yale administrators.

“There has been a real sense that there were areas of the University that needed greater attention from the provost’s office, and so we have significantly expanded some of the overall responsibilities of the provost’s office,” Hamilton said.

In addition to reviews of academic departments, Hamilton said other areas of concern include the hiring of women and minority scholars throughout the University, primarily in the sciences. He said Karen Lamb, the newly-appointed associate provost for biomedical and health affairs, and Bruce Carmichael, the new associate provost for science and technology, will both seek to address that issue.

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