Committee to review tenure process

Changes to Yale’s complex tenure appointment process may be afoot as a committee to review Yale’s tenure policies in the Faculty of Arts and Sciences will begin meeting at the end of this month with the possibility of recommending reforms by the spring.

The nine-member committee co-chaired by Yale College Dean Peter Salovey and Graduate School Dean Jon Butler will survey individual faculty members and solicit recommendations from the academic departments, as well as collect data from other universities about their tenure policies, Yale Provost Andrew Hamilton said.

“The tenure review committee was formed to take note of the substantial changes occurring here at Yale and across the U.S. in the past decade,” Hamilton said.

Yale is one of a small number of universities without a tenure-track system that guarantees there will be tenure slots available to junior professors whose scholarship meets certain criteria. At Yale, without such a guarantee, uncertainty prevails. Junior faculty can remain at Yale for up to 10 years without coming up for review, because each department is only allotted a specific number of tenured slots depending on budgetary constraints.

With Harvard University moving from a policy similar to Yale’s towards a tenure-track system and with criticism of Yale’s system mounting on campus among junior and senior faculty alike, administrators said they are under pressure to reconsider the University’s policy.

“There are people for very different reasons throughout the University who express unhappiness about our current system, and it’s important for us to look at our system for that very reason as well,” Salovey said. “Our processes are somewhat different from many of our competitors, so it’s important to look at whether our processes place us in any kind of competitive disadvantage in attracting and retaining the very best faculty members.”

The uncertainty over whether a tenured slot in a professor’s department will be available when he or she comes up for review has drawn criticism from some faculty members and has caused some junior faculty to accept offers at competing institutions, said Seyla Benhabib, a political science professor who led a tenure review last year for the Women’s Faculty Forum.

“If Yale does not change its tenure policy, eventually I don’t think that it will be as competitive as it is now,” Benhabib said. “We have already lost very talented junior faculty members to institutions like Princeton, Chicago, Brown … Rival institutions are coming in, and they’re hiring these people away.”

But Salovey said the University tries to ensure it has slots available for outstanding junior faculty.

“We do absolutely everything we can to make sure that there are positions available,” Salovey said. “The slot resources can be handled in very flexible ways.”

Harvard anthropology professor Theodore Bestor said he thinks the changes at Harvard will give it an advantage over its competitors.

“It’s incredibly demoralizing for all concerned, both tenured faculty, un-tenured and students, to have a system in which there is such a looming uncertainty, so I think it’s absolutely in everybody’s interest to have a policy in which there’s a promise of a tenure review after a period of time,” Bestor said.

Benhabib said she doubts Yale will follow in Harvard’s footsteps.

“I think it is unlikely that the University will shift to a regular tenure track system,” she said. “What is most likely to happen right now is that there will be more possibility that junior faculty will be promoted.”

Applied physics professor Douglas Stone, who is a member of the tenure review committee, said although Yale’s tenure process may look different from those at competing institutions, the systems in place in the Ivy League and other top universities share a common quality — they all have grueling tenure reviews.

“The Ivies, and certainly Harvard and Princeton, have very tough tenure reviews, so lots of people get turned down. Yale also has very tough tenure reviews and lots of people also get turned down,” Stone said. “It’s not that different in practice, so that might be a motivation to see if we can formalize the system a little differently so that it doesn’t sound different.”

Yale’s tenure process was last reviewed in 1996 by a committee chaired by statistics professor John Hartigan. The Hartigan report kept the core of the tenure policy intact while calling for minor changes, such as a greater focus on minority recruitment.

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