Study on tenure nears end

The University’s tenure review committee — which has been meeting since last fall — will likely produce a final report for the faculty by the end of November, top Yale officials said Tuesday.

Yale College Dean Peter Salovey, who serves as co-chair of the committee with Graduate School Dean Jon Butler, said the report will be circulated among the faculty and a vote on its recommendations will, he hopes, take place in the spring semester. The committee was charged with considering every facet of the current tenure system, which has been criticized in the past for keeping junior faculty in the dark about their future prospects.

When the committee was first convened, members suggested that they could produce recommendations as early as spring 2006. But committee meetings have continued into this semester, Butler said, as producing an “extraordinarily thorough” set of recommendations has been a higher priority than speed.

Earlier this month, Salovey said all aspects of the current system are still “on the table” for changes to be recommended by the committee.

“The committee has a lot of agreement on some broad principles, but the devil is in the details,” Salovey said.

After the recommendations are released, the Faculty of Arts and Sciences will take a formal vote on each proposal. But this step of the process has had spotty success in the past, as key recommendations in previous tenure reviews — such as the one chaired by statistics professor John Hartigan in 1995-’96 — failed to win broad faculty support.

Several professors contacted for this story declined to comment because of the sensitive nature of the tenure committee’s proceedings.

Past criticisms of Yale’s system have focused on the uncertainty involved in internal promotion to tenure. The tenure clock at Yale is longer than those at many peer institutions, and junior professors are usually evaluated for tenure in their ninth year at the University.

In addition, there is no formal “tenure track” for junior professors that guarantees a promotion to the senior faculty if certain conditions of scholarship and teaching are met. Instead, when junior professors come up for review, departments must find resources for the promotion from a limited pool of slots, termed Junior Faculty Equivalents.

Psychology professor Brian Scholl, who was awarded tenure last March, said Yale’s system may encourage talented junior professors to leave Yale before the ninth-year review, since that review can be torpedoed due to lack of resources when the candidate is otherwise qualified for tenure.

“A junior faculty member may be certain that she can stand in competition with the leading lights in the field and come out on top — but if there’s no JFE waiting in the wings, then none of that matters,” Scholl wrote in an e-mail.

Molecular, Cellular and Developmental Biology chair Thomas Pollard, who met with committee members as part of the review, said he thinks the major problem that needs to be addressed by the committee is the system for soliciting letters of evaluation from professors at other universities. At three separate stages of the tenure process, Pollard said, outside experts are asked to identify or compare candidates for a position. The large number of letters requested is annoying, Pollard said, especially since the standard at other schools is just one letter.

Last year, Harvard University changed its policy to permit departments to advertise assistant professorships as “tenure track” for the first time, so that prospective junior professors could have more confidence that they would eventually be considered for tenure. At the time, former Harvard Dean of the Faculty William Kirby told the Harvard Crimson that the new policy was meant to improve rates of internal promotion to tenure at Harvard.

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