Humanities will hire own faculty

The Humanities program at Yale — which includes both Directed Studies and the undergraduate humanities major — will undergo an expansion this calendar year amid changes to the program’s administrative structure.

The initiative will allow the Humanities program, which is housed in the Whitney Humanities Center, to appoint junior and senior faculty members on the tenure ladder, either jointly with another department or to the Humanities program alone. Prior to this restructuring, the faculty associated with the humanities major and D.S. — a sequence of courses in the humanities taken by about 125 freshmen each year — could only appoint non-ladder faculty members in specific departments.

Under the revised initiative, all faculty members currently affiliated with the Humanities program will receive joint or secondary appointments in the program and one other department. These professors will play a role in departmental decision-making, including the right to vote on new faculty hires and the governance of D.S. and the major. French professor Howard Bloch, who will serve as the chair of the program, and an executive committee composed of tenured University faculty in humanities departments will be charged with making these interdisciplinary faculty appointments with funding provided by the Provost’s Office.

The departments affiliated with the program include literature, philosophy, history, religious studies, music and foreign languages, among others.

Provost Andrew Hamilton, who announced the initiative last week, said the goal of the Divisional Committee was to recruit new Humanities faculty to the University to partner with the current faculty and bring “new energy” to campus.

“[The Committee’s] hope was that a newly energized Humanities program could act as the catalyst to identify and recruit to Yale new faculty whose scholarship might cross a number of disciplines and bring new perspectives to teaching and research in the humanities,” Hamilton said in an e-mail.

But Bloch said that while faculty hiring is an important component of the initiative, he sees the creation of the executive committee as a way to begin a conversation among a group of accomplished faculty members in a wide range of academic fields about the ways in which all of the separate disciplines interact with each other as well as with disciplines outside of the humanities.

“This is a kind of forum that exists in many places and that I see as a way of keeping Yale, which has always been a leader in the humanities, looking forward,” Bloch said.

History professor and Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library Director Frank Turner, who has taught D.S. courses in the past and has had some of his courses cross-listed in Humanities, said it has historically been very difficult to recruit professors for the Humanities program because most faculty members feel they owe their allegiance to their primary departments. As a result, he said, many young faculty worry that their departments will lose sight of them if they become too involved in the Humanities program.

“What this initiative will do over time [is] create a real program in the humanities that will have the power of making appointments and which will have a core faculty whose first teaching allegiance will be to the humanities major,” Turner said. “Because the core is there, it will make teaching in the program more attractive.”

Bloch said the exchange of ideas that the initiative will promote will translate into a higher quality of teaching, especially for undergraduates, because of the initiative’s focus on D.S. and the undergraduate humanities major. He said he encourages as many of the University’s academic departments as possible to engage in conversations about the future of humanities at Yale, since the disciplines are focused on teaching the basic tools necessary for understanding and interpreting the world.

“The humanities are often about not so much specialized knowledge but communicating ideas which are accessible to anyone,” Bloch said. “[My wish is] that we return to the humanities as a practical training in the interpretation of the world that will benefit undergraduates no matter what field they major in and no matter what career they pursue.”

Hamilton said any potential faculty hires will be subject to the traditionally rigorous process for reviewing candidates, but he hopes at least one or two new professors will be at Yale for the beginning of the 2007-’08 academic year.

The Humanities program expansion has been modeled after a similar restructuring that took place in the American Studies program several years ago.

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