Some dispute report’s inventiveness

Amid criticism that Yale’s newly released proposal for tenure reform does little more than align the University with its peers, top administrators said the reforms provide a progressive Yale-tailored solution to current faculty concerns.

Although the tenure report released last Monday drew an overwhelmingly positive response from members of the faculty, many professors criticized the University for simply following the lead of other top institutions, particularly since Yale is the last university to adopt a “tenure track”-style system. But members of the committee — which was chaired by Yale College Dean Peter Salovey and Graduate School Dean Jon Butler — said there are aspects of the proposed report that are unique and forward-looking and will make the University a leader in many respects.

Administrators said that among these progressive recommendations are the guarantee of two years’ fully funded leave for non-tenured faculty within their first eight years at the University, the longer “clock” that provides more time for faculty research prior to tenure evaluation and the aggressive stance on faculty mentoring. Arguably the most significant change proposed in the report calls for resources to be guaranteed to promote assistant professors to tenure, provided they meet the University’s standards of scholarship and citizenship. This move would be a drastic change from the current system, which does not ensure that resources will be available to promote junior faculty.

Currently, Yale is the only Ivy League institution that does not have a formal tenure track. While five of the eight universities had formal tenure-track systems by 2004, according to the Chronicle of Higher Education, the remaining two, which included Harvard, have since switched over. Harvard began using the term “tenure track” in 2005 under the direction of former Dean of the Faculty William C. Kirby. Yale’s current tenure “clock” — which describes the maximum amount of time a junior faculty member may remain at the University without tenure — is 10 years, among the highest in the country.

Butler said that while the tenure track has been a fixture at most American institutions for about three decades, he thinks the committee’s refinement of the traditional system will allow Yale not simply to catch up to its peers, but to separate itself from the rest of the pack.

“We are going to join the national academic community with an unusual emphasis on mentoring our non-tenured faculty in a particularly progressive fashion,” Butler said. “We are trying to provide a context in which non-tenured faculty can expect to be supported.”

While many junior faculty members criticized the committee’s decision to shorten the clock by only one year, Salovey said the nine-year clock represents a “balancing act” that is designed to give faculty time to produce their best work.

“On the one hand, one could have a clock that is too long and as a result it can discourage productivity and it can delay career stability well into middle age,” Salovey said. “At the same time, a clock that is too short may put undue pressure on scholars to publish work before it is really ready to be published and also might force review committees to make decisions based on rather abbreviated records of scholarship and teaching.”

Astronomy and physics professor Charles Bailyn — who said last week that the report was long overdue, though it simply aligned Yale with other institutions — said he agrees that the two years of leave is a forward-looking and attractive element of the committee’s report.

Salovey said that while there are recommendations in the report that are similar to procedures at other universities, the document as a whole is progressive and caters to the specific needs of Yale’s faculty.

“I believe the entire package of recommendations represents a step forward for Yale, and one that addresses the concerns reported and challenges faced by our faculty,” Salovey said. “It’s not an attempt to mimic a tenure process found elsewhere.”

The tenure review committee — which was convened by Provost Andrew Hamilton — met 31 times over the past 15 months. The group conducted interviews with academic department chairs, faculty members, and deans and provosts at three “comparable” institutions. The committee also created a Web site to allow faculty members to make comments and suggestions anonymously.

Salovey said individual academic departments have already begun engaging in a close reading of the report prior to the discussion that will take place at an FAS faculty meeting on March 27. The faculty will vote on whether to send the report to the Provost for final approval during a second meeting on April 4.

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