Faculty discusses tenure

The recently proposed changes to Yale’s tenure system received a positive review at a meeting of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences, which convened formally on Tuesday for its only official discussion of the recommendations before it votes on them next Wednesday.

Approximately 200 faculty members in attendance had the chance to to voice their opinions about the tenure committee’s proposal, which recommends significant changes to the current system of tenure and appointments. After the meeting, professors said the tone of the discussion was “overwhelmingly positive” and the majority of the concerns raised by faculty members addressed specific details about the way the recommendations would be implemented in individual departments. Despite these minor issues, faculty members said they are confident that the proposal will be approved in next week’s vote.

The meeting was moderated by Provost Andrew Hamilton because the usual chairs of faculty meetings, Yale College Dean Peter Salovey and Graduate School Dean Jon Butler, had chaired the tenure review committee.

Salovey said the depth of the conversation that took place at the meeting demonstrates the importance of the issue to members of the faculty. He said that everyone present agreed that the University’s system should be rational, transparent and attractive to those considering junior positions at Yale, but they also agreed that Yale should preserve its high standards for tenure. Many of the questions raised at the meeting focused on the intersection of those issues, he said.

“It was a very thoughtful and productive discussion, involving many members of the faculty at different ranks, on probably the most fundamental issue at a university,” Salovey said. “The discussion raises serious issues of governance and fairness and excellence all rolled into one.”

The committee’s most notable recommendation is the creation of a system resembling the “tenure tracks” at most other universities by guaranteeing that resources would be available to hire junior faculty being considered for tenure. The report also proposed the elimination of open searches during internal tenure evaluations, the creation of an additional yearlong leave for associate professors, a greater emphasis on mentoring junior faculty and a tenure “clock” shortened from 10 to nine years.

If the faculty support the report’s recommendations next week, the proposals will be passed to the Provost’s Office for final approval or disapproval. If implemented, the new system would automatically affect all faculty hired after July 1 of this year. Other junior professors will be able to choose between the current system and the new one.

Junior faculty members who attended yesterday’s meeting said they think most of their peers will opt to switch to the proposed tenure system if it is adopted. But Salovey said some professors have had questions about how the change will affect them personally, particularly in terms of the shortened tenure clock.

Assistant professor of mathematics Philip Gressman said he thinks the support for the committee’s recommendations is partially because the new system would better accommodate the differences between different academic departments.

“It’s hard to be opposed to something that is more flexible,” he said.

Associate professor of comparative literature Pericles Lewis, who received tenure two years ago, said one issue raised during the discussion was whether there is a need for two separate associate professor ranks — one with tenure and one without tenure. While some professors think these ranks are unnecessary because promotion to tenure should automatically confer a full professorship, Lewis said, the system is in place in order to maintain the high standards for tenure at the University. The use of these ranks varies across departments and the system allows professors more time to build up their research to the level of a full professor, he said.

One argument made in defense of the proposals was that the new system will improve the University’s chances of recruiting top-flight junior faculty, said Christopher Hill, assistant professor of East Asian Languages and Literatures. This suggests that current junior professors are not necessarily the most competitive and may be unlikely to receive tenure, Hill said, though this idea was not explicitly stated at the meeting. Despite this concern, Hill said he thinks the new tenure system would lead to positive changes in the University’s culture.

An amendment proposed at the meeting would leave the final approval over junior faculty hires up to a faculty committee rather than the deans, Gressman said. Salovey said this proposal will be considered a friendly amendment and will be formally presented to the faculty during the vote next week.

The tenure review committee’s proposal calls for another evaluation of the system of tenure and appointments in 10 years.

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