For speakers, Yale looks local

The East Asian Studies program last year invited more than 20 guest lecturers — from as far away as the University of California-Berkeley — to speak on campus. But this year, the program has invited less than half that number, with fewer speakers traveling internationally and cross country, East Asian studies and comparative literature professor Haun Saussy said.

In searching for ways to save money, academic departments have tightened their budgets for speakers and guest lecturers. Three department chairs said they are cutting back on costs by reducing the number of speakers and focusing on bringing in local and faculty lecturers. But other departments said they have special funds set aside for guest lectures, allowing them to continue to invite the same number and types of speakers.

“If someone can come here on the train rather than coming from the West Coast, we might be able to bring them up for $60 rather than $600,” Saussy said. “We’re fortunate because there are a lot of great institutions nearby, in New York and at Wesleyan.”

In more economically secure years, the department would provide far-flung guest speakers with travel arrangements as well as a reception and lodging, Saussy said. Now, choosing to invite more local speakers enables the department to cut down on those expenses, he said.

English Department chair Michael Warner said New Haven’s location on the Amtrak line allows many distinguished speakers on the East Coast to travel to Yale more easily and cheaply than by plane. And because the department is seeking to reduce the number of speakers it brings in from outside Yale, more University faculty members have begun presenting their own research, Warner said, calling the move a positive change.

“This is something we probably should have been doing more all along, so it’s not just a concession to economy,” Warner said in an e-mail. “It allows us to have a more robust conversation and share in the excitement of our own faculty.”

At the beginning of this school year, the Italian Department decided to host only Yale faculty for its guest lectures — a total of six over the course of the year, as opposed to the usual 10, department chair Millicent Marcus said. In lieu of hiring outside speakers, the department established an interdisciplinary faculty colloquium, in which Yale professors in departments ranging from Architecture to History of Science and Medicine speak on topics related to the study of Italian, Marcus said.

Italian Director of Undergraduate Studies David Lummus, who will give a lecture for the Italian colloquium Friday, said the new approach has ushered in a new dialogue about Italian studies among Yale’s faculty members in different disciplines.

Yale professors do not get paid for giving lectures at Yale, so departments only have to pay for receptions, Marcus said.

Marcus said she hopes the Italian Department’s budget for outside speakers will be reinstated in the future, though the department intends to keep the new interdisciplinary colloquium in place.

Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies chair Sally Promey said she does not think all departments should have to make the decision to eliminate speakers traveling from far away.

“In some instances, there might be restricted funds or gifts that can be used for no other purpose than to bring speakers from abroad,” she said in an e-mail. “In other cases, in efforts to conserve resources, programs or departments might choose to bring fewer speakers rather than limiting the distance traveled.”

The History Department, for example, sponsors the Frank K. Bosworth, Jr. lecture each year on American history, endowed by Bosworth’s widow. The series will remain in place, department chair Laura Engelstein said.

On Feb. 3, University President Richard Levin and Provost Peter Salovey announced plans to cut expenses in departments by an additional 7.5 percent in an effort to close the $100 million budget deficit.

Comments