Committee rethinks faculty counts

Yale’s faculty and administration are reassessing an outdated system used to keep tabs on the number of full and assistant professors in each department.

A newly appointed committee will examine how the University tracks its faculty, Provost Peter Salovey wrote in a Wednesday email to department and program chairs. The revamped system that the committee will propose could help administrators decide how to allocate resources among Yale’s departments, though Salovey explicitly instructed the committee to avoid making recommendations about how resources should be distributed.

The current system for tracking faculty resources makes use of a measurement known as the “junior faculty equivalent” or JFE. When totaling faculty resources used by each department, senior faculty members are counted as two JFEs, while junior faculty members are counted as one. The units are roughly based on a 2-to-1 salary ratio for senior to junior faculty.

“This system should be easily understood and transparent to all,” he said in his email. “I’ve asked the committee to think not just about the features of a new accounting system for faculty resources, but also about how best to solicit input from the faculty on critical decisions such as the authorization of new faculty searches.”

Economics professor William Nordhaus ’63 will serve as chairman of the committee, which will also include faculty members from the English, Physics, History, Psychology and Molecular, Cellular, and Developmental Biology departments. Nordhaus declined to comment on the committee’s work, since it has not yet convened.

The current JFE system is a remnant of an old tenure system, which was eliminated in 2007. Under the former model, professors could not earn promotions until another faculty member in their department retired or departed from the school. Whether a professor could move up on the tenure ladder was also conditional on departments receiving additional resource units, Salovey said.

Now, Salovey said departments can offer qualified professors tenure at any time regardless of the JFE distribution, making the old system essentially obsolete.

Meg Urry, chair of the Physics Department and a former member of the committee that recommended the new tenure system, said the JFE measurement was often unclear and inefficient even before the University revamped its tenure process.

“It was not a system that allowed for very good strategic planning,” she said.

Though department heads used to frequently bring up JFEs in discussions about hiring, Urry said they have rarely talked about the JFE since the new tenure system was implemented. She added that the committee will have to develop an up-to-date process to determine which departments deserve funding for new hires or promotions.

“Over time, the University has to move out of some areas and into new ones,” she said. “This committee is being asked to consider how these decisions could best be made.”

When considering which programs can hire new faculty members, the Faculty of Arts and Sciences steering committee consults divisional advisory committees in the humanities, physics and engineering, social sciences and biological sciences.

A revised accounting system could help administrators allocate resources towards hiring professors in departments that need to grow while maintaining their commitment to keep the size of the faculty constant.

New hires have been limited since the University committed to holding the faculty to its current size of 709 members in fall 2010. At the time, administrators said they were unlikely to grow the faculty until Yale’s strained budget had recovered enough to support additional professors. Though some departments say they have pressing needs for additional professors, Salovey said Wednesday that he anticipates the faculty will stay at roughly 700 members in the coming year regardless of the University’s financial state.

The steering committee chooses to authorize new hires if there is an “exciting” intellectual opportunity, Salovey said, and the new faculty member should enter a field where there is a student demand for courses. The additional professor should also fit into a program’s long-term goals, he said, adding that the committee always considers whether the addition would increase faculty diversity.

Some chairs will likely worry that potential changes to how administrators consider faculty searches could affect future funding for their programs, Urry said, but Salovey’s collaboration with a faculty committee should allay their concerns.

“The faculty have a significant voice in decisions made by the University,” she said. “I don’t think we can ask for more than that.”

As dean of Yale College, Salovey co-chaired the committee that recommended the revised tenure system in 2007.

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