Committee considers faculty allocations

A report released two weeks ago by University Provost Peter Salovey makes a series of proposals to improve the process of allocating faculty positions to departments and making appointments.

In the report, a committee chaired by economics professor William Nordhaus emphasizes the importance of increasing departmental control over the search and hiring processes in the Faculty of Arts and Sciences, expresses concern over the rising ratio of tenured to non-tenured faculty, and discusses the need for a periodic reallocation of faculty resources that accounts for emerging academic fields. The report also proposes a new faculty accounting system that would streamline how Yale budgets and tracks the number of positions in departments.

Faculty positions are currently counted and budgeted to departments in units of junior-faculty equivalents, or JFEs. Under this system, tenured faculty count as two JFEs while non-tenured faculty equal one JFE, reflecting a roughly 2-to-1 salary ratio between senior and junior faculty. JFEs are the remnants of an old tenure system the University used until 2007, but Salovey said the units have become less relevant since Yale introduced its current tenure-track model. While the old system awarded tenure to professors partly based on the availability of faculty slots in their departments, professors now earn tenure based on their qualifications.

The report proposes implementing a full-time equivalent, or FTE, system that would not weight senior faculty more heavily than junior faculty. The report states that, under the current tenure-track system, the long-term cost of a junior appointment is not considerably different than that of a senior position because “a junior appointment carries the explicit commitment of the resources required for tenure.”

Nordhaus said in an email to the News that the report discusses “many important issues and makes several recommendations about faculty budgeting and governance.” He declined to comment on how the recommendations will improve the processes of authorizing faculty searches and appointing new professors, saying the report speaks for itself.

Salovey said a discussion of general faculty accounting is necessary in light of how the approval process for faculty searches has changed in recent years.

“Professor Nordhaus and his committee have written a thought-provoking and constructive report that makes substantial recommendations concerning how we account for the resources supporting faculty slots as well as how faculty searches in the FAS are authorized and conducted,” Salovey said in a Sunday email.

During the mid-2000s, the number of faculty and authorized searches increased alongside dramatic growth in the endowment. But with the onset of the recession in 2008, the size of the FAS ladder faculty was held at roughly 700 and the number of faculty searches requested far exceeded those that could be approved.

According to the report, individual departments have had less influence over faculty appointment decisions since the recession hit because the FAS Steering Committee — a group that includes Salovey, Yale College Dean Mary Miller, Graduate School Dean Thomas Pollard and the deputy provosts — has been forced to ration searches.

At the same time, departments have more existing positions than the budget has allowed them to fill, creating what the report terms a slot overhang. The Faculty of Arts and Sciences has 77 vacancies that have not resulted from routine turnover, the report estimates. As of fall 2011, 699 of 855 authorized positions in the faculty were filled.

In order to reduce this slot overhang and take stress off departments that have had searches placed on hold, the committee suggests a number of potential strategies, such as budgeting for more faculty members or encouraging a “higher voluntary vacancy rate” by allowing departments to fill openings with temporary hires.

The committee recommends that any decrease in the number of authorized positions should take place through an Academic Review, which would create a committee of administrators and faculty to “consider the need for reallocation across departments and divisions to ensure the healthy evolution of the core mission of the FAS.” The Nordhaus committee suggests that Yale hold an Academic Review once a decade, helping evaluate department sizes and shift resources toward emerging academic fields.

The report also expresses concern over the rising ratio of tenured to non-tenured faculty at the University, a trend that has been exacerbated by several factors in recent years. For example, the committee said the financial crisis has likely prevented some tenured professors from retiring, thus increasing the ratio. The new tenure-track model introduced in 2007 includes mandatory tenure review for junior faculty, and an FTE system could contribute to the increasing ratio as well because it would cost roughly the same for a department to hire a senior or junior faculty member.

The committee recommends establishing tenure ratio guidelines for departments, which would require those above the guidelines to prioritize searches for junior faculty.

Edward Kamens, chair of the East Asian Languages and Literatures Department, said in a Thursday email that he had been concerned about how some recommendations in early drafts of the report, such as the tenure ratio guidelines, would affect small departments. But he said the final version has addressed his concerns. The report emphasizes using particular caution in managing faculty appointments for small departments, in which each change can have a substantial impact.

“I admire [the report’s] clarity and its thorough coverage of several interrelated complex problems,” Kamens said. “It gives the Faculty of Arts and Sciences a very well-reasoned and sensible set of steps for managing faculty resources in the future, in a manner that I think is wholly appropriate to Yale.”

Three other department chairs also praised the proposals in the report. Fifteen department chairs did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

Salovey requested a review of the faculty budget and accounting system in May 2011. The Nordhaus committee developed its recommendations through consultation with Yale faculty and administrators, as well as administrators at Yale’s peer universities. The committee presented its findings at a Yale College faculty meeting in December and discussed the recommendations with department chairs in February. The Faculty of Arts and Sciences will discuss the report at a special meeting scheduled for April 2, Salovey said.

“I look forward to a searching discussion and review by the faculty in early April, followed by a speedy implementation of those recommendations that are accepted by the administration,” Nordhaus said.

Salovey released the report to the Faculty of Arts and Sciences on March 2.

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