Faculty discuss accounting report

Roughly 100 faculty gathered Thursday to discuss a March report on how Yale’s faculty resources are allocated.

University President Richard Levin said professors at the meeting were “unanimously receptive” to the recommendations in the report and expressed support for their implementation by the Provost’s Office. He said faculty spent much of the 90-minute meeting discussing the advantages and disadvantages of the report’s proposal for tenure ratio guidelines, which are intended to help control a rising ratio of tenured to non-tenured faculty at the University.

“The faculty present asked many penetrating questions and had numerous helpful observations,” Provost Peter Salovey, who released the report last month and chaired Thursday’s meeting, said in a Monday email. “Overall, there was strong support for the report’s recommendations.”

In the report, a committee chaired by economics professor William Nordhaus ’63 examines the processes by which faculty positions are allocated to departments and appointments are made. As part of its discussion, the committee expresses concern over the growing ratio of tenured to non-tenured faculty at Yale. Fifty-two percent of faculty were tenured in 1979, but that number has increased in recent decades and reached 66 percent in 2011.

To address this rising ratio, the committee recommends establishing tenure ratio guidelines for departments. If departments exceeded their guidelines, they would be required to focus on faculty searches at the non-tenured level. The report also takes into consideration how these guidelines could impact smaller departments, where each change can have a significant effect.

Levin said faculty at the meeting spent time discussing whether ratio guidelines should be implemented. Though discussion was “generally positive,” Physics Department chair Meg Urry said not everyone could agree on the tenure ratio guidelines.

“There was some disagreement about what the “right” tenure ratio was, and a sense that no one-size-fits-all approach would work for all departments,” Urry said. “But the main ideas were well-accepted.”

While the report also proposes implementing a new faculty accounting system, the committee notes that this system could exacerbate the rising tenure ratio.

Under the current accounting system — based on junior-faculty equivalents, or JFEs — tenured faculty count as two JFEs while non-tenured faculty equal one JFE. The system, which reflects a roughly 2-to-1 salary ratio between senior and junior faculty, has become less relevant since a new tenure-track system was implemented three years ago. While the old system awarded tenure to professors partly based on the availability of faculty slots in their departments, professors now earn tenure according to their qualifications.

The new system proposed in the report would use full-time equivalents, or FTEs, which would not weight senior faculty more heavily than junior faculty. If the University implements this system, departments will not face any additional cost in making tenure promotions, as the newly tenured professor will still count as one FTE.

Faculty also discussed the gap between the total positions allotted to departments and the number the budget has allowed them to fill — termed a “slot overhang” in the report. The committee estimates that 77 of these vacancies, which are not caused by routine turnover, currently exist in the Faculty of Arts and Sciences. The openings have placed stress on departments that have had searches placed on hold.

The committee recommends that any decrease in the number of authorized faculty positions should take place through an Academic Review — a reallocation of faculty resources roughly once a decade by faculty and administrators that accounts for emerging academic fields. The report also stresses the importance of increasing departmental control, which has shifted toward administrators since the University tightened its finances in the wake of the recession, over the faculty search and hiring processes in the faculty.

Nordhaus said the implementation of the report will move forward to the Faculty of Arts and Sciences Executive Committee, which consists of Levin, Salovey, Yale College Dean Mary Miller and Graduate School of Arts and Sciences Dean Thomas Pollard. Levin said Salovey will be ultimately responsible for deciding how to implement the recommendations. Salovey requested a review of the faculty budget and accounting system last May.

Thursday’s meeting was held in Luce Hall.