On the evening of Jan. 18, roughly 20 professors gathered for wine and cheese at the home of English professor Jill Campbell GRD ’88. The event, co-hosted by History of Art professor David Joselit, was an informal affair, but the evening’s discussion helped launch a concerted campaign of faculty dissent.
The group had met to express dissatisfaction with the direction Yale was heading. In recent years, administrators had implemented an increasingly top-down approach to decision-making, professors maintained. The January meeting marked the beginning of efforts to restore balance to the University — to reassert the faculty’s deliberative role in its governance.
Since then, the group, largely composed of professors in the humanities, has mobilized at three consecutive Yale College faculty meetings and expanded through email listservs. Professors began by protesting the implementation of a business model intended to streamline administrative services at the February meeting. Over the next two months, they also contested leadership in the Graduate School and the University’s partnership with the National University of Singapore in the creation of Yale-NUS College.
The intensity of these professors’ frustration may not be widespread among faculty. One department chair called the group a “cadre” of no more than a dozen professors “essentially trying to be professional revolutionaries.”
But their efforts have forced a response from the administration. University President Richard Levin and Provost Peter Salovey have met with over 20 departments in recent weeks to discuss concerns, many caused by financial difficulties. All faculty members, mobilized or not, have helped bear the burden of cuts made since the onset of the recession in 2008.
Those three years of accumulated budget fatigue are now prompting faculty to raise questions of governance that they might have let rest during rosier financial times.
“There are mechanisms for faculty governance in place of various kinds on this campus,” Salovey said. “The question remains: Are these methods optimal, let alone sufficient? I think in the course of this semester especially, many faculty members have been asking that question.”
‘THE LARGER QUESTION’
Governance issues took center stage one week ago when the Yale College faculty voted at their April meeting to pass a resolution urging Yale-NUS to uphold principles of nondiscrimination and civil liberty.
Though the resolution was approved by a margin of 100 to 69 after two and a half hours of debate, a number of professors cited concerns with the proposal’s language. Shortly before the vote was conducted, Levin also delivered a statement of opposition to the resolution. He told the News he took issue with the “moral superiority” of its first sentence, which expresses “concern regarding the history of lack of respect for civil and political rights” in Singapore.
The approved statement was a revised version of a resolution that political science and philosophy professor Seyla Benhabib GRD ’77 had introduced a month earlier at the faculty’s March meeting. At the time, Benhabib told the News that debate over the resolution helps demonstrate that the Yale College faculty is an “equal deliberating body” to the Yale Corporation, even if the faculty is not responsible for all decisions concerning the University.
Levin said in February that the decision to launch Yale-NUS ultimately rested with the Yale Corporation, as the venture is a new school and not a program within Yale College. The April meeting marked the first time faculty members took a stance on the Singaporean school, which will be jointly administered by Yale and NUS, through a formal vote.
“We took a big and positive step forward this evening, perhaps opening up the larger question about governance in Yale University and the place of the faculty,” Benhabib said after March’s meeting.
CHARTING SHARED GOVERNANCE
Though faculty have lately questioned the weight they carry in University decisions, Yale has long tried to balance faculty and administrative voices through a system of shared governance.
Judith Areen LAW ’69, a professor at the Georgetown University Law Center, said shared governance systems allot decision-making responsibilities to both the faculty and a non-faculty or “lay” governing board. While the latter, like the Yale Corporation, is responsible for business-related issues, the former has primary authority over all academic matters.
Areen, who has written about higher education governance and law, said shared governance at colleges and universities is unique to the United States. The founders of Harvard — the oldest higher education institution in the nation — tried to emulate the governance systems of British institutions such as Cambridge and Oxford, where faculty have complete control. But in 1636 there were not enough scholars in Massachusetts Bay Colony to establish a system of faculty governance, and a lay governing board was created.
Over the next 200 years, higher education faculty in the United States largely followed the directives of their governing boards. But as the boards began to include more businessmen and fewer legislators and ministers in the late 19th century, and as professors placed new emphasis on scholarship instead of simply teaching, disputes led faculty to take a stand to protect themselves from their boards. The American Association of University Professors was formed in 1915 with the purpose of upholding the faculty’s role in governance, and released a statement that year on academic freedom and tenure, Areen said.
Nearly 100 years later, some faculty and administrators at Yale are divided over what form shared governance should take.
Areen said shared governance systems do not necessarily outline a clear-cut division of responsibilities, but instead rely on “consultation and mutual respect” between faculty, administrators and governing boards.
Faculty and administrators are not “monolithic,” said Salovey, who became an administrator in 2003, noting that he still considers himself part of the faculty. Even if professors are not the final decision-makers on some issues, Salovey said their input is important.
“I think it’s most important to recognize that when it comes to matters of curriculum and faculty appointments — what is taught and who teaches it — the judgment of the faculty and its authority are paramount,” Salovey said.
The Yale-NUS project is one example of an issue that does affect faculty, Salovey said, and should therefore involve substantial consultation with professors. Administrators discussed Yale-NUS at town hall meetings with faculty in the fall of 2010 — before a budget for the college was finalized with NUS and the Singaporean government in late March 2011. Levin had also presented on Yale-NUS three different times at faculty meetings in the three years prior to March’s meeting.
But several faculty members said they feel they were not adequately consulted in the past and would like a greater say as the project moves forward.
A SHIFT TO THE TOP
As tensions mounted across the University in the wake of protests faculty raised at their February meeting, Levin and Salovey began visiting departments, and they released a memo to the Faculty of Arts and Sciences addressing areas of faculty concern two weeks ago. In the six-point memo, Levin and Salovey reaffirmed their commitment to productive dialogue with the faculty, pledged to collaborate with departments in staff restructuring related to shared services, and expressed regret over “any misunderstanding” caused by proposed policy changes in the Graduate School.
Throughout much of the memo, the two administrators linked recent faculty unease to financial challenges the University has faced since the recession hit in 2008. Levin told the News after the memo was released that he thinks faculty have consolidated around a diverse set of grievances this semester partly because a period of tight finances requires decisions be made at “the top” more than usual.
“It’s pretty hard to reduce budgets by majority vote,” Levin said.
With the onset of the nationwide economic downturn, Yale’s endowment declined by nearly 25 percent in fiscal year 2009 and left the University facing a $350 million budget deficit. Administrators called for across-the-board budget cuts three years in a row. Faculty hiring and salary increases faced financial constraints, and construction of the new residential colleges and buildings on Science Hill was stalled.
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Administrators have also exerted increased control of FAS search and hiring processes since the recession hit. Before the budget crisis, the number of faculty and authorized searches increased alongside dramatic growth in the endowment during the mid-2000s. But over the past three years, 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 a report Salovey released to the FAS in early March on faculty resources and budgeting, individual departments have had less influence over faculty appointment decisions since the recession began because the FAS Steering Committee — a group that includes Salovey, Miller, Graduate School Dean Thomas Pollard and the deputy provosts — has been forced to ration searches. Many departments now have more allotted positions than the budget has allowed them to fill.
Daniel Harrison, chair of the Music Department, said departments have had less authority over hiring decisions due to the budget shortfall, as decisions to freeze searches have come out of the Provost’s Office. He said some of the “apparently unrelated events” that have frustrated faculty in recent months can be traced to the shortfall.
“Now that the budget crisis is easing a bit, faculty are kind of coming out of their shells and noticing that a number of decisions were either taken out of faculty hands and done administratively or some of those decisions were done hastily,” Harrison said.
But more than three years later, the budget gap still has not been completely eliminated: Salovey said in January that a disparity between growth in expected spending and revenue will require “targeted reductions” to close a projected $67 million deficit in the 2012-’13 budget.
THE CORPORATE PUSH
As part of efforts to close the initial budget shortfall, Levin and Vice President for Finance and Business Operations Shauna King decided to use shared services — a business model intended to ease the burden on faculty and staff by moving common tasks out of departments to centralized service units — as a cost-cutting measure.
After King delivered a presentation on the progress of the shared services model at the February faculty meeting, roughly 20 professors took turns criticizing the initiative. They described the model as an across-the-board system that fails to consider the needs of individual departments, and said it has led to unnecessary restructuring of staff.
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Underlying much of this criticism is the complaint that faculty have not been adequately involved in decisions related to shared services and changes that directly impact their departments. History professor Glenda Gilmore said administrators should have included faculty in the initial decision to introduce the business model, as they are the ones utilizing the services. Quality administrative support helps faculty to improve their teaching and research, she added.
“The people who are implementing these changes saw the faculty as an obstacle to be worked around, and they didn’t realize that the faculty was actually consuming and using these services,” Gilmore said.
The shared services model is widespread in the private sector, and King, who is leading its implementation at Yale, spent her entire career in the corporate world. She even served as president of PepsiCo Shared Services before coming to Yale in June 2006.
But the model is less common at colleges and universities, and Rowan Miranda, associate vice president for finance at the University of Michigan, said Yale and other schools may face resistance as they introduce shared services to higher education.
“I see shared services as something that is inevitable,” Miranda told the News in late March. “It’s the next logical influx of thinking in the business world brought into higher education.”
Professor of Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations Dimitri Gutas ’69 GRD ’74, who recalls the “good ol’ days” of the late 1960s when he was an undergraduate at Yale, said shared services has contributed to an overall negative shift in how the University is governed.
Gutas said Yale’s governance structure has historically existed on a basis of “advice and consent” between faculty and administrators. But he said the introduction of a “technocratic, management class interposed between the faculty and the administration” has hampered their communication. Members of this management class, such as employees in the Office of Finance and Business Operations, do not work on the same basis of “advice and consent” because they are hired, fired and held accountable by the administration, he added.
Benjamin Ginsberg, a professor of political science at Johns Hopkins University, said administration in higher education has become increasingly professionalized over the past 25 years.
Faculty members used to fill administrative positions on a temporary basis, but Ginsberg said today professional administrators from outside faculty ranks are generally hired to these roles and to a proliferation of new positions like assistant deans, associate provosts and vice presidents. Ginsberg said these employees — which he terms “deanlets” — have led to university presidents controlling their own “army” of administrators.
While faculty view the mission of a university as research and teaching, Ginsberg, who recently wrote a book entitled “The Fall of the Faculty,” said professional administrators are primarily concerned with finances and focus on bringing “customers” to the university.
“Administrators have worked quite assiduously to put the faculty out of the business of governance; to shield their decision-making from faculty involvement; to hire more and more and more ‘deanlets’ so they can operate independently of the faculty,” he said.
Levin said financial decisions are made to support the educational mission of the University, adding that faculty growth has outpaced administrative growth over the past 12 years.
MECHANISMS IN NEED OF ADJUSTMENT?
In examining the role of the faculty in Yale’s decision-making processes, professors and administrators differ on whether the University should realign its system of shared governance.
Salovey said a variety of mechanisms exist at Yale that support the faculty’s role in governance, such as standing and ad hoc faculty committees, monthly faculty meetings for Yale College and the Graduate School, and the Joint Boards of Permanent Officers — a body responsible for approving faculty appointments and promotions that consists of tenured professors in those two schools.
Administrators commended the democratic nature of Yale College faculty meetings, which Miller said convene the “most encompassing governing body on the campus” and allow “for all membership to have a voice.” But those meetings are designed to address issues involving the college in particular, and Levin and Salovey said in their memo that they recognized a desire among faculty for “a regular forum for faculty discussion of significant University issues.”
The two administrators proposed holding meetings of the FAS — which currently only take place to discuss reports of specific committees — once or twice a semester in the coming academic year on a trial basis, with the procedures for those meetings to be determined by a faculty committee. To improve communication and collaboration between administrators and faculty, Levin and Salovey also suggested holding more regular meetings between departmental administrators and Miller and Pollard.
But some professors, including many involved with the faculty group on governance, have advocated for the creation of a formal faculty body with significant voting and deliberative power.
As faculty dissent has gained momentum this semester, professor of molecular, cellular and developmental biology Joel Rosenbaum said he has tried to build support among his colleagues for a faculty senate. Rosenbaum, who has taught at Yale since 1967, said the University’s governance has become a corporatized “permissive autocracy.”
A faculty senate or elected council for the FAS — or potentially for the University as a whole — would provide a better forum for discussion than Yale College faculty meetings and give faculty a greater say in decision-making, some professors claim.
Economics professor William Nordhaus ’63, who chaired the committee that reported on faculty resources, said in an April 6 email that “including faculty in major decisions is a key element in good governance in a university.”
“I have long favored trying to find a more effective way for faculty to voice their concerns in a systematic and informed manner, perhaps a senate or perhaps some other approach,” said Nordhaus, who came to Yale in 1967 and served as provost in the late 1980s. “This becomes ever more important as the University becomes large.”
Professor of political science Steven Wilkinson, who came to Yale in 2009, said he has found the University’s faculty governance procedures more difficult to understand and “less institutionalized” than those at Duke University and the University of Chicago, where he used to work. Duke had an Arts and Sciences Council elected by the faculty, Wilkinson said in an April 4 email, which discussed and voted on a variety of university-wide issues. The council was a “pretty constructive and reasonable body,” he said, which improved university decisions and made them “more legitimate.”
At Yale, the faculty have less substantial opportunities to deliberate on important issues, Wilkinson said. He noted that “most of the faculty voice” is expressed through committees appointed by administrators as well as meetings of the Yale College faculty or the Joint Boards of Permanent Officers, in which items not placed on the agenda must be held until the end. Agendas for Yale College faculty meetings are set by the Yale College Steering Committee, which includes appointed faculty members and representatives of the Dean’s Office.
Salovey said committee appointments are made with input from departmental chairs. But Levin is responsible for making the final decision on chair appointments, though Miller, Pollard or T. Kyle Vanderlick, dean of the School of Engineering & Applied Science, meet one-on-one with all faculty members in a department beforehand.
Administrators said they are open to discussing changes to Yale’s governance structures. While Levin said a representative faculty body could increase commitment from elected faculty, he noted that such a group could also create politics among professors.
“I don’t think it’s obvious that it’s an improvement over what has, over time, been a pretty engaged democratic process where we’ve had many very thoughtful and well-reasoned discussions of the full plenary body,” Levin said.
DUE FOR DISCUSSION
Yale historian Gaddis Smith ’54 GRD ’61 said shared governance at Yale has traditionally been exercised through the “considerable discussion” that takes place between faculty and administrators. Power on most matters ultimately rests with the Corporation, Smith said, and the faculty’s most significant “check” on that power is to speak out against and denounce policies with which they disagree.
Faculty dissent this semester is “reminiscent” of governance conflicts Yale witnessed in the 20th century, Smith said — even if not as serious. He cited an alumni committee’s reshuffling of power from faculty to the Corporation at the end of World War I, the heavy-handed decision-making of President A. Whitney Griswold in the 1950s, and faculty pushback against the directives of President Benno Schmidt ’63 LAW ’66 in the early 1990s.
Before Schmidt resigned in 1992, faculty demanded the creation of a committee on governance. The committee issued a report in 1993, which Smith said became largely irrelevant when Levin took the helm of the University that year. A similarly significant discussion on governance has not taken place since then, and both administrators and faculty recognize it may be time to resume the dialogue.
“It’s probably good for the body politic to have a governance discussion every 20 years or so,” Music Department Chair Harrison said. “And we’re probably due for one.”