University to undergo academic review

Beginning this fall, Yale will conduct the first extensive academic review of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences in two decades.

Appointment of the committee follows a recommendation made in a spring report on faculty resources that an academic review be held roughly every 10 years to help “keep Yale at the frontiers in the advance of knowledge.” The committee — consisting of economics professor Steven Berry as chair, Yale College Dean Mary Miller, Graduate School Dean Thomas Pollard and 11 other faculty members — will be tasked with recommending changes to the allocation of faculty positions across departments.

“What they really want to focus on is how best to use the resources we have available to support a Faculty of Arts and Sciences,” said Provost Peter Salovey, who announced the committee’s apppointment last week. “I think everyone recognizes the answer to that question is multidimensional, and reflects excitement in fields, student interest, opportunities for diversity, change and emerging areas of scholarship.”

In a report released in March, a committee chaired by economics professor William Nordhaus ’63 made a series of proposals designed to improve faculty search and hiring processes, one of which was the appointment of the Academic Review Committee.

According to the Nordhaus report, departments have had more existing faculty positions than the budget has allowed them to fill since the onset of the recession in 2008, creating what it termed a “slot overhang.” The committee suggested a number of strategies to reduce this overhang, and recommended any decrease in the number of existing positions take place through an academic review.

The faculty appointed to the Academic Review Committee, announced in a memo to the FAS last Friday, represent 15 departments in the FAS and include all four directors of the divisional advisory committees — in the physical sciences and engineering, biological sciences, social sciences and humanities. The review will evaluate department sizes and help shift resources toward emerging academic fields. Berry said in a Tuesday email that the committee will focus on the “core academic mission of the University” by consulting with the four divisional advisory committees.

Salovey announced in June that he accepted almost all of the proposals made in the Nordhaus report, including the recommendation that an academic review be held. The last such review, held between 1990 and 1992 when Benno Schmidt was University president, drew contention from the faculty after it initially called for a 10.7 percent reduction in the size of the faculty. Professors deemed that number too high, and the planned figure was ultimately reduced to 6.6 percent.

A more successful academic review, which recommended reducing ladder faculty positions by about 4 percent, was held at Yale between 1979 and 1981 under former Provost Georges May. This review was conducted “very effectively,” Salovey said, largely because the committee took time to interact with faculty to understand the needs of departments. Salovey said the review held under May can be used as a model for the current committee.

Holly Rushmeier, chair of the Computer Science Department, said she supports holding an academic review and hopes the committee finds that her department needs to grow, as it is currently smaller than those at Yale’s peer universities like Princeton and Harvard.

“I’m confident we’ll have a fair and well-informed process,” Rushmeier said.

Berry said the committee’s work could extend past the end of the 2012-’13 academic year. Its first meeting is scheduled for next week.

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