Meetings may boost faculty clout

Yale College Dean Mary Miller, center, pictured heading to a Yale College faculty meeting in March.
Yale College Dean Mary Miller, center, pictured heading to a Yale College faculty meeting in March. Photo by Gavan Gideon.

The Faculty of Arts and Sciences will begin meeting twice a semester this fall, intended in part to address concerns some professors raised last semester regarding University governance.

The new meetings — announced by Provost Peter Salovey in a memo sent last week to tenured and tenure-track professors in the FAS — will supplement the University’s existing monthly meetings of the Yale College Faculty. They were created in response to some professors’ desire to discuss issues that do not directly relate to Yale College, and will convene for the first time on Oct. 1.

History professor Frank Snowden, who was appointed by Salovey to a three-person committee responsible for determining the rules for the FAS meetings, said the new forum could allow for “looser” and “freer” faculty discussion than Yale College meetings, which follow predetermined agendas.

“This new body has the potential to become quite an important forum for the expression and formation of faculty opinion, and to inform faculty members about various matters that deeply affect Yale College,” Snowden said.

Snowden said the rules committee, which met for the first time on Friday, will consider a range of issues in recommending meeting procedures, such as who will be able to attend the meetings, how meeting agendas will be compiled, and whether the meetings will follow parliamentary rules of discussion.

Salovey said in his memo to faculty that any professors can submit agenda items, choosing to do so anonymously if they wish. Agendas will be distributed in advance of the meetings.

The FAS meetings are largely intended to address the issue of what role professors should have in University governance. Last spring, a small group of FAS professors argued that the administration has pursued an increasingly top-down approach to decision-making in recent years, pointing to the faculty’s alleged lack of involvement in projects such as the University’s partnership with the National University of Singapore in the creation of a liberal arts college. In the case of Yale-NUS, University President Richard Levin has said the decision to launch the college ultimately rested with the Yale Corporation, as the venture is a new school and not a program within Yale College.

Salovey deferred comment to the rules committee, which he said will propose procedures to be reviewed by the Expanded Executive Committee of the FAS — consisting of himself, Levin, Yale College Dean Mary Miller, Graduate School Dean Thomas Pollard, School of Engineering and Applied Science Dean T. Kyle Vanderlick, and the four faculty divisional directors in the physical sciences and engineering, biological sciences, social sciences and humanities. The Yale University Faculty Handbook states that this committee “is the final authority for all matters of policy within the Faculty of Arts and Sciences.” The FAS will review the proposed procedures after the Expanded Executive Committee, Salovey said.

In the coming weeks, the rules committee will consider whether the faculty should be given formal deliberative powers at the FAS meetings, such as the right to pass motions and resolutions. Snowden said the committee is “likely to recommend” that the FAS meetings not only serve as a venue for discussion and exchange of information but also allow for the faculty body to pass “binding resolutions.” The committee will meet again this Friday and then submit an informal report with its recommendations to Salovey, which will be considered by professors at the first FAS meeting, he added.

English professor Linda Peterson, another member of the rules committee, said in a Monday email that she hopes the procedures will allow for “robust discussion of serious issues and written resolutions.” She said the committee will not necessarily recommend that Robert’s Rules of Orders, which govern Yale College faculty meetings, also be implemented at FAS meetings, as some professors feel the parliamentary style “can stifle or limit discussion.”

Joel Rosenbaum, professor of molecular, cellular and developmental biology, has tried in recent months to build support among his colleagues for a faculty senate that would be “organized and run by the faculty” without administrative presence. The senate would not necessarily have formal decision-making power but would rather assert its authority by advising the administration, Rosenbaum said. Though the FAS meetings may differ from the type of deliberative body he envisions, Rosenbaum said they are a “step in the right direction.”

“Anytime you try to promote additional discussion is good,” he said. “I am a little bit cynical about whether it will work.”

Professor of Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations Benjamin Foster GRD ’75 said the FAS meetings are a great idea “in principle,” but that the important question is what role, if any, the body will have in making decisions at Yale.

The first meeting of the FAS is scheduled for Oct. 1 at 4 p.m. in the Luce Hall Auditorium.

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