Provost announces teaching initiative

Provost Peter Salovey is working to encourage high-quality teaching among professors at Yale.

The Provost’s Teaching Initiative, which Salovey announced in an email to faculty in November, will have three components: the Provost’s Teaching Award, the expansion of the Graduate Teaching Center into the Yale Teaching Center and a faculty steering committee to oversee the teaching initiative. Salovey said he has been considering starting an effort such as this since he became provost in 2008. Yale College Dean Mary Miller said the initiative will create a culture that emphasizes strong classroom teaching as well as research by increasing the visibility of Yale’s top teachers.

“At a place like Williams or Amherst, [teaching] is taken for granted, but for a top research university like Yale to put this kind of investment in teaching, I think it’s a real statement,” said Deputy Provost for the Social Sciences and Faculty Development Frances Rosenbluth, who is leading the initiative. “We want to be able to identify [excellence in teaching], recognize it, reward it and make it part of the DNA of the faculty culture at Yale.”

Salovey said he looked to models of institutionalized teaching recognition at other universities for inspiration, including the Bass University Fellows in Undergraduate Education Program at Stanford, which rewards several professors each year for their commitment to undergraduate education.

Salovey said the Provost’s Teaching Award, which his office will present each spring to 10 professors — at least six of whom will be nontenured faculty members who teach undergraduates — was made possible by a recent gift to the University, which enables Yale to “recognize and reward” great teachers.

Miller said the award’s emphasis on junior faculty is particularly important, since Yale has been known for being less supportive of untenured professors.

“I’ve spoken to longtime members of the Yale faculty, and they might say that Yale long had a reputation for not giving much weight to teaching and mentoring in the evaluation and promotion and tenuring of younger faculty,” Miller said.

Rosenbluth said the initiative is not designed to just reward naturally talented professors, but instead aims to incentivize improvement and critical examination of teaching strategies. Rosenbluth said the newly expanded Yale Teaching Center will provide workshops, forums and other programs to help professors learn from one another and enhance the quality of their teaching. She added that many of these programs will assist junior faculty in particular, though the resources will be available to all professors.

Rosenbluth said the faculty steering committee overseeing this initiative will be composed of 10 faculty members, five of whom will be selected next semester, who will serve for two-year terms. The steering committee’s exact duties have yet to be decided, Salovey said, though he added that the committee may advise the Teaching Center, help select teaching award winners and advise the University on issues like online education.

Most professors interviewed said they were unaware of the initiative, though all said balancing research and teaching can be difficult at large universities.

“It’s certainly the case that all American universities with both a research mission and a teaching mission have to find ways to balance those two missions when they conflict,” said philosophy professor Scott Edgar. “If the Provost’s Office at Yale is looking to find new ways to balance those two, that’s a good thing.”

Edgar added that he had not yet seen the announcement of the initiative.

At the start of this semester, Yale had 682 tenured or tenure-track professors in the Faculty of Arts and Sciences.

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