Faculty mull governance structures

Though Provost Peter Salovey established regular faculty forums this fall to give professors a new venue to discuss their concerns, many faculty members continue to question whether administrators are doing enough to solicit faculty input in University decision-making.

Professors in the Faculty of Arts and Sciences have explored different approaches to reasserting the faculty’s role in governance over the past semester. The faculty forum convened three times this fall to discuss issues including the presidential search process, the University’s science and technology resources and the possibility of founding a faculty senate, and some professors have begun to revive a Yale chapter of the American Association for University Professors (AAUP) — a national organization representing the interests of professors. But several faculty members interviewed said neither of these structures can fulfill the role of a faculty senate — an elected body that would hold significant voting and deliberative power at the University..

“The faculty forum is an excellent venue for faculty to share opinions and debate a variety of matters of interest and concern,” said music professor Richard Cohn. “But it lacks the stable structure and continuity of personnel to serve as an effective advisory board on complex issues, some of which need to be studied intensely across time. It also lacks the legitimacy of an elected body.”

Before the creation of the faculty forums, monthly Yale College and Graduate School faculty meetings with preset agendas and occasional town hall-like gatherings functioned as the only settings for professors to voice their opinions.

Classics professor Victor Bers, one of the officers of the Yale chapter of AAUP, said that so far, the chapter has only held one informal meeting with its officers and plans to begin recruiting members next semester.

Cohn, who supports the establishment of a faculty senate or a similar institution, said he thinks Yale’s chapter of AAUP can coexist with a senate, but it cannot replace one. Because of AAUP’s mission, the chapter’s relationship to the University would be “less collaborative by nature” than the relationship between a senate and the University would be, he added. Part of the AAUP mission is to promote shared governance, but its agenda includes several other items as well.

Salovey said over 20 years have passed since the University appointed a committee to assess the state of governance at Yale and make recommendations about the future.

“It may be time to consider another such discussion,” he said.

Cohn said he and a number of colleagues hope that Salovey will appoint a “broadly representative set of faculty” to study shared governance and make recommendations about what kind of elective body would best suit Yale.

A faculty senate would likely take over many of the functions of the faculty forum, Bers said.

Salovey said he would prefer to continue the current experiment of the faculty forum and to assess the merits of this approach at the end of the academic year. The advantage of the faculty forum is that it is explicitly focused on issues of concern to the Faculty of Arts and Sciences, he said.

“At the moment, I’d like to try the forum and see if we can’t make it work,” Salovey said.

Recent administrative issues such as the implementation of Shared Services, a business model intended to centralize administrative tasks across the University, and Yale’s partnership with the National University of Singapore in the creation of a liberal arts college have heightened tensions between the administration and faculty, many of whom feel the administration has not taken their views into account.

“There is a crisis of governance at Yale and we need new structures to address it,” said Seyla Benhabib, a political science and philosophy professor.

The last faculty forum was held on Nov. 12 in Connecticut Hall.

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