NEWS’ VIEW: The faculty before the colleges

Academics at Yale are unprepared for new residential colleges
WarnertoWoodbridge

Yale’s two newest residential colleges were originally set to open this year.

In June 2008, the Yale Corporation approved the largest expansion of the Yale student body since Morse and Ezra Stiles colleges were added in 1961. Months later, the global financial downturn delayed construction. Today, the future of these unnamed colleges needs new vision and new leadership.

Administrators have pointed to a “shovel-ready” foundation on the Prospect-Sachem Triangle, only waiting for roughly $300 million in donations to begin construction. But even if the upcoming Salovey administration secures the necessary funding in the near future, we believe Yale College is not yet prepared for an expansion.

As shopping period continues, many Yalies face seminar rooms designed for 20 students, but filled with 80. Students find packed lecture halls that seem at odds with the promise of “small classes” that brought them to Yale. As students try to create the perfect notecard-sized pitch to gain admittance to a seminar, or scramble for a seat in a lecture, it has become apparent that Yale’s faculty and classroom resources are already strained.

Yale’s academic program cannot support 800 additional students. In fact, tenured and tenure-track professors have decreased over the past two years. Most concerning, no clear plan for additional classrooms or faculty growth has been announced. A lack of faculty resources to accommodate the increase in students undermines the original mission of the new colleges: to expand access to the full breadth and depth of a Yale education.

This concern is not a new one. The February 2008 report of the Academic Resources Committee identified lack of space and faculty as the most serious challenges to the colleges. Almost five years later, Yale College requires a detailed initiative to provide additional classrooms and expand its faculty, including a specific target for hiring before construction begins on the colleges.

While Yale’s faculty has increased roughly 15 percent since 1999, our experiences tell us that these efforts must be redoubled. To retain Yale’s current faculty-to-student ratio with the new colleges, Yale would have to increase its faculty size by another 15 percent. It is unlikely Yale would be willing to wait 13 years to begin construction on the new colleges.

But Yale cannot accommodate the influx of students simply by increasing the size of its faculty alone. Strategic planning must occur; administrators must wrestle with important questions concerning undergraduate advising, graduate student teaching fellows, introductory courses in English and the sciences, and special programs, such as Directed Studies and Perspectives on Science and Engineering.

Answering these kinds of administrative questions requires not only organizational planning, but also decisions on which academic programs to emphasize and pedagogical values to prioritize.

Now is the time for chairs, directors of undergraduate study and students of every department to look inward. Yale must find professors who will not only fulfill our numerical needs, but who will also advance our academic discussions towards fields currently unpursued at Yale.

If Salovey seeks to build upon the academic improvements of his predecessor, an expansion plan will need to be authored in the immediate future, by either Salovey himself or Provost Benjamin Polak. Given Salovey’s experience in faculty development, we believe this growth could be a defining part of his legacy, but the faculty must arrive before the gates of these colleges swing open to a new generation of Yalies.

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