Faculty forum debates costs of Yale-NUS

The most recent meeting of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences forum saw a modest turnout on Monday of roughly 30 professors, a considerable improvement from February’s meeting.

The forum, which meets twice per semester and was launched by President-elect and then-Provost Peter Salovey in fall 2012, is intended to provide a venue for professors to discuss University issues and policies with each other and administrators. But after fewer than 10 faculty members not giving presentations attended the February meeting, some professors questioned whether the forum would eventually be discontinued due to lack of participation. Professors who attended Monday’s meeting said the forum featured discussions on the University Library’s efforts to combat rising database subscription prices and on the costs of Yale-NUS, the college Yale is establishing with the National University of Singapore.

“[The faculty] asked me to talk about the costs of Yale-NUS to plain, vanilla Yale,” Provost Benjamin Polak said. “Which wasn’t such a useful discussion [compared to the library discussion] because it’s hard to know what to say about them. The costs easily quantified are mostly paid by NUS, but a lot of the costs one might think of … you can’t quantify and hence you couldn’t bill for.”

Attendees said there were tense moments during the discussion about Yale-NUS because some professors had hoped that Polak would be able to provide concrete numbers about the costs the venture has created for Yale. Professors were particularly interested in the implicit costs of the redirection of administrators’ time and energy away from Yale issues and toward Yale-NUS. Polak said the financial costs of these efforts are difficult to quantify because administrators do not keep track of how many hours are spent on which issues.

Most of the direct costs of Yale-NUS are covered by NUS itself, attendees said. Though a few faculty members have taken time off from teaching to help hire professors to teach at Yale-NUS, NUS has compensated Yale departments for the faculty members’ time, said philosophy professor Shelly Kagan, who attended the meeting.

“Yale-NUS is a much more controversial topic than the library, and feelings run higher on all sides,” Kagan said. “To the extent that you didn’t think [Yale-NUS] was a good idea in the first place, you’re going to mind whatever money is coming from Yale.”

Michael Fischer, a computer science professor and outspoken critic of Yale-NUS, said he raised questions at the forum about whether it was a good idea to have a checkbox on the Yale College application next year to allow simultaneous application to Yale College and Yale-NUS.

Since the faculty will discuss Yale-NUS next week at a Yale College faculty meeting, Polak said he would have liked to see professors discussing other important issues at Monday’s forum.

“I would rather be discussing teaching initiatives at Yale, or diversity, or the relationship between the sciences and the arts or countless topics that I think are enormously important,” he said. “That doesn’t mean this isn’t important, but it is one of many, and I would like for us to get a balance of topics that different faculty care a lot about.”

Attendees said they found the discussion about the library informative.

University Librarian Susan Gibbons spoke about the rising costs of subscriptions to digital databases and academic journals, Kagan said.

“Journals are consuming more and more of the library’s budget. They have a monopoly,” Kagan said. “Each field [at Yale] wants the library to have access to the leading journals. Particularly for the sciences, a delay of a couple of months is a significant delay.”

Gibbons said a large group of research institutions is discussing how best to negotiate better prices with publishers, Kagan said, adding that possible strategies discussed included advocating for altered copyright restrictions or even bypassing the traditional publishers by expanding universities’ involvement in academic publishing.

Gibbons declined to comment Monday night.

Charles Bailyn, astronomy professor and Yale-NUS dean of faculty, said scholarly journal subscription prices are going up at a rate of seven percent to 10 percent each year, while the library’s budget is not growing at that rate.

“Part of the problem is the journals are getting fewer and fewer personal subscriptions, so they keep increasing costs to libraries,” he said. “It’s very challenging environment.”

Psychology professor Marvin Chun said in an email that attendance at the forums “can always be stronger” but enough faculty turned out on Monday to foster productive discussion.

The first meeting of the faculty forum took place on Oct. 1.

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