Committee looks to orient faculty hiring to University priorities

After almost a year of deliberation, a committee tasked with leading an extensive academic review of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences has shared a preliminary recommendation with professors.

In a two-page document sent to faculty Tuesday, the Academic Review Committee — a group of 14 professors working to determine the optimum size of the FAS and a system by which to allocate faculty positions — proposed the creation of a small central pool of faculty slots to be administered by a newly created committee. These slots would be distributed to departments and programs to accomodate their changing needs as well as to support broader institutional goals such as faculty diversity.

According to the ARC’s document, all departments would contribute some of the faculty positions they control to the pool over time. This would make slots in the central pool available for “diversity hires, new initiatives, targets of special eminence, spousal hires and other contingencies.” Under the current allocation system, the document explains, “slots for such priorities have not been explicitly budgeted.”

Roughly 50 professors discussed the proposal at a Thursday meeting of the Joint Board of Permanent Officers, which is a body made up of tenured professors in Yale College and the Graduate School.

While faculty interviewed said no conclusions were reached at the meeting, economics professor and ARC chair Steven Berry said he hopes conversations among faculty about the slot pool proposal will continue over the next several months. The committee will release its final recommendations on slot allocation and a range of other issues regarding faculty resources by the end of the coming fall semester.

Berry told the News that the ARC has considered multiple factors when designing a system for allocating faculty positions.

“You want departments to have reasonable control and the ability to predict the future, while also making sure that some resources become available to support diversity, to support new initiatives, to support some opportunities for excellence,” he said.

President-elect and then-provost Peter Salovey formed the ARC last August after a spring 2012 report on faculty resources recommended that the University undergo an academic review roughly once every decade to help “keep Yale at the frontiers in the advance of knowledge.” The ARC has met weekly since September to discuss a number of issues related to faculty search and hiring processes, including slot allocation, the ratio of tenured to non-tenured professors and the overall size of the FAS.

Professors who attended the Thursday meeting said discussion focused on how the “flow” of slots in and out of the central pool could be regulated. While increasing the size of the pool would make more faculty positions available to support new hiring initiatives, Berry said, the “disadvantage of this is that departments would have to contribute more slots to the pool.”
Provost Benjamin Polak told the News in February that departments currently have “pent-up demand” to grow their faculties because of hiring restrictions that began with the onset of the recession in 2008.

One solution proposed by the ARC would require departments to contribute a to-be-determined, fixed percentage of their senior, or tenured, faculty positions to the pool. Departments would gradually give these slots to the pool as their professors retired: Half of each departing professor’s slot would go to the pool, and half of his or her slot would stay with the department until the department’s slot donation quota had been filled, after which retired professors’ slots would stay with the department.

Professors interviewed were generally supportive of the idea of a slot pool, which the ARC has been considering for a while, but some said a few faculty members at the meeting questioned whether the proposal would adversely affect small departments.

Inderpal Grewal, a professor of women’s, gender & sexuality studies who attended the meeting, said she is worried that her department would end up contributing slots to the pool but would never be allocated positions from it in return.

“[Our department is] very small historically. We will shrink, and if the pool doesn’t give us any positions we won’t grow,” she said. “I agree with the attention being paid to these issues, but I don’t know who is going to be in charge of that pool and what decisions they’re going to make.”

Other professors reacted more positively to the idea of a slot pool.

Holly Rushmeier, a computer science professor who attended the meeting, said she thinks the pool could enable the University to allocate resources more smoothly and predictably.

“I think that creating a system that continuously examines the composition of the University, rather than having massive reconfigurations every ‘n’ years, is a good direction,” she said.

Political science professor Steven Wilkinson, who also attended the meeting, said the ARC has put forward “a very good interim proposal,” adding that he appreciates the committee’s recognition that changing the way slots are allocated will need to be a gradual, faculty-led process.

In addition to the question of slot allocation, the ARC has been charged with making recommendations on the ideal ratio of senior to junior faculty members and the overall size of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences. Berry said the ARC intends to distribute documents on these subjects to professors in the fall.

The number of FAS ladder faculty has been held at roughly 700 since the economic crisis hit.

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