Committee considers faculty role in decision-making

For the first time in more than two decades, the University has appointed a committee to study professors’ role in University decision-making.

In a May 2013 memo to faculty, University President Peter Salovey and Provost Benjamin Polak announced the formation of an ad hoc committee charged with examining faculty input at Yale and other universities. The committee, convened over a year after Yale’s partnership with the National University of Singapore sparked controversy among some faculty over an alleged lack of input in University governance, has met five times this summer and will report back to Salovey and Polak later this fall on possible approaches Yale could take to improve communication between the Faculty of Arts and Sciences and the administration.

“We’ve met with a variety of people this summer and hope to meet with many more this semester — maybe holding an open forum with faculty to get ideas,” said Steven Wilkinson, a political science professor who serves as chair of the six-person committee. “There are a variety of ways that faculty input exists and can exist, and we’re considering all of them.”

Wilkinson said it is too early to tell whether the committee will be recommending the creation of new governance structures or the revision of existing ones.

Mechanisms used by other universities to solicit faculty input range from full-scale elected senates at schools like Stanford and Berkeley to smaller elected bodies at schools like Harvard and Princeton, Wilkinson said. Other schools, like the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, do not have formal representative bodies, Wilkinson said.

At Yale, existing structures the committee has discussed include monthly Yale College faculty meetings, various committees appointed by administrators and the Joint Board of Permanent Officers — a body responsible for approving faculty appointments and promotions that consists of tenured professors in Yale College and the Graduate School. In addition, the committee has reviewed the new FAS forums that then-Provost Salovey instituted last fall, which are held at least twice a semester and designed to give faculty members regular opportunities to voice concerns to the administration about University-wide issues. Faculty can propose and vote on agenda items for the forums beforehand.

“We have experimented with some things already in the last year — the most notable being the faculty forum,” Polak said. “The faculty forum has worked to some extent. It’s been a place where people could come and voice opinions, but it hasn’t always been that well attended.”

Though the first few forum meetings drew between 50 and 100 professors, attendance dwindled to under 30 faculty members by the end of the academic year.

The May 2 memo said the committee has been asked “to produce a short report on the pros and cons of possible approaches that could be taken at Yale, to offer recommendations for potentially effective models to consider, and to outline the next steps necessary to move forward on each possible approach.”

Although the committee was supposed to submit its report at the beginning of the fall term, Polak said the timeline had to be pushed back because many professors were away from campus this summer, and the committee wanted to consider as many perspectives as possible.

“Some people have very strong views on this,” Polak said. “Some people think that faculty senates are a very good idea, and some think they’re a horrible idea.”

He added that neither he nor Salovey have strong preconceptions about particular governance structures.

Wilkinson said discussions about faculty governance are currently taking place at many universities because schools are facing divided opinions on issues like internationalization, technology, online education and financial challenges.

If the committee recommends the creation of a new structure, Polak said he feels strongly that the new body should replace an existing one. Many Yale professors are already swamped with meetings to attend, he said.

“At this rate, if we construct new structures, that’s a good thing, but we have to make sure we’re not just adding more rungs to the bureaucracy,” Polak said. “People just can’t be in meetings all day. We’ve heard that from many faculty.”

Two committee members declined to comment for this article and three committee members did not respond to requests for comment.

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