Faculty discuss governance options

At the first Yale College faculty meeting of the year on Thursday, the committee charged with examining faculty input in University decision-making presented preliminary findings.

After several months of studying mechanisms of faculty governance at Yale’s peer institutions, the ad-hoc committee — which President-elect Peter Salovey and Provost Benjamin Polak appointed in May — reported its research and opened the floor to faculty discussion. The six-person committee, chaired by political science professor Steven Wilkinson, did not present a specific proposal, but the presentation led to a discussion about the need for improved faculty governance at Yale. Out of the approximately 100 faculty members who attended the meeting, more than 20 professors participated in a conversation about current structures of faculty governance, weighed possible alternatives such as a faculty senate and discussed the challenges of implementing a new structure.

“I sense desire on the part of large numbers of the faculty to have some kind of a representative body that is not merely appointed,” said Seyla Benhabib, a political science and philosophy professor. “And there are a lot of details that need to be worked out.”

Yale currently does not have an elected faculty body. Instead, the University collects input through town hall-style meetings such as the monthly Yale College Faculty Meeting and through committees appointed by the University administration. According to the committee charged with examining input, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology is the only institution among Yale’s peer schools that uses a similar system.

Harvard and Princeton both have hybrid models involving appointed committees, elected representative bodies and all-faculty meetings, while other institutions such as Stanford and Duke have elected faculty senates or councils, according to the committee’s presentation.

“There was real discussion about the desirability of having more elected members,” said Yale College Dean Mary Miller. “I didn’t hear strong expression of support for town-halls.”

Professors also raised questions about how changes to the current structures of faculty governance would be decided on and implemented — questions that received “fuzzy” answers from the committee, according to classics professor Victor Bers.

Benhabib said some professors suggested that any recommendation for changing the current structure should include input from all faculty members rather than just the Joint Boards of Permanent Officers, which only includes tenured professors.

“The faculty should have a chance to vote on whether the faculty wants to represent itself,” Benhabib said.

Miller said the major responsibilities for decisions regarding the Faculty of Arts and Sciences lie in the JBPO’s hands, according to Yale’s bylaws. But she added that many professors at the Thursday meeting seemed surprised to hear that the official role of the JBPO extends beyond decisions about faculty promotions to tenure.

According to the committee’s research, many of Yale’s peer institutions have elected representative bodies that include members from all schools within the university.

Miller said it would be a “real change” for Yale to shift from a model in which faculty governance is principally influenced by the Faculty of Arts and Sciences to a model that solicits faculty opinions from across the University.

Issues of faculty governance and input have been a topic of debate ever since controversy arose over Yale’s partnership with the National University of Singapore in 2012. Salovey and Polak formed the Committee on FAS Input in May “with the goal of better understanding the mechanisms in place for faculty input at other institutions and considering the possible approaches that could be effective here.”

“I would say we are right at the edge here of either grave disappointment or some extremely significant reform in decision making,” Bers said.

Though Thursday’s meeting primarily focused on faculty input, Dean of Admissions Jeremiah Quinlan also presented on admission statistics and demographics about the Class of 2017, and faculty members discussed the check-box to send applications to Yale-NUS, which is currently on the Yale College application supplement.

The meeting also included the announcement of special and standing committees, as well as presentations on the semi-annual Executive Committee report and sexual misconduct report.

The next faculty meeting will take place on Nov. 7.

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