Professors vote to form faculty senate

After months of discussion, the Faculty of Arts and Sciences voted to overhaul the way it provides input on University decision-making.

On Dec. 9, members of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences voted 49–7, with four abstentions, in favor of creating a faculty senate, which will serve as an elected representative body for tenured and tenure-track professors. The vote was brought forward by the Faculty Input Committee — an ad-hoc committee convened last spring to evaluate faculty governance at the University. Going forward, University President Peter Salovey will appoint a committee to discuss the senate’s structure and rules and make recommendations to the FAS no later than December 2014. Professors interviewed said the approval of the senate marks a significant moment in the relationship between the administration and faculty members.

Currently, the University holds monthly Yale College faculty meetings with pre-set agendas, meetings of the FAS Joint Board of Permanent Officers and occasional meetings of the whole Faculty of Arts and Sciences. However, the Faculty Input Committee found that some professors feel these existing structures do not efficiently channel faculty input.

“[The creation of a senate] is an important step to reform a structure which has been under a lot of pressure in recent years and which has made a considerable number of Yale faculty unhappy and alienated in their own institution,” said philosophy and political science professor Seyla Benhabib.

The issue of faculty governance reached a tipping point in 2012 when Yale’s partnership with the National University of Singapore in the creation of the liberal arts college, Yale-NUS, sparked controversy among some professors over the alleged lack of faculty input in University decision-making.

After a year of holding experimental “faculty forums” twice per semester, some of which attracted only a handful of professors, Salovey and Provost Benjamin Polak formed the Committee on FAS Input last spring 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.” The committee released its 18-page report in November.

“Our committee was a diverse one, but we were all persuaded that a senate can help here at Yale, as it has elsewhere, in providing a forum for regular, two way communication between FAS faculty and the administration,” said political science professor Steven Wilkinson, who chaired the Faculty Input Committee.

Though the report recommended the creation of a faculty senate, it noted that other faculty bodies and committees may need to be reduced to make room for the new structure.

Professors interviewed all said the idea of a senate stemmed from a need for greater communication between faculty members and the administration.

The faculty senate, which will be composed of elected representatives, was approved because it provided an alternative to the current, primarily “top-down” governance structure, Benhabib said. The majority of faculty who serve in administrative roles are appointed by the Central Administration, she added.

“A lot of us felt that crises of the last few years such as the vote over Yale-NUS, the disagreements around ‘shared services,’ implementation of online courses, and other issues became worse because there were no faculty representatives independently elected by and responsive primarily to their colleagues’ points of view,” Benhabib said.

Still, whether the elected body and the administration develop a healthy relationship remains to be seen, Jonathan Holloway said.

Morse College Master Amy Hungerford said the importance of the faculty senate will be linked to the amount of respect professors have for the elected members.

Salovey said he believes the new committee will provide a helpful plan to outline how the faculty senate will be structured.

“Yale is a place where essential administration — deans, provost, president — is composed of faculty members, and we therefore should be adept at communicating with each other,” Salovey said.

Salovey and Wilkinson stressed that the Salovey-appointed committee will also consider the possibility of non-ladder faculty representation on the faculty senate.

Stanford and Berkeley have full-scale faculty senates, while Harvard and Princeton have smaller elected bodies. Of the nine research institutions studied by the Faculty Input Committee, only MIT “had a process as weak as the monthly Yale College faculty meetings,” Benhabib said. The review process found Yale to be an outlier in this respect, she added.

Salovey said he will announce the new committee overseeing the development of the faculty senate early this semester. In an email to faculty, he welcomed nominations for the committee, including self-nominations.

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