Faculty discusses governance proposals

At Thursday’s Yale College faculty meeting, professors debated what Yale College Dean Mary Miller has deemed “the most important change at Yale in a generation.”

The meeting focused on the potential reorganization of the University’s administrative structure. Professors debated a recent report that recommended the creation of a Faculty of Arts and Sciences Dean — a figure that would oversee the faculty in Yale College and the Graduate School, who comprise 43 percent of the University’s 1,023 tenured faculty members. Miller said the turnout of around 75 professors at Thursday’s meeting convinced her that faculty members are paying close attention to the issue, which is ultimately in the hands of the Yale Corporation.

“It is a substantial reorganization of the University in a way we have not thought about since the dawn of coeducation, or since Yale College absorbed the Sheffield School,” Miller said, emphasizing that the changes currently being proposed, though less dramatic, will have comparable consequences on the ground.

The faculty-led report at the center of Thursday’s meeting proposed four models for change in faculty governance. Three of the four models would introduce new dean positions and require changes to the University’s bylaws, a move contingent on the Yale Corporation’s vote of approval.

Of those three, the committee endorsed a model that would create a new Dean of the FAS, reporting directly to the University Provost, as well as three to five deans of academic divisions who would serve under the Dean of the FAS. The Dean of Yale College and Dean of the Graduate School would still report to the University Provost.

Both Miller and University Provost Benjamin Polak said they personally support for the committee’s preferred model.

Miller stressed the need for a change in governance, noting that two jobs — hers and the provost’s — have gotten “out of control.”

The University Provost is currently responsible for both the University-wide budget and the FAS budget — two different roles that may sometimes cause conflicts of interest.

A Dean of the FAS would have responsibility over the budgets of departments in the FAS — effectively serving as a standalone provost for Yale College and the Graduate School, Miller said.

Miller also explained that she currently devotes between 40 and 50 percent of her time to faculty affairs, working with departments to conduct faculty searches and facilitate promotions. With the imminent expansion of Yale College due to the construction of two new residential colleges, the Yale College Dean will be so preoccupied with student life that the position will not allow time for faculty engagement, Miller said, further justifying the need for a more faculty-specific dean.

While other proposed models from the report were borrowed from Harvard and the University of Chicago, Miller said the preferred model would be “idiosyncratic and designed for Yale,” as it is a more undergraduate-focused institution than the other two.

Miller said one professor at the meeting noted that the preferred model provides the least difficult hurdles to implementation, retaining most of the current concept of Yale governance while still offering a more robust new model.

But philosophy professor Michael Della Rocca said that while he is “very much in favor” of the creation of a Dean of the FAS, he is more ambivalent about the need to create other new divisional deans.

Miller — who stressed the need to keep Yale’s administration “lean” — said Polak explained to faculty members at Thursday’s meeting that the governance changes could be made without necessarily growing the administration.

But not everything about the new structures needs to be figured out by this summer, when the new model is implemented, she said.

Though the administration has a preference for one specific model, Polak said the changes to the University’s decanal structure are not yet settled.

“This isn’t a fait accompli by any means. I think it needs to be aired a little bit,” he said.

English professor Leslie Brisman said in a Tuesday email that he has not been following the issue, adding that he sees no real need for a change to the University’s governance structure.

But faculty members who do support the changes said they lean towards the preferred model with a FAS dean reporting to the Provost.

English professor David Kastan said the provost’s current job description as chief operating officer for the entire University as well as essentially an FAS Dean is both unreasonably demanding and inefficient for the University.

“It is not just that each of these jobs is probably unmanageable by a single person, but the interests of Arts and Sciences are underrepresented in the existing structure,” Kastan said.

The report was authored by a committee comprising professors Dirk Bergemann, Emily Greenwood, Scott Miller, Linda Peterson and Ramamurti Shankar. It was chaired by professor John Dovidio.

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