Yale weighs decanal structures

To begin an overhaul of faculty governance at Yale, administrators are first looking elsewhere.

In a couple of weeks, Deputy Provost Tamar Gendler will travel to Stanford University to discuss the most significant change in faculty governance at Yale in a generation. Gendler’s trip is part of a broader administrative push to redraw the organizational flowchart at Yale.

The search for a new governance model was prompted by the imminent expansion of Yale College, which will strain the already-overloaded responsibilities of the Yale College dean. A January faculty committee report also pointed to a lack of strategic vision and centralization in Yale College and the Graduate School, with the provost overseeing dual budgets for FAS and the University.

The committee report  proposed four distinct models for a renovation of Yale’s faculty governance. Though the committee prefers a model that would introduce a dean of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences (FAS) to report to the provost, administrators have conceded that all four models remain possible.

While Yale examines other schools’ models, administrators at both Yale and its peers emphasized that ultimately — as faculty, administrators and the Yale Corporation consider potential changes — the University will need to focus on what works best for itself, not other schools with different cultures.

“It’s good that the faculty looked at other universities, but each university has its own culture,” said John Boyer, the College Dean at the University of Chicago. “They’re all research universities, but their history, their culture, the way they talk about their values — they’re all a little bit different. You need a model that fits the skin of your body politic.”

WEST COAST, BEST COAST

Among Yale’s peers, Stanford maintains an administrative structure resembling a cross between two of models proposed at Yale, including the preferred model.

Stanford’s structure includes a dean of the School of Humanities and Sciences, in addition to a vice provost for undergraduate education and a vice provost for graduate education, all reporting to the provost. The university also has three senior associate deans that oversee the humanities, natural sciences and social sciences and report to the dean of the School of Humanities and Sciences — a structure similar to the preferred model that Yale is considering.

Ralph Cohen, who serves as Stanford’s senior associate dean for the natural sciences, said Stanford’s model is advantageous because faculty are overseen by an administrator with an understanding of their field.

“When you have an administrator who comes from that discipline, they understand the culture of that discipline or related discipline much more so than a philosopher understanding the culture of chemistry,” Cohen said.

Cohen added that the model allows each of the senior associate deans — who currently serve for three-year terms — to get to know faculty members in their respective divisions. With about 550 faculty member divided approximately equally across the divisions, each senior associate dean is responsible for approximately 175 tenure-track faculty. Additionally, faculty appointments and promotions are based on recommendations to the provost made jointly by two deans.

Cohen said he has gotten to know the faculty well in his four years as dean.

“I meet individually with almost every faculty member when a new person is hired,” he added.

THE BIGGER, THE BETTER? 

According to Yale College Dean Mary Miller, two of the report’s other models are borrowed from Harvard and the University of Chicago, schools that have a more graduate-heavy focus.

But both Miller and Boyer noted that Yale’s strong undergraduate traditions might make these two models incompatible with the University.

One of the models would, like the preferred one, introduce a Dean of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences reporting directly to the provost — but, the dean would also oversee the deans of Yale College and the Graduate School.

The report pointed to clear, streamlined channels of authority in this Harvard-based model as a major advantage. But it raised the concern that this model would add an additional layer of reporting to Yale’s administrative structure and reduce the expertise brought to bear in major University decisions.

Members of the Harvard administration could not be reached for comment.

The Chicago model sees four divisional deans with equal status to that of the College dean. Boyer said the idea traces back to former University of Chicago President Robert Maynard Hutchins ’21 LAW ’25, who thought that housing departments in divisional units could mitigate the feudal nature of departments and promote interaction between them.

Martha Roth, who serves as dean of the humanities at the University of Chicago, said the Chicago model allows divisional deans to get to know the approximately 180 faculty members they each oversee.

Roth said she meets at least once a month with the other divisional deans and that there is a strong tradition of cross-disciplinary cooperation at the school.

Still, Boyer noted, the advantages of Chicago’s governance model lend themselves to the sort of interdisciplinary educational that is traditional to the University of Chicago, but not necessarily to Yale.

In its report, the committee said the model would be difficult to implement for a range of logistical, organizational and cultural reasons. And despite Roth’s assertion that the model does not unnecessarily divide disciplines, the report suggested that the model could result in “rectifying divisional distinctions, which many would prefer to keep permeable.”

Boyer added: “Our model works for us. Yale has different traditions.”

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