Faculty split on FAS dean position

In the wake of last week’s announcement that the University will add a new dean position to oversee the faculty of arts and sciences, faculty members have expressed mixed opinions.

Some faculty members described the new position as providing major benefits for the University — notably, making the jobs of Yale College dean and University provost more manageable — while others characterized it as an unnecessary expansion of the administration. Many still said they had little opinion on the matter.

Most faculty members who supported the new dean position justified the addition by pointing to the plethora of responsibilities currently held by the Yale College dean.

“I think that the dean of the faculty position could help relieve some of the pressure on the deans of the college and grad school, who currently are responsible both for student life and for overseeing all faculty searches and promotions,” said French professor Maurice Samuels.

Similarly, English professor David Bromwich said that the Yale College dean currently has plenty of responsibilities without taking on the interests of faculty as well, echoing sentiments expressed by administrators over the past month.

While Spanish professor Aníbal González-Pérez GRD ’82 said he was concerned about the current trend towards higher administrator-to-tenured faculty ratios in academia, he added that the relationship between many departments and the administration was often unstructured, fragmented and lacking in transparency.  González-Pérez said the autonomy granted to individual departments can foster innovation, but can also lead to insularity and abuses of power.

“A Dean of FAS with strong oversight authority over departments would serve as a counterweight to the abuse and mismanagement that occurs when departments are given administrative free rein and are not held to the high university-wide standards that strong deanships can put in place and enforce,” González-Pérez said. “It’s time Yale left behind its Colonial-era style of administration and at least entered the twentieth century, if not the twenty-first.”

But other faculty members voiced a concern about the administration expanding in size. English professor Murray Biggs said he is “somewhat reserved” whenever a new figure is added to the University administration. Philosophy professor Karsten Harries GRD ’62 said  though he has no strong opinions on the matter, the previous structure seems to have served the University well without the addition of a third dean.

Political science professor Steven Smith noted that because the third dean will come from the faculty, this move will reduce by one the number of faculty seriously engaged in their academic work. Though he admitted that the dean’s position may be necessary due to the upcoming expansion of the University’s student body, Smith called the move a “net loss to the faculty, no matter what the reason for creating the position.”

Others, though, expressed stronger sentiments.

“I have no idea why anyone would want to add one more dean to the administrative structure and am just baffled by this proposal,” said English professor Leslie Brisman.

But some faculty members expressed little to no opinion on the matter, and many declined to comment because they had not been closely following the issue. Newer faculty members cited their short time at Yale as reason for not having a strong opinion on the matter.

Although they will ultimately report to the dean, some non-ladder faculty said that they have had little interaction with deans and are uncertain how the new structure will impact them.

“As a half-time lecturer teaching only a couple of classes in each year, I’ve had very little contact with deans at all,” said English senior lecturer John Crowley. “Though I know that they are vital to the smooth running of the University, I don’t really know much about what they exactly do or how they do it.”

Though the creation of a third dean is now a certainty, the specifics of the new administrative structure have not been entirely flushed out. On Friday, University President Peter Salovey said the administration has not yet decided whether or not to adopt a part of the original faculty proposal for a faculty dean, which would add several “divisional dean” positions that report to the faculty dean. Salovey added that he wants the individual who takes the faculty dean position to help decide on whether or not to adopt the divisional dean positions.

The faculty of arts and sciences is currently divided into four divisions — physical sciences and engineering, biological sciences, humanities and social sciences.

 

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