After more than a year of discussions and proposals, concerns and tensions about how the University should adjudicate alleged faculty misconduct are far from resolved.
In a Feb. 12 email to the Faculty of Arts and Sciences, FAS Dean Tamar Gendler released a collection of comments from professors regarding new faculty conduct standards and draft procedures distributed to the faculty for comment. The draft procedures, which were written by a committee of faculty and administrators formed in May 2014, have ignited a debate among professors about faculty governance and administrative transparency. The 37 comments, many of which were anonymous, revealed deep concerns about what some faculty members perceive to be a sign of administrative overreach and centralization of power. While some comments expressed support for the overall goals of the standards, many highlighted the ambiguity of the standards’ language and the centralized role of administrators in the draft procedures, which allow deans almost unilateral decision-making authority in cases of alleged misconduct.
“This proposal represents the most staggering usurpation of power of the faculty that I have seen in over 30 years at Yale,” political science professor Steven Smith wrote in a comment. “The opportunity for the abuse of power by the dean in conjunction with the provost strikes me as far in excess of any real or actual problem that this new procedure is designed to solve.”
But although concerns persist about the conduct standards and procedures, the fact that the faculty members were given an opportunity to comment and that their feedback was released to the FAS signals growing communication between faculty and administrators. It is also a marker of the FAS Senate’s increased voice in discussions about faculty governance.
Last January, when the conduct standards were still in draft form, faculty members were given a chance to comment but the comments were not made public. The finalized standards appeared largely identical to the draft except for a few wording changes, and faculty members criticized administrators for failing to sufficiently address their concerns. Now, comments on the draft procedures — which are intended to outline how violations of the new standards will be addressed — are being publicized at the recommendation of the FAS Senate.
“The fact that the comments were made public was because of the recommendation,” history professor and Chair of the FAS Senate Beverly Gage ’94 said. “The comments have been a really productive process so far. [They] are less than ideal and show that there are some pretty deep concerns that really cross divisions and departments in the faculty.”
Gendler’s office began soliciting faculty comments for the conduct procedures in October 2015 through a website, and the first round of comments ended in late January. The comments were then sent out to the FAS, who will have the opportunity to participate in a second round of comments after reviewing initial faculty input.
The faculty comments mainly addressed three issues: the content of the conduct standards, the draft procedures for adjudicating violations and the way in which the drafting and discussion process has been handled by the administration. While many of these criticisms have been raised during Senate meetings and in previous online comments, this is the first time that faculty comments have been presented largely unedited and released to the entire FAS body, Gage said. The comments were edited only to remove references to specific situations or individuals, Gendler said.
While the comments were meant to address just the content of the draft procedures, the input that was submitted suggests that the procedures are intrinsically linked to the standards — which remain contentious although they were finalized in the faculty handbook last fall — and that the standards must be rewritten or at least clarified.
“I believe that it would be a mistake … to continue the process of designing procedures for the implementation of these flawed standards,” political science professor and Senate member Ian Shapiro ’83 LAW ’87 wrote. “Instead, a committee with strong faculty representation should be appointed to review the proposed standards in light of the difficulties that have been raised.”
Speaking to the News, Gendler suggested that she would be open to working with faculty members to clarify the standards.
“The concerns expressed by FAS faculty and other faculty around the University make it clear that the standards are not articulated as precisely as they could be,” Gendler said. “As dean of the FAS, I look forward to working with the FAS Senate, just as my fellow deans will do with members of their own faculties, to clarify the standards and articulate a set of appropriate procedures that we as a community endorse.”
Multiple faculty members raised concerns about the vagueness of the conduct standards in regards to the severity of different violations of conduct.
Gage wrote in the comments that the current faculty conduct standards offer a wide range of definitions of potential misconduct, ranging from serious abuse and neglect of students, bribery, plagiarism and discrimination to far less serious behaviors such as failing to hold office hours or to submit letters of recommendation by an agreed-upon deadline. She recommended that the current conduct standards be revised to “emphasize egregious, ongoing and serious misconduct.”
An anonymous commenter wrote that “it is imperative to add ‘egregious’ or ‘repeating pattern of egregious bad behavior’ somewhere in the standards” in order to distinguish between misconduct of different levels of severity.
Several faculty members also noted that the vague wording of the standards — which are printed directly after the University Policy of Free Speech in the Faculty Handbook — could endanger faculty’s freedom of speech on campus.
“The vaguely worded standards and the lack of due process in their enforcement are strong motivators for self-censorship and avoidance of expressing controversial opinions,” one anonymous commenter wrote.
Several commenters criticized the draft procedures for centralizing power to the deans and for its lack of due process. In their current form, the procedures allow the dean of the faculty member who is accused of misconduct to initiate reviews of alleged misconduct at his or her own discretion and to choose the makeup of the panel that will hear the case. The dean also may accept, modify or reject the conclusions of the panel and any of its recommendations.
“Control of the review process is placed entirely in the hands of two individuals: the dean … and the provost,” one anonymous professor commented. “Whether or not the dean and provost will use their power wisely, this procedure appears, from the outside, undemocratic and open to manipulation. Therefore, it may be more likely to open the door litigation in court.”
History, African American studies and American studies professor Glenda Gilmore, who has been outspoken about her concern with the standards and procedures, said the procedures violate professors’ constitutional rights to due process and consolidate power with various deans without ensuring that the deans are trained in evidentiary standards and trial procedures.
The FAS Senate will discuss the faculty feedback at its monthly meeting Thursday evening.