This University sees crusades for campus reform initiated on a fairly consistent basis, but the past year has seen the beginnings of what may become a monumental restructuring of academic life at Yale. Fall began with a new commitment to external undergraduate and graduate departmental reviews and an examination of the faculty tenure system — each the first of their kind in nearly a decade. And last week, Graduate School officials announced their intent to review graduate programs, as well.
Of course, such commitments, while laudable, tend to proceed at a pace that can be charitably described as glacial. Once completed, for that matter, there are no guarantees that the reviews will have yielded the results that students or professors sought. In the days when departmental reviews were common, attempts at reform were not immune from budgetary concerns. The last tenure review yielded a resolution for greater focus on minority recruitment, but not the kind of tenure-track system for which a number of faculty from all backgrounds have clamored.
But in the long run, these programs have seen quantifiable successes, new staff dedicated to minority recruitment being among them. The Religious Studies Department benefited considerably from its external review, which inspired a broader range of introductory and comparative courses and spurred greater faculty involvement with undergraduate majors. This personal focus, in particular, marks the kind of reform that could serve Yale’s graduate programs well, too.
Clearly, such programs are far from uniform. But Graduate School Dean Jon Butler has aptly identified the typical concerns: for students, knowledgeable advisers, clear expectations and financial support; for the administration, fulfillment of its own expectations and the increasing time to degree that can start to tug at the strength of its financial support. While some departments have legitimately argued either that they have not seen significant jumps in time to degree or that such jumps are justified, we believe the graduate reform process should not end with internal reviews.
With the ever-increasing competition in professional academia, it is certainly understandable that doctoral candidates seeking university teaching jobs would delay their Ph.D. if another year could also, say, give them time to get published in a journal or three. But graduate students with other ambitions should also be able to, as Butler said, see their degree “consume” less than a decade of their lives, and an end to the Graduate School’s stigma against master’s degrees could alleviate both that problem and some of Yale’s financial concerns. In addition, faculty office hours or even contacts through Graduate Career Services could help those who feel that they are not receiving the mentoring or job search assistance they need. And as internal reviews begin, Yale should also work to accelerate the pace of external ones, so that both perspectives can translate into concrete reforms with all due speed.
Academic reviews have often proven frustrating for Yale students, faculty and prospective faculty alike, but they have also proven able to effect meaningful reform. Butler and others clearly understand what they should seek to change, but we ask that they not leave the primary burden of addressing those issues on internal processes that bring glaciers to mind.