Three faculty members in the biological and physical sciences were promoted to tenured positions Tuesday when their appointments were approved by a vote of the faculty.
Astronomy professor Pieter Van Dokkum in Astronomy and chemical engineering professor Paul Van Tassel were named full professors, and Paul Turner, an ecology and evolutionary biology professor, was named an associate professor with tenure, all effective Jan. 1. Turner is the first African American faculty member to be granted tenure in the Biological Sciences and the eighteenth in the entire University, according to data from the Office of Institutional Research.
Yale College Dean Peter Salovey said he is always pleased when faculty from within the University are awarded tenure.
“An internal candidate is someone in whom the University has invested, but also someone who has a strong investment in the University,” he said.
In addition, Salovey said, the tenure appointments speak to the “health and vibrancy” of the sciences and engineering at Yale since the professors who were promoted came from three different departments.
The current rate of tenure across the Faculty of Arts and Sciences is 19 percent, indicating that for every five assistant professors hired by the University, approximately one will be tenured within ten years, Salovey said. He said about half of the current tenured faculty members were promoted internally, while the other half were recruited from other institutions to fill specific senior positions.
Salovey said he also thinks internal promotion is the best way to promote faculty diversity, since hiring minority faculty members from another institutions does not increase the overall diversity in higher education.
“The most efficient way to increase the diversity of our tenured faculty is to nurture and mentor our untenured faculty so that they can be promoted,” he said.
All three professors said receiving tenure is not only a personal relief and accomplishment, but will also prove beneficial for each of their departments and research interests.
Van Dokkum said his research involves the study of the formation of galaxies and their evolution over time. He is also leading a program in collaboration with astronomy programs in Chile, where Yale has preferential access to a number of telescopes. His promotion may have been facilitated by outside interest in his work and is therefore an affirmation by the University to continue the type of research he is interested in pursuing, he said.
Van Tassel said his laboratory uses a combination of theory, computer simulation and experiments to investigate biomolecules at interfaces and templated materials. He said that although Yale has historically been a liberal arts college, the University has focused more attention and resources on expanding science and engineering as the fields have become more important in the world.
“Yale is interested in educating tomorrow’s leaders … you really can’t be a leader in today’s world and tomorrow’s world without some strength in science and engineering,” he said. “I think the job has really two main missions: One is to generate new knowledge through research and the other is to disseminate research, which you do through your teaching.”
Turner, whose research centers on the ecology and evolution of infectious disease, said he continually strives to improve his teaching and create engaging lectures for his students.
“My teaching is very important,” he said. “I actually find that the research comes easier. It’s very difficult to be adequately prepared to get up there and give a lecture. I’ve been doing research since 1991, but in terms of being a university professor, I’ve only been doing that for five years or so.”
Turner said Yale has been very supportive of his research endeavors so far, and now, as a tenured faculty member, he said he will try to undertake some of the riskier projects that he has shied away from in the past.
Three separate votes must take place before a faculty member can receive tenure — one at the departmental level, one by the respective tenure committee and finally one by the entire faculty.
According to OIR data, prior to yesterday’s tenure decisions, there were eight tenured faculty members in astronomy, six in chemical engineering and five in EEB this year.