One day after the release of the tenure review committee’s final report, professors in the Faculty of Arts and Sciences said there appears to be a “favorable buzz” among faculty on campus about the proposed changes to Yale’s tenure system.
Faculty members in the sciences, social sciences and humanities said they would be pleased to see the University adopt the system of tenure and appointments described in the committee’s report, which proposed putting Yale on a system similar to the “tenure tracks” at most other institutions. Professors praised the clarity and transparency of the recommendations and said that if implemented, such a system would help the University attract and hire the most qualified candidates possible. But while both junior and senior faculty members said they would vote in favor of the report, some professors said Yale still has a long way to go before becoming an innovator in tenure policy.
The committee, which was chaired by Yale College Dean Peter Salovey and Graduate School Dean Jon Butler, proposed a system that would align Yale with the rest of the country’s academic institutions by ensuring that resources will be available to tenure every assistant professor who meets the required standards of scholarship and citizenship by their eighth year at Yale. The faculty also responded favorably to the report’s call for the elimination of open searches, the reduction of the number of external letters required during a junior faculty member’s evaluation, and the “generous” increase in guaranteed leave for junior professors. But there were mixed responses toward the shortening of the tenure “clock” from 10 to nine years, as some professors said the timeline toward tenure should be even shorter.
Associate professor of music Michael Veal said he hopes the faculty will support the recommendations because they will improve the national image of the University and allow junior faculty to invest in the school, not solely in their research.
“Prospective faculty will no longer view a Yale appointment as a ‘stepping stone’ to a more secure position, morale would be much improved among the junior faculty, junior faculty would be much more concerned with the workings of the University, and I wouldn’t be surprised if all of this resulted in greater productivity in terms of both research and in the classroom,” Veal said in an e-mail.
But tenured English professor Leslie Brisman said while the recommendations are “wonderful and long-overdue,” he has mixed fillings about their implications for the faculty.
“A person coming to Yale as an assistant professor should feel assured that there would be a continued spot for him or her, and that’s a good thing,” Brisman said. “On the other hand, I don’t think this should be heralded as a grand new step, because my understanding is that no one has really ever been denied tenure because there wasn’t a place for them.”
If the recommendations are passed, Yale’s system will closely resemble those at its peer institutions. Harvard and Princeton both have tenure-track systems for promoting junior faculty, although Harvard only began using the term “tenure-track” in 2005.
The report will be discussed at a Faculty of Arts and Sciences meeting on March 27, and the FAS will vote on whether to send the report to the Provost’s Office for a final decision on April 4. If approved by the Provost, the new tenure system will automatically apply to all faculty hired on or after July 1, 2007, and existing junior faculty will have the option of electing to switch to the new system or remaining on the current one.
Provost Andrew Hamilton, who convened the committee in fall 2005, said that while he cannot comment on the contents of the report, he compliments the committee on a “thoughtful, inclusive and bold report that will lead to broad discussion” about a subject that will define what it means to be a professor at Yale in coming years.
While junior faculty said they are in favor of the committee’s system, they have concerns about the ease of transition and the uncertainty surrounding the standards for receiving tenure.
Assistant professor of history Beverly Gage said the committee’s recommendations address many of the “irrational and unusual” aspects of the current tenure system that have hindered the University’s ability to attract and retain junior faculty in the past. While she said this new system would make tenure easier to navigate, it is not necessarily going to help junior faculty get promoted.
“For junior faculty, I think the most important thing is that there is now a guarantee of a particular timeline and of a tenure review at the end of it in a way that there wasn’t before,” Gage said. “[But] I’m not sure that this is going to make it easier for junior faculty members to get tenure at Yale.”
An untenured professor in the humanities who asked to remain anonymous said while the proposal will undoubtedly be attractive to the newest members of the faculty, those who have been at the University for several years or who have already been promoted to associate professor will have to weigh the options very carefully. The new system provides more certainty, the professor said, but faculty who choose to use it will lose a year on their tenure clock — a year that could have been devoted to research or scholarship that would help them meet the standard for tenure.
Professors in the sciences said they think the report’s recommendations will not necessarily affect their departments as directly as they will the humanities and social science departments.
Physics professor Meg Urry, who served on the tenure review committee, said because science departments must invest so heavily in setting up research laboratories for professors, they try only to hire people they think will eventually be tenured. She said tenure rates in the sciences at Yale are comparable to those at other institutions — 27 percent in the physical sciences and 57 percent in the biological sciences — but since many in the academic community perceive that getting tenure at Yale is nearly impossible, it is often difficult to attract candidates to the University.
“In the sciences, we spend a lot of time fending off stories that Yale doesn’t give tenure, even when we can point to the tenure rates and see that they’re competitive,” Urry said. “You’re constantly fighting this erroneous impression from outside. In some cases I expect it might cause us to miss the best candidates.”
French professor Howard Bloch, who was also a committee member, said humanities departments at Yale have a notably low tenure rate of 11 percent. He said because many junior faculty think they are extremely unlikely to win tenure, qualified candidates often leave before they are even considered. He said he thinks the report’s recommendations will address this low retention rate, while still maintaining the caliber of the faculty.
“Even though the percentage may go up somewhat, the quality of the tenured faculty won’t be diminished because the best and the brightest will stick around to go through the process with the feeling that it will be fair,” Bloch said.
Many faculty members said the recommendations will indirectly increase the diversity of the faculty. Urry said highly qualified female and underrepresented minority candidates are widely sought after by all the top universities, and since Yale’s current tenure system is so opaque, these competitive candidates are currently discouraged from coming to the University.
Susan Overton, a research associate for the Women Faculty Forum, said there are many stipulations in the report — specifically mentoring — which will facilitate the academic careers of women and minority faculty members, but there are others whos effects remain to be seen. For example, she said, the shortening of the tenure clock could be disadvantageous for women with children.
Graduate Employees and Students Organization spokesman Evan Cobb GRD ’07 said he is happy to see the University focusing on the top-quality teaching undergraduates need from junior faculty. But he said since such a large percentage of the teaching staff at Yale are graduate students, he hopes this report represents only the first in a number of changes.
“What I hope will follow is a look at the rest of the academic workforce,” Cobb said.
The tenure review committee met 31 times over a period of 15 months. They interviewed groups of junior and senior faculty members as well as administrators at other institutions and a representative of Yale’s Office of Institutional Research in order to draft their final report.
—Rachel Boyd, Kimberly Chow, Thomas Kaplan, Caitlin Roman and Judy Wang contributed to this report.