As it prepares to move into a new home this fall, the anthropology department is again close to full capacity after losing four popular faculty members in the spring of 2006.
Department chair William Kelly said the building — a freshly renovated historic house located on the corner of Whitney Avenue and Sachem Street — will have a slightly delayed opening, which is currently set for October 15. It will house four new laboratories in archaeology and biological anthropology, as well as departmental offices and classrooms. The laboratories will include a state-of-the-art dissection lab and a Global Positioning System lab for archaeology, one of just four in the United States.
Kelly said he thinks the facility will boost the morale of the entire department and act as a rallying point for the existing faculty — which includes three new hires made last fall — as well as both undergraduate and graduate anthropology students.
“I’m feeling very optimistic and very confident about the department this year, and I think all of us are pretty excited about moving into such a new facility and bringing together faculty that had been distributed throughout so many different buildings,” he said.
Yale College Dean Peter Salovey said he thinks the building will also help the department in its ongoing search for additional professors.
“New space is always a way to attract new faculty,” Salovey said. “Often the faculty that we want to lure to Yale are happy wherever they are. So if an attractive new facility can be promised to them, that can give us an advantage in recruiting.”
The three searches currently taking place include positions in genetic, medical and environmental anthropology — all of which, particularly medical anthropology, are of particular interest to undergraduate majors, Kelly said. He said future hires may include positions in archaeology and a joint appointment with African-American Studies.
Despite initial fears that the turmoil within the department would affect the number of undergraduate majors, the number of junior and senior majors dropped only slightly, from 57 in 2005-’06 to 50 in 2006-’07, according to the Office of Institutional Research. Kelly said he thinks this is partly due to an increase in student interest in environmental anthropology and South Asian Studies, fields in which the department made new appointments last year. The number of doctoral students also rose by about 50 percent, he said.
But even with the forward-looking measures the department is taking, students said the University’s anthropology program still has a long way to go.
Paul Morse ’08, who is concentrating in biological anthropology, said that while his course schedule was not affected greatly by the professorial exodus two years ago, some of his fellow majors think the department was inattentive to students’ opinions about some of the faculty members who left the University. For example, 4,400 students signed an online petition in support of former professor David Graeber, a self-described anarchist whose contract was not renewed by Yale in 2005. Despite student outcry, Graeber left the University after reaching a settlement for an additional year of sabbatical.
“I think the department is getting stronger, [but] I also think that for the sort of institution that Yale is, that we could have better people or a larger department,” Morse said. “But I do feel that it has improved in the past year.”
Morse said he is excited about the new building and hopes it will benefit undergraduates by giving them a space to gather and feel welcome.
Salovey said that many other academic departments have also been through difficult periods and that with each hiring season, the anthropology department will continue to grow stronger.
“We know that the department lost some key members of its faculty in recent years, but I also know that they have plans to recruit aggressively for new faculty this year and that they added some exciting new faculty members last year,” Salovey said.
Yale’s anthropology department houses over 30 faculty members and almost 120 graduate and undergraduate students.