As Yale’s most popular interdisciplinary major undergoes a change in leadership, current professors say they hope to make some key changes to the structure of the Ethics, Politics and Economics program to bring some much-needed stability to its faculty roster.

Both EP&E director Seyla Benhabib and Director of Undergraduate Studies Jennifer Bair will step down next year. And in light of their impending departures, faculty members in charge of EP&E — which is not a department of its own and instead draws professors from four different academic departments — expressed concern in interviews that increased demand coupled with the difficulties of relying heavily on visiting professors will make the program “extremely vulnerable” as the University comes closer to finalizing plans to increase the number of undergraduate students.

In the past, Benhabib said, the program’s current structure has served the program well. But if the two new residential colleges under consideration by the Yale Corporation in February are built and enrollment in Yale College increases by 600 students, demand for the major may increase, necessitating a permanent faculty, she said.

“Probably the program can cope and get along, but I don’t think it would be wise to let it muddle along,” Benhabib said. “It’s going to be a challenge. It takes time to build the faculty.”

But both administrators and current majors were resistant to the idea of instituting permanent EP&E faculty members, praising the flexibility of the program’s current structure.

Yale College Dean Peter Salovey said while he, too, wants to see increased stability in the program’s offerings, he thinks the best way to do so is to encourage faculty members across departments to offer EP&E courses. And, he said, current professors should look for potential recruits who could teach courses applicable to the major. The task of recruiting faculty is best left to established departments, he said.

“In general, for appropriate governance — and to make the highest-quality appointments — you need the stable structure of a traditional department,” he said.

The major, established in 1992, prescribes a set of core courses — taught by professors in political science, economics, philosophy and sociology, who cross-list their departmental courses in the program — usually completed in the sophomore and early junior years. The program also uses its own funds to hire visiting professors to teach courses.

In the 2007-2008 school year, there were 65 junior and senior majors in the program, making it one of the largest majors at Yale and the largest interdisciplinary major offered. Benhabib said approximately 90 students apply each year for about 33 slots in the program.

Benabib and Bair will be replaced next year by political science professors Ian Shapiro and Bryan Garsten, respectively. Shapiro will serve for one year in his role before being succeeded by professor Nicholas Sambanis, also a political scientist.

While Benhabib said she thinks the transition in leadership will be a smooth one, and Bair said undergraduate majors will not be “negatively impacted” by the change in administrators, both expressed a desire to see the program retain its own faculty.

Philosophy professor Shelly Kagan agreed.

“Technically, nobody owes anything to EP&E,” Kagan said. “That means when it comes down to run the courses EP&E needs to make the major work, the program is completely at the mercy of various feeder departments.”

Kagan has taught courses in Ethics, Politics and Economics since he arrived at the University in 1995, and his chair in the philosophy department is partially funded by the EP&E program.

Benhabib said she would like to see, at most, three permanent faculty members who would commit half their time to teaching courses in the program. She said she has discussed the issue with administrators in the Provost’s Office, and that she is confident they are receptive to discussing the issue.

Generally speaking, all of the University’s interdisciplinary programs rely on other departments’ professors to staff their courses. One exception is the American Studies program, an interdisciplinary major which has its own in-house faculty. But Salovey said that program’s longevity has given it a kind of de facto departmental status.

Some new hires in the feeder departments to EP&E suggest departments are heeding Salovey’s message.

Economics Department Chair Christopher Udry said his department actively seeks faculty whose work overlaps with EP&E subject matter, and his department is currently considering hiring professors in several related subject areas.

And Udry’s counterpart in the philosophy department, Michael Della Rocca, said two of the department’s most recent appointments focus on areas crucial to Ethics, Politics and Economics. Thomas Pogge, currently a philosophy professor at Columbia University, researches ethics in global poverty issues, and Stephen Darwall ’68 of the University of Michigan works in normative ethics. Both will join the University next fall.

Della Rocca said the department also worked with EP&E to recruit visiting philosopher of economics Daniel Hausman, who will teach next spring.

Students were divided on whether or not the program should fundamentally change its structure to include more senior professors.

Jarrett Moran ’10 said when coming into the program, he had heard complaints from students that the major was haphazardly organized and not well run. He said he found those complaints unfounded and that adding permanent faculty to the program may stifle the freedom EP&E majors students enjoy now.

“One of the reasons I did the major was because it wasn’t so centralized,” Moran said. He also added that he has not had any trouble getting into the core courses he needs to complete the major.

But Judith Miller ’03 LAW ’08, who majored in Ethics, Politics and Economics during her time as an undergraduate, said having a greater continuity of professors would help students in the major looking for an adviser for the substantial senior thesis associated with the program.