Nearly two years have passed since the national financial crisis hit Yale and Peter Salovey took control of the Provost’s Office in 2008 — but both Salovey and the University are still feeling the effects of an almost 25 percent plunge in the endowment.
Salovey said improving Yale’s faculty is his most important focus going forward, but Yale’s budget continues to prove problematic. With finances tight, the University’s faculty grew just 1.7 percent last year, adding 12 new professors to the Faculty of Arts and Sciences. Only 23 searches across departments are authorized for this fall, Salovey said — fewer than the typical amount for this time of year. Department chairs said the hiring constraints are understandable considering the economic climate, but if delays last for more than one year, three chairs said, openings in the faculty will create holes in the curriculum.
Salovey said the University is doing what it can to prioritize its professors.
“The faculty really are the lifeblood of a university,” Salovey said. “We can have excellent facilities and outstanding students, but Yale’s reputation as a world-class university is driven primarily by the quality of the faculty.”
‘LIVING WITHIN OUR MEANS’
The University’s financial situation has stabilized over the past two years, Salovey said in an e-mail Saturday, but the University is not yet ready to “hang up a ‘mission accomplished’ banner.”
The endowment performed better than administrators expected in the 2009-’10 fiscal year: the earliest projections assumed no growth, but the endowment ultimately returned 8.9 percent.
Still, the endowment cannot support a budget as large as Yale’s was before the 2008-’09 plunge.
“When it comes to the budget, our focus is now on sustainability,” Salovey said. “How do we continue to improve Yale while living within our means?”
In the past year, Yale has tightened its budget by cutting nearly 250 jobs and trimming spending on social events, travel, visitors and other nonessential costs.
For faculty development, which is overseen by the Provost’s Office, budget cuts have meant delaying searches for additional professors in favor of replacing professors who retired or departed. The aim for the immediate future is to hold the size of the faculty consistent because of limited resources, Graduate School Dean Thomas Pollard said in an e-mail.
The past decade on the whole witnessed a dramatic rise in faculty, from 599 professors in 1999-’00 to 697 in 2009-’10. But the upward trend stalled in the aftermath of the recent financial crisis. The FAS currently consists of 709 assistant, associate and full professors.
The delays will not last forever, Frances Rosenbluth, deputy provost for the social sciences and faculty development, wrote in an e-mail.
“I think Yale will be able to expand, not just renew, the faculty when the endowment recovers to the point that we have the resources to support faculty at the high level that they require,” Rosenbluth said. “We do not want to try to run a big faculty on the cheap.”
RENEWAL, NOT GROWTH
To maintain a sustainable budget, Salovey said the Provost’s Office only authorized replacement searches this fall. But he will consider increasing the count from 23 as the University identifies the needs of specific departments and faculty depart throughout the year, he said. Salovey declined to name departments to which the Provost’s Office is giving priority for additional searches, but said his office will examine departments “with multiple vacancies that haven’t grown much.”
“I think we actually now have the strongest faculty in the University’s history — certainly the strongest and largest,” Salovey said. “But I know there have been some local frustrations as specific programs and departments worry about the coverage of certain areas of study.”
The History Department is among those recruiting new professors this fall. Two active searches in colonial U.S. history and African history will replace departed or retired professors, history chair Paul Freedman said, while the others will fill holes in department programs.
“I’m ambitious for my department and I realize that I can’t get everything that I want,” Freedman said, “but I don’t see this as a crisis, at least not yet. If the financial stringency were to continue and the department, or any department, were to not be able to replace people or to grow into areas that had been identified, sure it would be problematic.”
But in an era of faculty renewal, not growth, many departments had fall searches postponed and are facing a year without new professors.
Paul Van Tassel, the chair of chemical and environmental engineering, said smaller departments like his often go a year without adding new members, but the change became noticeable when many mid- and small-sized departments had searches delayed at the same time.
Steven Fraade, chair and director of graduate studies for the Judaic Studies and Religious Studies Department, also said the impact of the hiring delays to his department will depend on how long they last. The department currently lacks a Hebrew language and literature and professor.
“We can get by in the short term, but if things remain this way, we’ll be impacted,” Fraade said. “If it’s a one year gap, that’s not terrible. If it’s longer, then that’s a problem.”
The English Department has no searches underway, chair Michael Warner said in an e-mail, but has “several needs” that he hopes will soon be authorized. Twelve junior faculty and three senior professors have joined the department since 2007, so the department can afford a brief lapse in hiring, Warner said.
Yale’s endowment remains the second largest in higher education, valued at $16.7 billion.