This weekend, administrators reversed their decision to cancel next week’s Yale College faculty meeting after professors objected to delaying a planned discussion of Yale’s liberal arts college in Singapore.
In a Friday email to faculty members, Yale College Dean Mary Miller cancelled their March 1 faculty meeting, citing “very few agenda items of Yale College business.” But in a Sunday email to the News, she said she reinstated the meeting on Saturday after realizing that faculty wanted to talk “sooner rather than later” about Yale-NUS, the college jointly operated by Yale and the National University of Singapore set to open in 2013.
The discontent among members of the faculty follows a highly-attended Feb. 2 meeting at which professors criticized the centralization of the University’s administrative services. Several faculty members interviewed said their complaints this weekend reflect a more general discontent with the distribution of decision-making power at the University.
“I think that [administrators] misjudged the degree to which not just NUS but other governance issues have been upsetting the faculty,” political science professor Seyla Benhabib said. “We need to be on record for having expressed our misgiving.”
Behind the recent resistance to administrative policy is an informal group of senior professors — with currently around 30 members — that formed this semester to discuss issues of University governance, professors involved said. Six faculty members associated with the group said administrators have not adequately consulted faculty in making major decisions, such as the creation of Yale-NUS and the implementation of Shared Services, the business model intended to streamline administrative services. English professor Jill Campbell, a member of the group, added that the group is also discussing policies at the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences.
“We have come together as a loose, informally-constituted discussion group to share information and views in the belief that well-informed, open interchange and debate leads to better understanding and decision-making, as well as to a healthier university community,” Campbell said in a Sunday email.
Professors opposed to the Yale-NUS project said Singapore’s authoritarian style of government and the country’s violations of civil rights and academic freedoms are not conducive to a liberal arts environment.
Classics professor Victor Bers, who asked Miller at the February meeting to place Yale-NUS on the agenda for March, said faculty were told previously that Yale-NUS was “entirely separate” from Yale College and thus that Yale College faculty would “have no jurisdiction in the matter.”
University President Richard Levin said there was “widespread discussion” about the Yale-NUS project during the six months before the Singaporean college was officially announced in March 2011. Administrators held two open “town hall” meetings for faculty about Yale-NUS in the fall of 2010 and met with faculty groups expressing concern about civil liberties in Singapore, Levin said.
About 25 professors attended the first town hall meeting in September 2010.
Still, Levin said the decision to create Yale-NUS ultimately rested with the Yale Corporation, since it is a new school and not a program within Yale College.
Some professors interviewed said they can better influence University policies in Yale College faculty meetings — which follow parliamentary procedure and are permanently recorded in minutes — rather than in “town hall” meetings. A few faculty members said they questioned the intentions behind Miller’s original decision to cancel the March 1 meeting.
“My reaction was that this was an attempt to suppress discussion,” computer science professor Michael Fischer said. “The administration, when it comes to decisions it has made, doesn’t want a diverse discussion.”
But Miller said she has “no desire” to avoid discussions on issues that pertain to Yale College, adding that faculty members should “feel assured” she will include on the agenda issues they find important and that are “appropriate for consideration” by Yale College faculty. She also confirmed that Yale-NUS will be included on the agenda for next week’s meeting.
Miller added she has occasionally canceled faculty meetings in the past, such as in March 2010, to ensure each meeting has at least two important items on the agenda. The meetings, which occur on the first Thursday of each month, typically include reports from standing or ad hoc committees. Besides discussion of Yale-NUS, Miller said she has only “routine business” from the Course of Study Committee scheduled for the March 1 meeting.
Miller said she will release the final agenda for next week’s faculty meeting today.