In a memo released Thursday to the Faculty of Arts and Sciences, University President Richard Levin and Provost Peter Salovey responded to a number of concerns aired by professors this semester.
In the wake of two contentious Yale College faculty meetings held in February and March — in which professors discussed the University’s push to streamline administrative services and the creation of Yale-NUS College, respectively — Salovey and Levin are taking steps to improve communication between the administration and the faculty. The two administrators said they have met with professors in 17 academic departments and programs in recent weeks to discuss their concerns, and Thursday’s memo addresses some of the most common grievances raised by faculty. Though Levin and Salovey said many issues facing the University emerged in light of the economic recession, such as constraints on construction and faculty hiring, they pledged to work alongside faculty in continuing to address those and other challenges.
“The past four years have given us one financial challenge after another,” Levin and Salovey wrote. “Even as we continue to attend to challenging financial matters, we reassert with conviction our commitment to working together with the faculty to set the course of Yale in the years ahead.”
Levin and Salovey linked many points discussed in the memo either tangentially or directly to budget cuts made since the onset of the recession in 2008. After the University’s endowment dropped nearly 25 percent and ripped a $350 million hole in the budget during fiscal year 2009, administrators were forced to reduce the number of authorized faculty searches and to hold the size of ladder faculty in the FAS at roughly 700. Most construction projects — such as the new Yale Biology Building, two new residential colleges and the renovation of Hendrie Hall — were also stalled.
But the two administrators pointed to several signs suggesting the University has weathered the worst of the budget crisis. The number of authorized faculty searches, which normally hovers around 75 but was roughly half that figure over the past three years, has returned to its normal level this year, they said. The faculty may grow slightly next year from its current size of 691, and “the pool for faculty raises will be three percent” in the fiscal year beginning July 1, the memo states. Though fundraising for some of the major stalled projects has yet to be completed, renovations to science laboratories and classrooms are scheduled for the next two summers.
In addition to explaining actions the University has taken to address budget-related problems, the memo also outlines steps to increase consultation and dialogue between departments and administrators.
Though monthly Yale College faculty meetings have recently served as a venue for professors to discuss issues that affect the University as a whole, such as shared services and Yale-NUS, the memo states those meetings are designed primarily to deal with issues that affect academics and student life within Yale College.
Levin and Salovey suggested holding one or two semesterly meetings of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences, which differs slightly from the Yale College faculty, and for which faculty members will be able to put items on the agenda that they hope to discuss with administrators and their colleagues. Faculty of Arts and Sciences meetings are currently only scheduled when specific items need to be addressed — a meeting is scheduled for Monday to discuss the recently released report on the process of allocating faculty resources. But Levin and Salovey said they recognize the desire among faculty “for a regular forum for faculty discussion of significant University issues.”
Roughly 20 professors at the February Yale College faculty meeting spoke against efforts to improve administrative services at the University, criticizing the shared services business model as an across-the-board system that cannot meet the needs of individual departments and protesting the University’s ongoing reorganization of departmental staff. In the memo, Levin and Salovey said they “regret that this has been a source of stress for some faculty members.”
“In the future, we will work collaboratively with departments to ensure that additional staffing changes serve each department’s needs and are welcomed by the faculty,” they wrote.
Levin and Salovey did not address Yale-NUS in the memo. Salovey said Thursday that he expects the liberal arts college will be discussed extensively in the coming week, especially at the Yale College faculty meeting scheduled for Thursday.
As part of efforts to improve communication, Levin and Salovey also suggested holding meetings between departmental administrators — chairs, directors of undergraduate studies and directors of graduate studies — and Yale College Dean Mary Miller and Graduate School Dean Thomas Pollard on a more regular basis.
Pollard has faced increased scrutiny from faculty over the past year, in part due to a report he released in August 2011 that recommended sharing “best practices” with departments across the University. Fifteen professors in the Graduate School submitted a proposal to Levin and Salovey on March 6 calling for a faculty advisory committee that would counsel Pollard on proposed policies.
Thursday’s memo states that Pollard will begin meeting more regularly with directors of graduate studies and will “reconstitute” in the fall an informal advisory group of faculty that he put together two years, with membership open to nomination. Levin and Salovey also said Pollard is not trying to force a “single ‘template'” onto departments or to allocate resources in a manner related to these best practices, as some faculty have suggested.
“This is not at all the case, and Dean Pollard joins us in regretting any misunderstanding,” Levin and Salovey wrote.
John Darnell, chair of the Department of Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations, said he was pleased to see Levin and Salovey responding to faculty concerns. Darnell said his department and a number of smaller departments met with Levin and Salovey on Wednesday, and he said he views both this meeting and the memo as signaling constructive communication between the faculty and administration. But he added that these steps are preliminary and full results have yet to be seen.
“We are clearly entering a period of more robust faculty engagement with University concerns,” Darnell said in an email Thursday.
Despite the endowment’s 21.9 percent return on investments in the fiscal year that ended June 30, Salovey said in January that the University still faces a projected $67 million budget deficit for the 2013 fiscal year.