Faculty and administrators say a memo released Thursday to the Faculty of Arts and Sciences by University President Richard Levin and Provost Peter Salovey is only the starting point in responding to concerns raised by professors this semester.
Levin told the News Sunday that he thinks the University’s tight financial situation since the onset of the recession in 2008 is the “common thread” among faculty concerns aired this semester. Salovey said in a Sunday email that he cannot “speculate too much” as to why faculty have begun to express concerns this semester, but he also noted that ongoing budget cuts have placed stress on faculty and staff. As a result of constraints imposed by the budget, Levin said faculty have perceived the University’s decision-making power as shifting to the administration.
“The faculty are feeling the impact, and they’re also feeling that at a time of budget constraints, decisions have been made at the top more frequently than what would be the norm,” Levin said.
After two controversial Yale College faculty meetings in February and March, Levin and Salovey spent recent weeks meeting with professors in 17 academic departments and programs to discuss their concerns. The two administrators then released Thursday’s memo, which addresses restructuring to departmental staffing, budget constraints on construction and faculty hiring, and faculty involvement in University-wide decisions. Salovey said the memo is intended as one step toward discussing issues of concern to faculty.
Much of the memo focuses on increasing communication between faculty and the administration. Levin and Salovey recommended that more regular meetings be held between administrators and faculty, including additional meetings between departmental administrators — chairs, directors of graduate studies and directors of undergraduate studies — and Yale College Dean Mary Miller and Dean of the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences Thomas Pollard.
The memo also proposes holding meetings of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences once or twice a semester in the coming academic year on a trial basis. The Yale College faculty currently meets on a monthly basis, but Levin and Salovey said those meetings are designed to address issues involving Yale College in particular, whereas the FAS-wide meetings would aim to give faculty an opportunity to consider issues that affect the University as a whole.
Meg Urry, chair of the Physics Department, said in a Sunday email that faculty are eager to be a part of University plans and “to contribute our knowledge and expertise” as Yale exits the budget crisis.
Yair Minsky, chair of the Mathematics Department, said he approves of the suggestions aimed at improving communication. He said it will be important to make sure any additional meetings are “substantive” so they can affect decision-making.
Christopher Miller, professor of French and African-American studies, said the language in the memo with respect to the proposed FAS meetings is “imprecise.” Miller, who has been a critic of University governance with regard to Yale-NUS College, said it remains unclear how the faculty will be able to exercise deliberative powers at the meetings, such as bringing items on the agenda to a vote.
Yale College Dean Mary Miller, who chairs Yale College faculty meetings, said a general “framework” for the FAS meetings has yet to be established, including details on how the agenda will be set, whether votes will be taken and what significance they would hold. She said the FAS meetings would provide faculty an appropriate venue to discuss matters that involve the FAS as a whole “but that do not pertain directly to Yale College,” citing shared services as an example.
Yale’s move to shared services — a business model intended to streamline administrative services — is among the larger University issues addressed in the memo. Levin and Salovey wrote that the initiative aims to cut costs and improve services for departments, but they also recognized that the model has caused stress and “raised many questions” among some faculty members. Salovey said Sunday that he and Levin “believe strongly” that changes to staff in departments “should come out of a collaboration between the Shared Services team and the faculty of that department.”
Professor of English Jill Campbell, who has been a critic of the effects shared services has had on departments, said in a Friday email that the memo demonstrates a “serious response” to concerns aired by faculty this semester and an adjustment in the University’s description of shared services.
“This represents a real and important change in how the Shared Services initiative is being described, and I am relieved and (cautiously) optimistic,” Campbell said. “We have perhaps narrowly avoided some potentially very damaging changes to staffing structure that had been envisioned.”
In the wake of a nearly 25 percent drop in the Yale endowment during fiscal year 2009, the University faced a $350 million budget deficit.