Although six months have passed since the Academic Review Committee released its report on allocating faculty positions across departments, few have felt the impact of the findings.
Last spring, the ARC — responsible for reviewing the “accounting and management of faculty positions” — issued a report outlining new hiring and appointment procedures, including the creation of a faculty resource committee, a common pool of faculty slots and principles for reducing slot vacancy. The April 30 report, which follows the investigations done by the Nordhaus Committee in 2012, aimed to create a system of distributing resources in a “a fair and responsive way,” while also providing a blueprint for the development of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences. Although administrators urge that it is too soon to judge their effectiveness, faculty remain largely unconvinced that the new procedures will spawn large-scale change.
“A key point is that it is still very early. We are halfway through the first term of its implementation,” ARC chair and economics professor Steven Berry said. “So far, the ARC is being implemented exactly as intended. The Faculty Resource Committee, chaired by [FAS Dean Tamar Gendler], is meeting regularly and is committed to a complete implementation of the ARC report.”
Following the instructions of Provost Benjamin Polak, the report mandated that the number of FAS faculty remain constant at roughly 700. Gendler said that given a turnover of roughly five percent each year, approximately 35 faculty members can be hired in a year.
Despite substantial discussion of the report this year, faculty interviewed noted a lack of clarity regarding the implementation of the ARC recommendations.
“It is difficult to understand exactly how the new system is to work,” said English professor Jill Campbell. “I find that most faculty share my confusion and sense of only partial understanding of the implementation of ARC recommendations.”
ONE SIZE FITS ALL?
Several faculty interviewed said that even if the ARC was successful in achieving its aims, it will only have a marginal effect on the University.
“The ARC report outlines the very precise procedure of basically keeping things the way they are and precise sub-procedures for making small changes,” computer science department chair Joan Feigenbaum said.
She added that even despite its best efforts, the report’s implementation will likely not resolve issues regarding hiring within her department.
English professor Jill Campbell said the strict cap on total appointments per year means that departments’ requests for approval of a position will necessarily be in direct competition with each other for a very limited overall supply of approved hiring requests.
MCDB professor Joel Rosenbaum said that this year the MCDB department was understaffed by approximately seven faculty members. After requesting permission to hire three more, the department received for only one.
Further, WGSS Professor Inderpal Grewal said that last Spring her department’s requests to hire were turned down on the grounds that there were no slots — the unit of faculty positions — to offer. This is due, she said, to the report’s outlined aims to only reserve slots for diversity, new programs or spousal situations.
Still, other faculty members interviewed said the findings of the report are a step in the right direction. English professor Wai Chee Dimock GRD ‘82 said there is a clear sense that the new initiatives outlined in the report are being supported in practice. The Department of English is currently in the process of making a senior appointment in Anglophone-African literature, which she said will strengthen the ties between English and other departments, including African Studies, African-American Studies and comparative literature.
“[This appointment] was unthinkable just a few years ago and putting Yale ahead of virtually all peer institutions,” she said. “While this appointment is made using a departmental slot, the very existence of ‘pool slots’ adds flexibility to the recruitment process.”
The report also recommended the creation of a faculty resource pool, in which group of slots would be collected from departments and distributed to meet larger academic goals of the University. She added it is the goal of the FRC to be able to approve searches on departmental slots either that year of the year subsequent, adding this approval is not a question of “whether,” but rather “when.”
Gendler said the flow into this new common pool is based, in part, on the rate of senior faculty departures. When a senior faculty member leaves, a half slot opening enters the common pool.
The Faculty Resource Committee has been tasked, according to the report, with allocating these half slots to match with existing half slots in departments.
Still, some faculty said felt this common pool system will not solve for larger issues facing the FAS.
“What I do understand is that this pool is going to be very, very tiny, so it is simply going to be insufficient in the long run,” computer science professor Michael Fischer said.
Campbell said that since departments must compete with each other for a centralized number of slots before they can move to advertise or fill a position, one risk is that departments will lose control of appointing faculty to the “personal judgment” of administration-appointed divisional directors. She added that following the Nordhaus report, the ARC aimed to restore greater autonomy to department. However, she was uncertain if this would be applied in practice. “It is cold comfort, then, for a department to know it ‘owns’ or ‘controls’ those empty positions if it cannot seek to fill them until given approval, as its needs are weighed against the proposals of other departments and programs by a small, appointed group,” she added.
Gendler disagreed with the argument that the pool would only offer small changes.
“The expectation is that in any given year there will be probably 12 half slots in the pool, which is not a trivial number,” she said. “Over a 5 year period, there are 30 slots that come into the pool; over a decade, there are over 60 slots that come into the pool— those don’t seem like a trivial numbers.”
Berry said it is still too early to report on the operation of the pool since it is a transition year and departments are still in the early stages of formulating hiring requests for next year.
Gendler said the FRC meets every two weeks, and while it does not have formal proposals from departments yet, she hopes the approval process will be up and running by January. She said that in the fall, the committee has learned to read the slot book — a document kept in the Provost’s office that lists all the departmental slots — and hear presentations by chairs of different divisions.
Another major finding of the report was the formation of principled cuts, which in March 2014 — after faculty backlash — replaced an initial five percent cut across the board in authorized slots. The goal of these cuts is to keep the number of faculty constant while lowering slot vacancy rates across the FAS.
Berry said that a clear majority of departments prefer these new procedures compared to across-the-board cuts. But he added that while the faculty would have preferred a situation in which the budget allowed for all promised slots to be filled, the current system is a relatively good solution.
Still, others said there is uncertainty about how these cuts would affect departments. Campbell said that although departments now have clearer information about the number of faculty positions they retain post “haircut,” she said the current system of approval for actual use of the positions means that these positions can be on the books without actually being filled.
Campbell added that it is a challenge to get a clear understanding of how ARC recommendations are actually being applied.
“It is difficult at this point to determine whether the spirit of [the report’s] aim has been preserved in the changes we have seen thus far,” Campbell said.
Most faculty members interviewed said a tangible impact of the report will only be seen over time.
Political Science Professor Steve Wilkinson said since the regular 2014-2015 department positions were approved under the previous system, the FRC’s contributions will not be fully clear until the next summer.
“I have no doubt that there are people who don’t understand its nuances,” Gendler said. “It may be that what they are wondering is what will the process look like, and the answer to that is I don’t know and I wouldn’t presume to impose that from above, that is the FRC’s to determine.”