Yale’s Spanish and Portuguese Department enjoys a sterling national reputation, but many close to the department describe an atmosphere plagued by fear and financial problems.
Professors and graduate students in the department, which had its doctoral program named first in the nation by the National Research Council in 2010, said they are concerned about budget-related problems, such as the lack of funding for travel to conferences and bringing in guest speakers. Some added that these problems make it difficult for Yale’s department to compete with those of peer institutions. Several professors also said the department’s budget decisions are kept private, with some even describing the department as a stressful place to work.
The department announced in a September faculty meeting that a new anonymous donor will sponsor four guest lectures — events professors say have not happened in several years. However, despite enthusiasm for the lectures themselves, students and faculty say that they are not enough to solve the department’s many problems.
A graduate student — who asked to remain anonymous out of fear of retaliation from the department, adding that the department chair “can ruin your career with a recommendation letter” — said that these lectures ultimately do not solve the department’s problems.
“[Lectures] are completely forgettable,” the student said. “The problem is that there is no promotion for research, outside our fellowships. No traveling, no conference support. Nothing.”
But Portuguese DUS David Jackson said the lectures are both welcome and necessary. Likewise, assistant professor of Spanish Kevin Poole said that any new lecture has a positive impact, bringing members of the department together and providing new voices that have not yet been heard.
Two graduate students interviewed said that the donations have definitely been helpful, but that they would prefer funding for travel to conferences instead of lectures.
Spanish professor Anibal Gonzalez said that the scarcity of funds for many of the department’s operations — including lecture series, office supplies and student travel to job interviews — detracts from the quality of the department. He added that these four lectures are a great improvement from the complete lack of events of this kind that existed previously.
“It continues to amaze me that a department that boasts of its national and international prestige was unable, until this recent donation, to convince the University to keep its funding at a level commensurate with its high reputation,” Gonzalez said. The department has not had a visiting writer or professor since 1996, Jackson added.
Maria de la Paz Garcia, a senior lector in Spanish, said she is unaware of whether there are financial troubles because the budget is controlled by the department chair, currently Spanish professor and Director of Graduate Studies Rolena Adorno. Seven other faculty members in the department also said that they are not involved in the financial decisions.
Gonzalez added that faculty members are generally excluded from financial discussions.
“[Budget] information is treated as highly secret. There’s certainly no transparency from the department’s administration in this regard,” he said. “We are a small department with currently only five senior faculty. I can’t think of any reason for such a level of secrecy about our finances in this context, but there it is.”
Gonzalez suggested that the University’s administration has ensured that the same two senior faculty members are always named chair of the department. The feeling in the department is that these two faculty members are “chairs-for-life,” and this contributes to the department’s atmosphere of arrogance and intimidation, he said.
Roberto Gonzalez-Echevarria served as the department chair in spring 2014. Neither he nor Adorno could be reached for comment.