The comment period for the recently drafted Faculty Standards of Conduct has ended, but some faculty members may have more to say.
The draft document — created by an ad hoc committee convened by University President Peter Salovey and Provost Benjamin Polak last May — was presented to faculty for comments and suggestions in January, with the comment period expiring yesterday. In recent weeks, some faculty members have taken issue not only with the document’s content and the method of its creation, but also with the fact that it was written at all. With concerns about its vague and broad language, as well as its overstepping the authority supposedly vested in the newly formed Faculty Senate, faculty members interviewed described the document as “blunt,” “hostile” and “chilling.”
“It appears that, despite the recent history of Yale, the committee gave little if any thought to the importance of safeguards: for academic freedom, for freedom of expression, for dissent, and for diversity,” French and African-American Studies professor Christopher Miller wrote in his comments on the draft document. “Lip service to ‘free expression and inquiry’ in the preamble is not enough.”
In the comments, Miller wrote that he sees no indication that the document will be subject to faculty vote or debate, which is “ironic and deplorable” given the recent decision to form a Faculty Senate. According to the 2014 report of the FAS Senate Implementation Committee, which describes the purview of the Senate, the group “operates with the assumption that major initiatives and policies affecting FAS faculty will be brought for discussion to the FAS senate in a timely manner.”
Several professors told the News that the evaluation of this document should pause until the Senate has a chance to convene and discuss it. Any other process of deliberation, Miller said, would be an insult to the faculty and the new Senate.
According to computer science professor Michael Fischer, the draft document is part of a trend of increased administrative size and power, which diminishes the potency of faculty self-governance. Input is not the same as conversation, Fischer said.
Further, it is unclear if the new standards apply to all administrators. Psychology professor Margaret Clark, who chaired the ad hoc committee, said when finalized, the standards will apply to all people holding faculty positions at Yale. History, American Studies and African American Studies professor Glenda Gilmore, said she believes the standards should also apply to administrators who are not faculty members, but the draft document does not state if this is the case.
“Anybody on campus that’s part of this institution has to be bound by these same standards of ethical conduct,” Fischer said, adding that Harvard’s code of ethics governs all members of its community. “To have the administration say we’re going to write a set of ethical standards that faculty have to follow but we don’t is just plain offensive.”
Professors also cited concerns with the contents of the document — both what was included and what was notably absent. Gilmore said the draft fails to include any potential sanctions for faculty who breach regulations. Deputy Provost Stephanie Spangler, who served on the ad hoc committee, said the committee has not yet made recommendations regarding sanctioning procedures.
Clark said the committee will meet soon to carefully review all the comments on the draft.
Faculty members also criticized the document’s vague language. Miller said one of the document’s examples of “unacceptable behavior” — that which is “intended to prevent the orderly conduct of teaching or training” — is not only vague, but could potentially be used to repress any dissent expressed within the University. The document also does not specify how intent will be evaluated, or by whom. Miller cited some examples of faculty behavior in the past — such as holding class off-campus in solidarity with the Local 34 union during its formation in 1984, and calling for a moratorium on classes in protest of a war — that could qualify as unacceptable under the new standards.
The draft provides some examples of unacceptable behavior, but states that they are not exhaustive. If a faculty member’s actions “violate the faculty’s shared principles,” the document states, that faculty member may be subject to sanction regardless of whether the specific behavior is explained in the text. Fischer said this was the section he found most disturbing.
“In other words, one can be punished for behavior that does not violate any established rule if the administration thinks that there should be a rule against it,” Fischer said. “This has a chilling effect on the community and runs counter to the principles of openness and freedom of expression.”
English professor Jill Campbell identified several large issues with the procedures taken in creating the document, including the timing of its creation — before the FAS Senate’s work has begun — and the lack of specification regarding potential sanctions. Campbell added that even if there were a consensus that this document was necessary — which, she said, there does not currently seem to be — a new process should be created for its development.
“Given [the] fundamental flaws in the process by which this document, with its ambitious and very broad aims, has been created, circulated, ‘discussed’ and considered, it should be laid aside in its current form — despite what I am sure are the good-will intentions and significant efforts of committee members in creating it,” Campbell wrote in her comments on the document.
Other faculty members noted that the 16-member committee includes only one professor in the humanities disciplines.
But Clark said the committee was chosen very carefully, adding that it is broadly representative of faculty of not just Yale College, but the entire University. Spangler noted that Salovey and Polak considered FAS candidates as well as nominations from the deans of the professional schools.
The draft document is available on the provost’s website.