Though the newly created Faculty of Arts and Sciences Senate will not hold its first session for another six months, the body is already facing its first test of power.
Next week, the FAS Senate — whose bylaws were officially approved by the faculty in December — will take the important step of announcing its nomination committee, a group of five faculty tasked with selecting members of the FAS to stand for office in advance of the election in April.
THE SENATE BODY TAKES FORM
Despite this progress, a committee appointed by University President Peter Salovey and Provost Benjamin Polak in May has continued its work on a document outlining Standards of Faculty Conduct, an issue some faculty have argued should fall under the Senate’s purview instead. With the first meeting of the Senate scheduled for fall 2015, the recent backlash over the drafted code of conduct — which ranges from complaints about specific language to larger worries about excessive administrative power — has raised questions about how much authority this new body will ultimately hold in the eyes of Yale’s senior leadership.
“The draft Standards of Faculty Conduct document is exactly concerned with the question of the rights and responsibilities of faculty and the balance of power between faculty and administration,” computer science professor Michael Fischer said. “The fact that the [Standards of Faculty Conduct] has been promulgated in parallel with the creation of the FASS shows at least a lack of sensitivity on the part of the administration to faculty concerns.”
He added that the administration should implement a moratorium on further consideration of the draft Standards of Faculty Conduct until the new Faculty Senate has had an opportunity to deliberate, recommend and vote on the substance of the document that pertains to members of the FAS.
Political science professor and chair of the Senate Implementation Committee Steve Wilkinson outlined the steps remaining before the creation of the Senate. The five-person nominating committee — which will include one faculty member from the humanities, one from the social sciences and one from the natural sciences, one from the Women Faculty Forum and one from the FAS Senate Implementation committee — will seek approval for the appointments at the next Joint Boards of Permanent Officers meeting, scheduled for March 4, he said.
Once that presentation has been made, the committee will begin soliciting nominations and carrying out the election, FAS Dean Tamar Gendler said.
FOCUS ON FAS?
Though the mechanics and procedures of the Senate are well-documented, the degree to which it will successfully serve as a conduit for faculty opinion and a check on administrative power remains far less certain.
Faculty interviewed said the discord regarding the standards of conduct is a signal that the FASS may not be taken as seriously as some have hoped.
“It is unthinkable that the administration would argue that the rules that govern FAS faculty behavior and a statement of the faculty’s ‘shared ethics’ do not deserve the Faculty Senate’s full consideration,” history professor Glenda Gilmore wrote in an email. “I’m sure that they would not take the position that because these are university-wide standards of faculty conduct, the FAS faculty, representing the core mission of the university, should not have input into something so important to ourselves, our students and Yale.”
However, Marina Picciotto, School of Medicine professor and member of the ad hoc committee, said all University faculty should have input into these general standards. Since the standards apply to all faculty at the University, the document should not fall under the Senate’s purview, she added.
“It doesn’t seem that it would be a democratic or representative process to have the FAS Senate responsible for a document that should address fundamental standards for every member of the faculty across many schools and many missions,” Picciotto wrote in an email.
Stephanie Spangler, deputy provost, as well as the University Title IX coordinator and a member of the ad hoc committee, said the committee was composed of faculty with representation throughout the University, including senior faculty nominated by the deans of all of Yale’s schools, as well as representatives from the offices of the provost and general counsel.
However, other faculty argued that since there is no University-wide representative body comparable to the Senate, each school has developed its own means to communicate with the administration. For the FAS, the Senate aims to be that representative body.
Fischer said that though many policies extend beyond the FAS, that should not preclude the Senate from discussing them or from taking a position on them.
“If the FAS is relegated to consider only matters that are exclusive to the FAS, then it would be precluded from involving itself in many of the major issues that affect both FAS and other schools,” he said.
Fischer said such areas that would therefore be excluded from FAS discussion include the international expansion of the University and creation of Yale-NUS, tenure and salary policies, and the University budget management — some of the very issues that led faculty to first argue the governance body was necessary in 2012.
Polak said every faculty member in the University has been given the opportunity to review and comment on the committee’s draft standards. But it may be that this issue is not even on professional school professors’ minds. All 17 professional school faculty members interviewed declined to comment on the draft document, with 12 specifying that they were declining comment because they were unfamiliar with it or had not read it at all.
LOOKING TO THE FUTURE
More than a week after the comment period closed on the draft of the Faculty Standards of Conduct, the committee that originally created the document has still not publicly released any feedback. Yale Divinity School professor Harry Attridge, a member of the committee, said the group met last Wednesday to review feedback, but no specific plans have yet been laid out.
Meanwhile, outcry surrounding the issue shows no sign of stopping.
“At a time when the new Faculty Senate, which would be the proper forum in which to discuss this, is about to be elected, and also at a time when, Yale’s own internal review and administrative procedures of sexual harassment charges have proven less than stellar, I think that this report should be tabled until further examination,” political science and philosophy professor Seyla Benhabib told the News.
Still, faculty and administrators interviewed said they remain optimistic about the role the legislative body will come to serve on campus.
Wilkinson said that once the Senate is up and running, the rules adopted by the FAS faculty outline that major issues affecting the FAS faculty should be discussed with the Senate. He said the list of specific issues, which is not exclusive, was developed in collaboration with the administration.
“Because the Senate will have no statutory power, it can be consulted or not as the administration pleases,” Fischer said. “Hopefully a culture will evolve in which bypassing the Senate on significant issues affecting the FAS will be seen as a breach of trust between administration and faculty not to be taken lightly.”
The first FAS Senate elections will be held in April via electronic ballot.