With the Faculty of Arts and Sciences Senate nearly in full swing, proponents of the body are looking ahead — and around.
Earlier this month, the nominating and election committees for the FAS Senate were approved by faculty at the meeting of the Joint Board of Permanent Officers of the FAS — a body responsible for approving faculty appointments and promotions that consists of tenured professors in Yale College and the Graduate School. And last Friday, the nominating committee sent a message to all eligible faculty members asking them to nominate their peers by April 17, with elections planned to follow two weeks after. But alongside future plans for the FAS Senate itself has come the suggestion that a similar body be established at each of the University’s professional schools.
Recent debate over a drafted document of faculty standards of conduct called into question the role that the FAS Senate may take, in its fledgling stages, in affecting University-wide policy. When met with the idea that the FAS Senate would not be the proper body to adjudicate faculty standards of conduct for all University faculty because it will only include FAS faculty, history professor Glenda Gilmore wrote a letter to the News on Feb. 26 calling upon the University to form FAS Senate-type bodies in all of its 11 professional schools as well.
“There are many substantive differences peculiar to each school, particularly in the ways that aspirational policies are translated into operational practices,” Gilmore said in a Monday email to the News. “That is why each school needs input from its faculty. It seems to me that the most efficient and representative way to facilitate that input is through elected faculty members who agree to devote a substantial part of their time to that task.”
However, the 2013 ad hoc report of the committee on faculty input — which proposed the formation of an FAS Senate — did not recommend a University-wide senate, partially because the smaller faculty size in many professional schools makes the more traditional “town meeting” model work better than it does in the FAS.
Despite the mixed opinions, issues of faculty representation may not weigh heavily on most professional school faculty members’ minds. Nearly 60 faculty members across the professional schools declined to comment on the issue, with more than half clarifying that they are uninterested in, uninvolved in or uninformed on the subject.
Still, faculty in the professional schools interviewed were split on the issue, with some identifying a need for greater faculty representation but most saying that an elected body would be redundant.
Dean of the School of Medicine Robert Alpern said the current system of governance at the school involves faculty reporting to their department chairs reporting to the dean — a structure the 2013 report said seemed satisfying to the school. Still, Alpern said he is in the process of creating a body similar to the FAS Senate, a Faculty Advisory Council, that would improve the system by providing another avenue of communication and influence between faculty and administration. Alpern added that he does not see any drawbacks to adding such a system.
Despite Alpern’s initiative, some faculty members were less than optimistic about the potential influence of a senate-type body at the medical school. Pathology professor David Stern said that in practice, the laudable ideals of democratic organizations could be defeated by busy faculty members’ potentially lax participation.
“The idea of a faculty senate or something like that is good in principle, but … it will no doubt have little authority, and even if invested with authority, will soon be co-opted by the dean,” history of medicine professor William Summers said. “This is not unexpected — real governing and administrating is a lot of work, and most faculty and other members of the academic community have other work to do, in contrast to the actual job of the dean, which is to run the place.”
Instead, Summers said the University would do well to appoint department chairs with contrary ideas and viewpoints, rather than continuing the practice of naming “yes-men.”
At Yale Law School, the expanded governing board, which includes all tenured, tenure-track and clinical faculty, meets almost weekly to discuss matters including faculty appointments, YLS professor Robert Burt said. The governing board, instead — which includes only tenured faculty — largely “runs the enterprise,” he said. He added that an elected body is not necessary to assure wide participation in YLS decisions the way it might be in other University spheres, because the faculty is small and so participates directly.
The School of Management and the Divinity School employ similar governance structures to the law school. Both have governing bodies in place that are made up of tenured faculty. SOM professor Subrata Sen said faculty voices are already heard by the school’s administration, adding that a senate would take up too much time — professors’ “most valuable commodity.”
Four of five Divinity School professors interviewed and all seven SOM faculty members, including Deputy Dean Andrew Metrick and Dean Edward Snyder, said the senate’s role is already filled by their school’s governance structure. Most cited the size of the school’s overall faculty body as determining the necessity of an elected body. The medical school, for example, has 2,549 faculty members this academic year, and there are 1,145 in the FAS. But the Divinity School has only 57, while the School of Management and the Law School have 88 and 146, respectively.
Still, in an email to the News, Gilmore identified an important feature unique to elected bodies — elected representatives are expected to devote a great deal of time to University policies, a duty she said requires sustained attention to administrative proposals and other issues. And others identified other advantages to the system.
“The idea of electing faculty committees with term limits is something worth considering across the university,” Divinity School professor Lamin Sanneh said. “It avoids the appearance of impropriety with handpicked committees doing the bidding of whoever chose them.”
The FAS Senate’s bylaws were approved on Tuesday, Dec. 2.