With elections slated to occur in early May, the inaugural Faculty of Arts and Sciences Senate is moving one step closer to reality.
Over the past month, members of the FAS have engaged in a nomination process, in which professors were asked to recommend up to five of their peers to stand for the election of the 22-member Senate. During the next 10 days, chair of the FAS Senate Nomination Committee Steve Wilkinson said, he and the committee will continue to review the nominations and contact members of the faculty who received several nominations. They expect that this procedure will yield a ballot of 35 to 40 candidates. Though all faculty interviewed praised the process as part of a historic moment for faculty governance at Yale, some were skeptical of the formal procedures and voting mechanisms that will be employed.
“I have been heartened by the fact that we have been able to persuade so many busy, talented people to run,” Wilkinson said. “Everybody has lots of research, department, family obligations and the fact that a bunch of really good peers are prepared to put themselves forward for this makes me feel good about the process.”
He added that when the formal nomination period closed on April 17, 249 faculty members had received at least one nomination. Though any faculty member who receives eight or more nominations will automatically be put on the ballot, Wilkinson said the committee has also directly solicited faculty members to run in an effort to ensure that a wide range of departments are represented on the ballot. Ultimately, the FAS Senate will represent between 900 and 1,000 faculty members — slightly fewer than the current 1,145 FAS members, as the group’s constituency excludes such positions as visiting professors or those on one-year contracts.
According to the FAS Senate Implementation Report, the senate’s membership must be made up of six senators each from the humanities and sciences, four senators from the of social sciences and six “at-large” senators, who would represent the FAS as a whole. Two professors interviewed said the FAS Senate should feature diversity, including junior and senior faculty across the spectrum of academic departments.
“No group of 22 people could possibly represent the diverse group of the FAS,” Wilkinson said. “But having said that, we have had a lot of interest in having diversity in the slate [of candidates] and hopefully diversity in the resulting FAS Senate as well.”
Statistics professor and Chair of the Committee on Elections Jay Emerson said the nomination and election process will be managed through Yale Qualtrics, a web-based survey tool. Faculty also have the option of sending their choices by paper ballot in a double-sealed envelope, Wilkinson said.
Though several faculty members said the process of selecting their nominees had run smoothly, others said they encountered technical difficulties when casting their votes and voiced criticism of Qualtrics as the voting mechanism.
“This tool is quite flexible but is not designed for election use,” computer science professor Michael Fischer said. “It is unclear to the user what is private and what is not. Of course, no promise of privacy was made for nominations.”
In addition, Fischer said that after clicking a button that appeared to proceed to the next page, he unintentionally submitted a blank nomination form. He was only able to cast a vote after receiving manual assistance by the election committee.
However, Linguistics Director of Graduate Studies Claire Bowern said she nominated several faculty members through the e-ballot system, which she found clear and easy to use.
Wilkinson defended the voting mechanism and said the committee is currently testing software over the next 10 days to address bugs or problems before officially holding the election. He stressed that all members of the implementation and election committees — who are not eligible to stand for office — as well as ITS officials are committed to preserving confidentiality of the ballot.
Further, Emerson said that after examining different options for holding the election and consulting with faculty at the University of Chicago, which also has a faculty senate, the election committee decided that it will print the ballots and manually count the votes by hand.
“The counting process becomes more labor intensive, but we wanted to do it as best we could without possible technology issues getting in the way at that point,” Emerson said.
But beyond the logistics, faculty were united in their support of senate as a body to serve as a direct conduit of faculty opinion to administrators — a line of communication several professors said has been lacking in recent years.
Both Fischer and history professor Glenda Gilmore said this is a crucial time for faculty voices to be heard.
“I hope to see a senate composed of outspoken members who make our concerns clear to the administration,” Gilmore said. “Faculty input is limited to a dwindling group of hand-picked professors with whom the administration is comfortable … We are at a moment when many are becoming resigned to top-down management. The senate gives us the opportunity to communicate to the administration how its rigid policies impact our teaching, student interactions and research.”