After nearly two years of planning and preparation, the Faculty of Arts and Sciences Senate held its first official session Thursday evening, marking a historic step for faculty governance at the University.
The new representative body, which is composed of 22 senators from across all divisions, met in Sheffield-Sterling-Strathcona Hall yesterday to prepare for its first official year in operation and begin outlining key issues to address. According to Beverly Gage, the director of undergraduate studies in History and recently elected senate chair, roughly two-thirds of the two-hour meeting was devoted to open discussion. The senators then voted to establish five committees, some of which were mandated by the fall 2014 FAS implementation report and others which were of their own design.
One committee will address elections and nominations for the senate itself, and another will serve as a committee on Yale committees. This group will allow faculty members to recommend their peers for University-wide committees, ensuring that a broad range of faculty members will be asked to serve.
The senate also established an ad hoc committee on the expansion of Yale College to examine what the 15-percent increase in the student body will mean for faculty, as well as a standing committee on budget and finance. The senate’s peer advisory committee will serve as a contact point where faculty members can come with issues they may not want to bring to administrators or direct superiors within their department.
Gage said the five tenured members of the six-person executive council will each chair one of these committees. She added other committees may also be created at next month’s meeting or in future ones.
Each of the newly elected senators in attendance brought with them a unique perspective — spanning departments, career stages and goals for their time in the senate. Though the 17 senators interviewed agreed that the body must serve as an important voice for faculty members, many reiterated that the senate is still in its early stages and the true test of its power is still to be determined.
“It was for me, certainly one of the few times I’ve sat in a room with people from across the University — different divisions, different ranks, different perspectives — and really heard what all of those people have to say,” Gage said. “I think it was a real meeting of the minds … The senate is off to a pretty remarkable start.”
Senators interviewed voiced a variety of motivations for taking part in the body, casting their sights on goals ranging from reforming internal FAS policies to enacting campus-wide changes to University governance.
Several professors emphasized their plans to represent the issues unique to their own roles at Yale, be it a small field of study or a non-ladder faculty position.
“Scholars studying antiquity within the Humanities have their own set of concerns that I hope to be able to bring to the conversation,” Near Eastern Languages and Civilization Department acting chair Christina Kraus noted.
Senior Lector of Hebrew Shiri Goren said her goal is to speak for non-ladder faculty and also to represent the interests of faculty with young children, whose particular challenges “are often not adequately addressed by our institution.”
Political Science and African American Studies assistant professor Vesla Weaver, who serves on the executive committee, said one of her main goals for the body is to increase faculty diversity across departments. She said she aims to address the “complete mismatch” between the range of student diversity already present on campus and the lack thereof among professors. She added that if there is one body capable of making this type of change, it is the FAS Senate.
“What is incredible about the faculty senate is that we actually do, as best as possible, represent the diversity of Yale,” she said. “There are more women, there are two of us that are black, there are a range of other kinds of voices, and a range of departments that are usually at the losing end of the stick.”
Others pointed to broader governance concerns, particularly a sense of disconnect between the opinions of faculty and the policies that are ultimately implemented by the administration.
American Studies, African American Studies and History professor Matthew Jacobson said that since 2009, there has been faculty blowback on several administrative initiatives, including Shared Services and Yale-NUS. He added that as a result, he has been committed to creating structures that enlarge the decision-making role for Yale faculty as “constituent voices” in regards to applying the University’s mission.
“[The goal is] to crack the mold of what has become a fairly passive, rubber-stamping role for Yale faculty in simply approving plans that have already been developed by the administration and corporate board,” Jacobson said. “This is a long-term project, but we have an opportunity to at least create new venues and opportunities for real and meaningful exchange between faculty on the ground and administrators — including very influential non-educators — at the top.”
Still, views differed on how receptive the administration would be to taking the suggestions and findings of the senate seriously. Weaver said the administration has already taken steps to demonstrate they support the body and are interested in its long-term success as a part of Yale faculty governance.
“We have been given a good budget, we have been approached to have meetings, we are going to have a staff person,” Weaver said. “So I do think there is a real willingness to work with us and take us very seriously.”
Gage said the operating budget for the year is $35,000, which will be used for expenses ranging from photocopying to the development of a new FAS Senate website.
Professor of Comparative Literature and English Katie Trumpener said it is important that the administration regularly communicate with the senate, which will serve as a strong resource to the administration in bringing forth a diversity of views and ideas.
“Since the middle ages, universities have been self-governing, with faculty as the stake-holders,” Trumpener wrote in an email. “Collectively, it is up to us — as much as the administration, and far more than the Corporation — to safeguard the integrity of the university, to guide its present priorities and imagine and plan its future.”
Still, Jacobson said it is too early to tell whether the senate will yield power in the eyes of administration since there is “plenty of hope” but significant skepticism in the body as well.
Molecular, Cellular and Developmental Biology professor Mark Mooseker, who serves on the executive committee, echoed similar sentiments and voiced cautious optimism to the role the new body will serve in regards to shaping administrative attitude.
“Moving forward, I definitely have a ‘we’ll see’ attitude about what the FAS Senate can add … We could be stymied at every turn — but so far, as we have tried to define ourselves as an advisory body, the administration seems to be open to what we might offer,” he said. “It is a novel forum for Yale that hopefully will invite a much broader participation of our faculty into key unsettled decisions.”
FAS Dean Tamar Gendler described the relationship between her office and the senate as “mutually supportive.” The two will collaborate to implement ideas and suggestions brought forward by the body to the greatest extent possible, she said.
“I am always enthusiastic about structures that involve more of our faculty in thinking about the governance of the University. I think the governance of the University is something that we all must engage in,” Gendler said. “ In my role as dean, I am primarily someone who executes the proposals that can make the University even greater than it is — in its research and teaching and to serve its mission — and I am incredibly excited about having 22 new partners in doing this thing that I care about doing.”
Gage emphasized that as an independent body, the senate does not answer to administrators and will set its own priorities and make its own decisions.
The next meeting of the FAS Senate is scheduled for Oct. 15.