Eight months after faculty were asked to comment on a controversial draft document of faculty standards of conduct, the finalized standards were presented in the updated Faculty Handbook, sent to faculty in a Friday email from University President Peter Salovey and Provost Benjamin Polak.
Starting in January, faculty were given several weeks to submit comments on the draft document, which included provisions on teaching, scholarship and relationships with colleagues. At the time, many faculty objected to what they viewed as overly specific and controlling language.
Trumbull Master Margaret Clark, who chaired the committee responsible for authoring the document, said last semester that the committee would take into account all feedback. Notably, one particularly controversial section — which formerly declared that “if a faculty member’s behavior violates the faculty’s shared principles, he or she may be subject to sanction, whether or not the behavior is specifically described” — was toned down to state “other behaviors may also violate the principles set forth here.” The updated document also clarifies in a footnote that all University administrators with faculty appointments are governed by the same guidelines, a question that was raised last semester.
Still, beyond a few wording changes, the finalized standards are largely identical to the draft, and opinion still appears split on not just the standards themselves, but whether they should be codified at all. Computer science professor Michael Fischer, for instance, said that while the document has “considerably improved” in some places, many of his former objections still stand.
“I remain unhappy at what this new document portends for the future of the University,” Fischer said. “It seems designed primarily to protect the corporate Yale from possible liability resulting from actions of its faculty. But in trying to circumscribe what acceptable faculty conduct is, it runs the risk of limiting free speech and free inquiry.”
Similarly, French and African American Studies professor Christopher Miller GRD ’83 said that some of the most “egregiously misguided language” had been altered, but said he remains troubled by some sections. In particular, Miller took issue with the states “participating in behavior that is intended to interfere with freedom of expression by preventing the orderly conduct of teaching or training” violates University standards. Raising an issue that also came up last semester, Miller noted that this rule could be used to ban protest demonstrations.
“As I asked in the spring: Who is going to determine the intentions here?” he questioned.
In their email, Salovey and Polak wrote that the commentary on the original draft was “largely positive and supportive,” a description some professors interviewed disputed.
The email also promised to address one prominent faculty concern still lingering from last semester: the fact that procedures for addressing violations of these standards are not included in the document. The committee responsible for the document will now direct its attention to creating a draft of such procedures, the email noted.
Clark did not return request for comment.
While many faculty took issue with the standards, School of Public Health Dean Paul Cleary said he favored the document, especially given his administrative perspective.
“As a dean, I found it very, very useful to have this document,” he said. “You don’t want to get too bureaucratic, but I always think it’s useful to be explicit about what you think appropriate behavior is.”
Ecology and evolutionary biology professor Stephen Stearns ’67 echoed that sentiment, noting that the standards are clear and appropriate.
Last semester, several faculty members said the issue of faculty standards would best be taken up at least partially addressed by the newly formed FAS Senate.
“At this point, I can only hope that our senate will look into the new faculty standards of conduct,” American Studies and Film and Media Studies professor Charles Musser ’73 said.
Still, last semester, Marina Picciotto, a School of Medicine professor and member of the ad hoc committee, said because the standards apply to all University faculty, the document should not fall under the FAS Senate’s purview. FAS Senate Chair Beverly Gage did not return request for comment.