Tensions have escalated in the past year between University administrators and Faculty of Arts and Science professors over budget negotiations affecting departments and initiatives in the humanities, social sciences and physical sciences.

Over the past few months, several departments across the FAS divisions have raised concerns about various financial policies and budgetary issues administered through the Provost’s Office. In November, anthropology professor Karen Nakamura GRD ’01 announced that she would leave Yale for University of California, Berkeley, citing the University’s unwillingness to offer her competitive research resources. At a Nov. 18 FAS Senate meeting, Classics Department Chair Kirk Freudenburg criticized the administration’s all-funds budgeting policy, which essentially gave control of the endowed funds to the University, taking their control away from the department. And on Monday, faculty members involved with the Yale Climate & Energy Institute expressed dismay at the initiative’s defunding. While faculty members interviewed acknowledged that the University’s budgeting requires some give and take, they expressed deep concerns about the lack of departmental input and communication between faculty and the Provost’s Office when negotiating budgetary issues.

“Part of the reason for the frustration and anger that FAS faculty and students and staff feel is not so much in the absolute monies … but that the view of how FAS should operate effectively [has been] lost,” William Kelly, anthropology professor and former department chair, said. “There’s no leadership, there is only administration.”

Provost Benjamin Polak, who ultimately oversees the University’s $3 billion annual operating budget, has said not all departmental proposals are financially feasible. Polak said the University has to make difficult tradeoffs and choices, though he wishes he could approve every “good idea” proposed to him. Polak did not comment for this story.

While Kelly acknowledged that the provost manages the University’s entire budget and has responsibilities outside the FAS, he said the administration should not make excuses for being unable to spend more money per department. Kelly said administrators make every new spending decision at their own discretion. For example, the millions of dollars spent on the new School of Management building, the increase to the Computer Science faculty and the recently unveiled $50 million faculty diversity initiative were conscious decisions to increase spending in particular places, he said.

“It seems a bit disingenuous for a provost or a president to sit there and say ‘My hands are tied,’” Kelly added.

Faculty members interviewed not only noted discrepancies in how the University distributes funds, but also criticized the lack of interaction between FAS faculty and senior administrators in conversations about departmental funding.

Kelly said faculty interactions with senior administrators have become more distant during his 36 years at Yale. In the early 1990s, Kelly said each department met individually with the provost each year, going through the departmental budgets line by line and making a case for each budgeted item. At the heart of these meetings, Kelly said, there was compromise between the University and the departments.

“These were long meetings. Department priorities could be directly expressed. Sometimes the resources that were initially budgeted could be expanded. There was a give and take,” Kelly said. “Most of that has disappeared.”

The University shifted the governance of the FAS away from the Provost’s Office in 2014 when philosophy professor Tamar Gendler was appointed to the newly created FAS dean position. Under the new administrative structure, departmental budgets are no longer primarily the provost’s responsibility and fall more directly to Gendler.

Gendler meets individually with the chair of each FAS department several times throughout the academic year. In these meetings, she and each department chair discuss the department’s academic priorities, its faculty hiring plans and staffing needs, she said.

In addition, all departments have the opportunity to present academic opportunities and challenges to their divisional directors, Gendler added. Each of the four FAS divisional directors — those for the humanities, social sciences, physical sciences and biological sciences — is appointed by the senior administration, who then select divisional committees, and Kelly said the faculty have no say in who gets chosen.

Kelly said recent budget decisions within the Anthropology Department illustrate an administrative mindset that prioritizes financial efficiency and forgets that human beings are the essential units of any department.

For example, the anthropology building once had a receptionist, but the University decided to cut that position from the department’s budget, Kelley said. The receptionist’s desk was sealed over by a wall, and in the place of a welcoming “mother figure” for the department, there now stands a tripod with department information and directions on it, he said. This small staff change, which began as one line of a budget, led to an “enormous but not quantifiable” shift in the department’s social cohesion, Kelly said.

“The human networks that sustain academic departments don’t figure in the calculations of this administration,” Kelly said. “That’s the kind of mindset that has come [into Yale] over the last eight or nine years.”

This frustration about administrative overreach regarding budgetary policies has spread across the FAS.

During the FAS Senate’s Nov. 18 meeting, Freudenburg raised the issue of the administration using the department’s endowed funds for uses not directly intended by the donors. For example, the Tarbell Fund, an endowed departmental fund specifically designated “for the support of instruction in Classical archaeology,” has been used for repair work in Phelps Hall.

The administration first adopted all-funds budgeting during the 2008 recession, and Freudenburg said the department was happy to share the financial burden at the time. However, he noted that though the endowment has recovered, the policy remains in place. At the meeting, Freudenburg expressed broader faculty concerns about the way budgetary policies are administered and the lack of communication between the faculty and the administration.

“I bring this matter before the FAS Senate because there are serious issues at stake here — not just of how monies have been quietly redirected from departments into the center, but of faculty governance as well,” Freudenburg said at the meeting. “All of the financial rescissions … are the results not of open discussion involving faculty, but of decisions taken on high and forced upon the Classics Department as things already decided.”

Since the meeting, the administration has made some changes to the Classics Department’s funding, but has not addressed Freudenburg’s larger concerns. Freudenburg said the administration has promised to stop imposing a capital allocations tax — essentially rent for the offices in Phelps Hall — on the department in future years, a decision he suspects comes partly in response to his complaint at the FAS Senate meeting.

Still, he said he has not heard any effort to address larger questions pertaining to budgeting policies and faculty governance.

“There has been no talk from any quarter — not directed at me, anyway, of a general rethinking of the policy that led to my complaint,” Freudenburg said. “In essence, most is as it was before.” He added that he remains hopeful the FAS Senate will raise the matter as both a financial policy and faculty governance issue at future meetings.

The recent defunding of the YCEI further highlights the top-down approach of University resource allocation. Although YCEI is not an FAS department, it was affiliated with the Energy Studies Program and involves a number of FAS faculty members.

Before the decision to cut all funding to the institute, YCEI’s budget was cut by 50 percent in the 2015–16 academic year, according to YCEI Executive Director Michael Oristaglio GRD ’74. Students involved with the institute said the budget cut prevented YCEI from carrying out a large portion of the institute’s activities, including conferences and research funding.

Co-director of the YCEI and geology and geophysics professor David Bercovici said the University told YCEI that the decision to cut funding was because Yale is stretched financially with other commitments such as faculty searches. Bercovici added that while former University President Richard Levin was “very engaged” in the formation of the YCEI and went to great lengths to obtain its basic initial funding, he is unsure of the current administration’s priorities with regard to climate and energy challenges.

  • Nancy Morris

    “’It seems a bit disingenuous for a provost or a president to sit there and say ‘My hands are tied,’Kelly added.”

    Except Polak obviously isn’t at all saying that his hands are tied. Polak is saying that limited resources are properly allocated (by him and his unfettered hands) to uses of higher value.

    It is hard to imagine a better example of that proper allocation than the subject of Kelly’s grouse that his departmental receptionist has been defunded. A receptionist? Really? Surely a receptionist is a nice thing. But few departments have them because there are far better things on which to spend the same money, such as additional graduate student financial aid.

    In a similar vein, large Japanese department stores until relatively recently employed women in traditional garb to bow to customers at escalators. Those ladies were a nice touch, and the general discontinuation of that practice was is some quarters lamented as “dehumanizing.” But their elimination was obviously correct. Professor Kelly would perhaps object.

    • zhivago

      Your example is pretty reasonable and bolsters your case. But counterexamples are in enough abundance to call into question the notion that Mr. Polak has ‘properly allocated’ the limited resources available. For example, back in 2014 when the electron miscroscopy class was canceled and yet money was, as pointed out in the article (linked below), being wasted at West Campus, was that the best spending for the university? And what does that phrase even mean? Best for whom? The students? The administrators? The future students? [ Link : http://yaledailynews.com/blog/2014/03/31/rosenbaum-why-cancel-my-class/ ]

      Moreover, any time one wishes to talk about budget issues at Yale, one only need to look at the massive expansion in staff over the years. Between the 99/00 and 09/10 academic years, the number of students grew from 11017 to 11593 (a whopping 5%), the faculty grew from 3330 to 3695 (11%), and the staff grew from 6025 to … 9267, a massive 54%. In more recent years, Yale has added a lot of faculty while staff levels haven’t changed much. The question, then, is are these positions, including the many, many new high-level ones, necessary to a well-functioning university? More necessary, say, than programs that directly influence the student and researcher experience?

      I’m pretty confident the answer to that is no, they’re not – and thus the spending priorities of the university are doing more harm than good. There will always be edge cases like a receptionist for a department, but the issue is far wider than that and until someone can justify the massive expansion in high-level staff, without a commensurate increase in students, it seems self-explanatory that the limited resources of the university are NOT properly allocated.

      • Nancy Morris

        The need for expanded staff comes from many quarters, and it is not that hard to research many of them. It is astounding that so many people who criticize that expansion have not made any serious research effort. To cite just one example: Compliance with regulatory mandates now consumes over 15% of the operating budgets of many research universities, and that percentage continues to grow, and it has nothing to do with the number of students. There are many other reasons for the growth. Another factor: The faculty has been expanded in advance of the completion of the two new residential colleges, which will expand the number of undergraduates. The claim that the Yale staff or faculty is being pointlessly bloated is just wrong.

        But even if that claim were correct, it would not change the fact that Polak did not say that his hands were tied. He didn’t. He said he allocates by merit as he evaluates it. That others might disagree with some of his judgments is inevitable. That the process is imperfect is inevitable. Polak is a very capable and competent person working in a hugely difficult environment. From what I’ve seen, his judgments are far more often right than not. Nothing in this article or comments suggests otherwise.

  • wondering

    (re. Nancy Morris’s comment:) What an ignorant and objectionable comment, revealing no knowledge of the workings of academic programs and of the many essential roles of office staff in that setting. What is more surprising and serious is the apparent ignorance of the Provost and other university leadership of those matters, harking back to the Shared Services fiasco.

    • Nancy Morris

      That Polak did not claim or imply in any comment attributed to him in this article that his hands are tied is obvious. You should reread it, this time carefully. If you find such language, feel free to point it out. That he did say he allocates by merit is equally obvious. That you don’t agree with his evaluations of merit is not relevant to this discussion, but seems to be the entire substance of your gripe. You summon not a single example of how the absence of a department receptionist is “essential in that setting,” which is hardly surprising.

      You find my observations “objectionable,” but provide nothing but smug name calling in support of your objection. In other words, you write like a dyspeptic reactionary crank.

      And as far as “ignorance” of how things work is concerned, you might wish to educate yourself on the use of the “reply” feature in these comments.