In spring 2014, 26 students enrolled in history and American Studies professor Mary Lui’s Asian-American history class. Last fall, that number spiked to 90, according to course demand statistics on the day final schedules were due. But if any students in the class hoped to take another class with Lui — who is Yale’s only tenured professor of Asian American Studies — they were disappointed: because of Lui’s administrative duties as master of Timothy Dwight College, she is only able to teach one undergraduate course a year.
“I feel badly when students take the lecture, and they ask what’s next,” Lui said.
The University’s push for increased faculty diversity has often focused on recruitment and retention efforts, with less attention given to the subtle yet significant dilemma that arises when professors already at Yale who teach issues relating to diversity and ethnicity take on increasing administrative workloads. Faculty members have fewer teaching responsibilities when they become administrators — either in their own departments, in residential colleges or in the central administration — and some professors and administrators have suggested that this disproportionately hamstrings academic areas that are already understaffed.
Yale College Dean Jonathan Holloway, who holds appointments in the History and African American Studies Departments, said that while there is now “far more” diversity in the University leadership than there has been in the past, that diversification can come at the expense of the undergraduate curriculum.
“[Ezra Stiles Master and Latino Studies specialist] Stephen Pitti, Master Mary Lui and I are all involved in the Ethnicity, Race and Migration Program, so our administrative work is taking eight courses off the [required] load,” Holloway said. As dean, Holloway is exempt from the annual four-course teaching requirement, and as masters, Lui and Pitti are each generally exempt from two courses per year. “That’s a lot for people teaching in these related fields and is definitely an issue that has been brought up. But it’s a tricky situation.”
Even if Holloway wants to teach a course, despite his exemption, he is often unable to due to time constraints. Lui, who normally would also have a four-course load, is teaching two courses this academic year: the Asian-American history lecture last fall, and a class on urban history this semester for graduate students. Pitti is also teaching a reduced course load due to his mastership commitment and his position as the inaugural director of the Center for the Study of Race, Indigeneity and Transnational Migration.
Lui said the situation is particularly challenging for faculty members of color and professors teaching already understaffed or emerging areas of study, such as Asian American Studies.
“There is only so much time in the day and something has to be cut,” Lui said. “It is especially hard when you have someone like me and Stephen Pitti, who teach in areas where there is hardly anyone else teaching.”
This year, Yale hired English professor Sunny Xiang, who teaches a course in Asian-American literature, but students interested in the field have continued to call for more hires. Xiang’s class, a seminar capped at 18 students, was oversubscribed this semester.
For many of these faculty members, their current administrative roles are not their first, which means they have had to curtail their teaching responsibilities for a number of years. Beyond deanships and residential college masterships, diverse faculty members often have to take on administrative positions within their departments or programs, particularly in areas such as African American Studies, American Studies and ER&M. Prior to being appointed dean of Yale College, Holloway served as master of Calhoun College and chair of the African American Studies Department. Lui was formerly the director of undergraduate studies and director of graduate studies for American Studies.
The administration has also continued to create new administrative positions, such as the deputy provost for faculty development and diversity position, currently held by anthropology professor Richard Bribiescas. Bribiescas, former chair of the Anthropology Department, has studied the health of indigenous populations in Ecuador.
“Every time you put people in a leadership position, its great, but it’s a trade-off,” Bribiescas said. “You want good mentors, faculty and administrators, but there is always a trade-off. For diverse faculty members, it is a labor of love.”
Faculty members interviewed agreed that with growing diversity among undergraduates, the academic void left by such administrative appointments has become more conspicuous. It also further highlights the significant gap between the diversity of the undergraduate population and the ladder faculty: 42 percent of Yale College students are of minority descent, compared to only 17 percent of Faculty of Arts and Sciences ladder faculty. Yet there appears to be no easy long-term solution to the problem. Holloway said faculty members who hold administrative positions do not serve in these roles for life and most will eventually return to full-time teaching, which makes long-term planning and replacement extremely challenging.
“It’s a ‘damned if you do, damned if you don’t’ situation,” Holloway said. “What if I decide I am done with the deanship and want to go back to my job as a professor? What if there is someone there to replace me already?”
FAS Dean Tamar Gendler said her office evaluates replacement teaching needs whenever faculty members take up administrative roles or go on leave. Departments make requests to the Teaching Resource Advisory Committee, and the group evaluates these requests and allocates funding to the departments to hire a suitable scholar to cover relevant courses. Lui said over the past years, the University has hired advanced graduate students and lectors to teach individual courses related to Asian-American history. These courses have sometimes been covered, she said, but mostly in the very short-term.
But while stopgap hiring can work temporarily, some faculty members have called for a more long-term solution: simply making more permanent hires.
“A short-run solution is bring visitors who can teach perhaps a course but also mentor grad students,” History Department chair Naomi Lamoreaux said. “The only long-term solution is additional [faculty hiring] lines.”