“Contempt.” “Duplicity.” “Bogus.”
These are just some of the words professors have used in recent months to characterize the University administration’s approach to policymaking, as faculty discontent about a perceived centralization of authority and information has come to the fore in two recent reports from the Faculty of Arts and Sciences Senate.
Last November, the FAS Senate — which was founded in July 2015 in part due to frustration about a lack of faculty governance — released a report on the proposed guidelines for adjudicating allegations of faculty misconduct. Three months later, in February, it released another report on the planning for the two new residential colleges. Both reports revealed that certain groups of faculty members harbor significant concerns about the state of faculty governance at Yale, as well as a deep-seated suspicion of administrative overreach and opaque decision-making. Among some faculty members, there is also a concern that the FAS has become increasingly seen as merely one of 12 teaching units at Yale, rather than as the focus of the University.
Historically, it has been difficult to gauge the FAS faculty’s general attitude toward various University issues, due to the diverse range of opinions and concerns across divisions and ranks among over 1,000 professors and lectors. In its inaugural year, the senate, which is composed of 22 elected members, has worked to distill all these voices and present recommendations that best serve all FAS members’ needs. To this end, the senate has distributed several surveys, conducted independent research and drafted policy recommendations. Senators have pointed to the concerns that have emerged from the group’s work as evidence of the need to have such a body in the first place.
“This disconnect between faculty and administration is really problematic. Decisions are being made that have very, very significant impact on education, which is what the faculty is here to think about. But these decisions are coming from the top down,” French lector and senator Ruth Koizim said. “When questions are asked, the administration just says, ‘Don’t worry about it.’ But when decisions are being made that impact us and our students, we need to be privy to the discussions. It is an ongoing struggle.”
A LACK OF TRANSPARENCY
The senate itself was born out of many of the same concerns about administrative centralization that persist today, in particular the University’s controversial decision in 2011 to open a campus in Singapore. Faculty members at the time criticized the administration for failing to meaningfully consult the professors. In December 2013, FAS professors voted in favor of creating an advisory senate that would serve as a vehicle for faculty concerns. The senate officially launched this fall.
The body has focused its attention on two issues: the residential college expansion plans and the faculty conduct standards and procedures. After gathering faculty comments on both topics, subcommittees in the senate have produced independent reports and recommendations. A particular theme in both reports has been the faculty’s desire to receive increased information and to have more concrete input in University decision-making. FAS Senate Chair and history professor Beverly Gage ’94 said the lack of communication and transparency between administrators and faculty members is the reason the senate was created in the first place, and it is thus not surprising to see these very concerns repeatedly raised in the various forums and surveys.
Of the over 300 FAS faculty respondents to an October survey, 77 percent said they did not have enough information about the new college expansion. The comment section revealed the extent of faculty frustration in this regard.
One commenter wrote, “The absolute lack of interaction with faculty on this [matter] leaves me feeling utterly disenfranchised by a process I would find otherwise exciting. Over the past five years or so, administrators at this University have treated faculty with dismissiveness, bordering on contempt.”
“Planners at the University should talk to faculty at all levels,” another wrote. “They might realize that this University is filled with smart and engaged people who have the future of the college in mind.”
FAS Dean Tamar Gendler said it has been challenging for her “leanly staffed” office to do both research and policy work as well as communicate everything it is doing to the faculty. She said her office will hire a Woodbridge Fellow for the next academic year to increase communication with faculty members.
She added that the logistical information regarding the new college expansion is not confidential, and she said she passed it along to the senate immediately following its request.
Much of the faculty’s frustration appears to stem from the administration’s decision to cap the FAS ladder body at 700 members as Yale plans for a 15 percent increase in its undergraduate population. More than a dozen comments questioned the validity of this cap. Gage, who chairs the senate subcommittee on the college expansion, said the senate was not privy to information about how the number was determined.
Other comments suggested that faculty members do not feel informed about how the expansion plan will affect individual departments and resources, such as teaching assistants and student advising.
Anthropology professor Bill Kelly, who was on an administrative committee about the FAS ladder cap, said the 700 number was “bogus” and “cannot be defended.” He added that the administration so tightly controls information and matters of budget that it is difficult for faculty to act in decisive and proactive ways.
“Until both administrators and faculty members have equal access to information, there cannot be equal partnership in governance,” Kelly said.
Similar concerns have been raised about the University’s decision to create new faculty conduct standards and procedures, which have been a major source of tension among FAS members for more than a year. While some faculty members are troubled by the content of the standards and procedures, others questioned why they are necessary at all.
“Without any … evidence on the frequency or severity of misconduct, it is not possible to appraise the need for the proposed standards,” economics professor and FAS Senate Deputy Chair Bill Nordhaus wrote.
Faculty members have also questioned the impact of faculty governance in recent policymaking, particularly regarding the role and appointment of ad hoc faculty committees.
In recently released faculty comments regarding the conduct standards and procedures, faculty members called for a more active role in the drafting and approval of these policies. Some criticized what they called a hierarchical process in which the president and the provost gave ultimate approval for the standards, only considering faculty feedback in a cursory way.
The administration has pushed back against this criticism, stating that policy changes are usually drafted by ad hoc committees made up of faculty members. University President Peter Salovey said the University has had multiple committees over the years with significant faculty participation. For example, the committee that drafted the conduct standards and procedures is made up of mostly faculty members from across the schools, and is chaired by psychology professor and Trumbull Master Margaret Clark.
But faculty members interviewed said these types of committees do not represent true faculty governance, because the committee members are often handpicked by administrators such as Salovey and University Provost Benjamin Polak.
“On some issues, such as the Singapore case, there is a sense that committees are appointed and stacked in certain ways, and the outcomes are predetermined,” Gage said. “This is not truly deliberative.”
Koizim added that she can often predict the small group of faculty members who will be called upon to serve on committees. This selection method does not represent the full range of views in the FAS, and some appointments have been “questionable,” she said.
Kelly criticized the way in which these administration-appointed committees generate policies and only submit them to faculty for comment afterwards.
“That’s administrative, not faculty governance,” Kelly said. “Faculty governance is a myth.”
In response to these concerns, the senate has created an internal Committee on Yale Committees that vets and suggests faculty members who are qualified to serve on these ad hoc committees. Gendler said this senate committee will offer important advice about certain ad hoc committees, although there are still some committees that require administrative selection.
JUST ONE OF 12
FAS professors have also expressed concern that the FAS is losing its historic influence on University policies, as the administration shifts toward more University-wide policymaking that equally involves all 12 teaching units: the FAS faculty as well as faculty from the professional schools. Yale College Dean Jonathan Holloway said he has heard faculty members raise this issue and said this concern may be an unintended byproduct of Salovey’s goal to unify Yale.
“The president came in with the goal of creating a unified Yale, which means trying to have all the different schools be more in conversation,” Holloway said. “The unintended effect is that the FAS realizes it is one of 12 units, and it may be a culture shift.”
Gendler noted that the FAS teaches two-thirds of students at the University and is thus central to the University’s thinking, but she added that the administration needs to make sure that all the other constituencies feel valued as well.
However, some faculty members interviewed said the FAS should be able to determine and vote on its own conduct standards, rather than be subject to University-wide conduct standards.
Gage said FAS concerns may diverge from University-wide policy, adding that the senate feels strongly that the FAS should be able to vote on its own conduct standards. In its November report, the senate recommended that the entire FAS body be allowed to vote on the final draft of the procedures, rather than having them approved by administrators alone. Gendler has agreed to this recommendation. However, because the standards are University-wide, the FAS could vote against the conduct standards but still potentially be subject to the policies if other schools approve them.
Koizim said she believes the University-wide policy was implemented to stifle dissent from the FAS, as the other schools do not have senates and have not strongly objected to the conduct standards.
Still, Senior Advisor to the President Martha Highsmith emphasized that the FAS Senate represents only the FAS and not Yale’s faculty as a whole.
“The hope is that the new FAS advisory senate will help with participation on the part of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences. That’s not the faculty of the University,” she said. “That’s about not quite half of the University. When we speak about faculty, we have to speak in broader terms than that.”