Amid growing student interest and scholarship, the Women’s, Gender and Sexuality Studies program has received a temporary boost in its teaching capacity through four visiting scholars. Still, the long-term future of its permanent faculty body remains uncertain.
The scholars, funded through the faculty diversity initiative announced in November 2015, will supplement a program that has traditionally had limited resources and recently suffered from faculty attrition, even as the number of students it serves has ballooned: There were just two WGSS majors in the class of 2009, but there are 12 in the class of 2018. Ladder faculty members in the program praised the quality of the visiting scholars, as well as the additional resources and opportunities provided through the University-wide diversity initiative, but they cautioned that the visiting scholars constitute only a temporary solution to the long-term challenge of supporting sustainable faculty growth.
Professors said more needs to be done to ensure the program can engage in scholarship, offer courses and take on administrative responsibilities for a growing number of undergraduate and graduate students. The department is currently searching for a ladder faculty member to fill a vacant position.
“The visiting scholars are important because they let us offer courses that students want. We are offering some pretty outstanding courses and we are really pleased and appreciative,” WGSS Chair Inderpal Grewal said. “But the big question is that we wanted the resources to go toward building the ladder faculty and to increase the permanence of the faculty. You can’t really create a program around only visiting professors.”
Two of the visiting scholars — Theresa Cowan from The New School in New York City, and Zakia Salime from Rutgers University — will remain at Yale for a full year. Lyn Ossome, who arrives from Makerere University in Uganda, will only teach in the fall, and Zethu Matebeni will join Yale in the spring from the University of Cape Town in South Africa.
In its first year now, the faculty diversity initiative has provided funding for 26 new ladder faculty positions and 13 visiting scholars.
Just six of the 13 visiting scholars will teach courses in Faculty of Arts and Sciences departments and programs — meaning the four allocated to WGSS, one of scores of FAS programs and with just a dozen faculty members, may appear disproportionate. But WGSS and English professor Margaret Homans ’74 GRD ’78, who served as program chair last year and is currently on leave, said several of these positions were necessary to replace departures and leaves of absences.
Last year, WGSS suffered a significant loss when popular professor Vanessa Agard-Jones ’00 announced her resignation and departure for Columbia University. Furthermore, the program had to plan for a leave of absence of a senior lecturer for this academic year.
Homans said the program was already promised resources to replace these two positions on a temporary basis, and said she was surprised that the program’s two visiting professors had been counted into the official Presidential Visiting Scholar list.
“I didn’t think that they would be presidential scholars. It’s money that we were entitled to that was not an extra gift,” Homans said. “It’s fine if they want to call it that, but it’s an example of funny math. This should not be considered extra bonus and should just be a routine matter to replace departing faculty positions.”
Still, Homans acknowledged that the program would not have been able to invite the two other visiting scholars without the support of the initiative.
Faculty of Arts and Sciences Dean Tamar Gendler said the FAS proposed a number of visitors to the provost for consideration as presidential visiting professors, adding that she is delighted that six of the nominees were selected.
There has been long-standing frustration within WGSS about the program’s limited capacity to make ladder faculty hires. According to Yale’s hiring procedures, faculty must be hired into open “slots,” which are designated as either departmental — controlled by individual departments or programs — or pool, which are shared and given out at the administration’s discretion.
Because Agard-Jones was hired on a pool slot, the program could not immediately replace her, as her slot returned to the general pool after her departure. Homans said she had to reapply for the pool slot, which was approved in June 2016, and the program is currently running a search to fill the position.
WGSS currently controls 2.5 departmental slots of its own, out of roughly 700 across the FAS as a whole.
Grewal said this number is “pathetic,” and pointed toward the growing number of undergraduate majors as an indication of the program’s popularity.
“We need to have more of our slots become regular slots,” Homans said. “The administration should trust the WGSS program and not make us come begging every time.”