University President Peter Salovey presented a vision last week for enhancing Yale’s faculty and resources to close the gap between Yale’s position in the national rankings of best colleges and its relatively lower position as a global research institution.
At a meeting with faculty in Davies Auditorium Thursday hosted by the Faculty of Arts and Sciences Senate, Salovey shared these goals with roughly 175 members of the FAS, the first time Yale’s president has met with the Senate since its creation in 2015.
Salovey noted in his speech that while Yale is consistently ranked in the top three among colleges situated within research universities nationwide, the University usually falls between 10th and 15th in rankings of global research institutions. Salovey also said Yale’s strengths in the arts, humanities, social sciences and sciences — and the faculty’s unique structure of FAS and professional school departments — position the University to improve further.
Salovey met with senate members on Friday, and plans to be engaged in further discussions with faculty members.
Faculty members interviewed after the meeting said Salovey’s vision excites them and they look forward to communicating their questions and ideas to Salovey.
“The strategic plan announced by President Salovey puts the emphasis in exactly the right place: on the teaching and research mission of the University and the impact of that mission on the world,” said Amy Hungerford, an English professor and the divisional director of humanities. “We can build the strength of the faculty to carry out that mission by recruiting, supporting and retaining those who are leading their fields, who can successfully invite a new generation of students into the questions that motivate cutting-edge work and who can reach beyond their disciplinary communities to engage with other approaches to shared topics.”
Salovey said the accomplishments of his first three years as president have enabled him to shift his focus and pursue new goals for Yale. Since he took office in 2013, Salovey has filled his leadership cabinet, appointed eight new deans, overseen an increase in alumni giving and worked with Provost Ben Polak to balance the University’s budget, FAS Dean Tamar Gendler said.
Now, Salovey is emphasizing faculty excellence and strengthening Yale as a research institution by investing “disproportionately” in the sciences, Gendler said.
Yale is uniquely configured to close its gap in rankings and improve its teaching and research, Salovey told faculty, due to the structure of the FAS and departments at the professional schools, which he said fosters interdisciplinary collaboration across departments.
At the meeting, Salovey noted that in the arts, Yale is the only major university that has professional schools in art, architecture, music and drama, each of which is the best in its field and all of which are integrated with the rest of campus. In the humanities, Yale has been historically unsurpassed and recently affirmed its commitment to the humanities with the planned construction of a central “home for the humanities” at 320 York St. The renovation of the current Hall of Graduate Studies aims to “drive productive contact between intellectual communities” by gathering almost every humanities department under one room and hosting widely accessible humanities programming, Hungerford told the News.
In the social sciences, Salovey hopes to bolster current cross-disciplinary work and “think about the ways in which rigorous work done in Yale social science departments can inform substantive matters in policy” by incorporating data-driven research that can be applied to policy questions, Gendler said.
And while Salovey acknowledged the work of many internationally recognized science faculty in certain science departments, he said Yale does not have the “across-the-board” strength in science that other leading research institutions do.
“[Salovey] made a good case that we can strengthen the sciences without diminishing our standing other areas of scholarship,” said Anna Pyle, a professor in the Molecular, Cellular and Developmental Biology Department who attended the meeting. “I think this is a very important message if we are to move forward as a unified institution.”
Salovey’s vision is twofold: to make Yale’s strongest science fields more attractive to prospective scholars and to improve “areas where a great university cannot afford to be weak,” Gendler said.
Joan Feigenbaum, chair of the Computer Science Department, said she was “overjoyed” to hear Salovey affirm his support for improving computer science and for making Yale a leading research university befitting the 21st century — something she said she has been waiting for since joining the Yale faculty in 2000.
Chemistry professor Jonathan Ellman said he thought Salovey’s commitment to science was prudent given the “rapid and consistent increase in interest and focus by students,” citing the rising demand for computer science courses. Ellman added that his chemistry lecture, with almost 200 students enrolled, has grown in enrollment by over 150 percent this year than any previous semester he has taught the course.
In the past five years, Yale has begun investing in construction projects on buildings for faculty, Gendler said. On Science Hill, these building projects include the renovation of Sterling Chemistry Laboratory and the proposed Yale Science Building for the biological and physical sciences — predicted to cost over $280 million.
“[These] recent projects are significant because they demonstrate an institutional will to build in the sciences, and because they provide a foundation for future growth in research and education,” said Pyle, who also chairs the committee in charge of the building plans for the Yale Science Building.
Faculty members interviewed said they were excited about these developments, but many had questions after the meeting about the balance between recruiting new faculty members and supporting current faculty, said FAS Senate chair and Classics professor Emily Greenwood.
FAS members were glad to hear Salovey announce faculty excellence as a priority, but his goals raised questions about funding and feasibility Greenwood said. She added that the tone of Salovey’s address differed from that in previous years, when the University emphasized financial austerity after the 2008 recession. Now, the administration has made more resources available to faculty and is encouraging faculty members to take advantage of them, Greenwood said.
“What the senate can do is push for a program and clear process to show the University leadership is going to engage with departments and get departments’ ideas,” Greenwood said. “I think they’re doing this already, but to say publicly, ‘There will be more money for X,’ I construe this as an open invitation for departments to think strategically and come forward with more ideas.”
Salovey hopes to hold annual meetings open to all FAS faculty going forward, Gendler said. Greenwood noted that Thursday’s address marked a defining moment in the new FAS Senate’s relationship with the administration, adding that faculty members should know they will be able to have a “town hall meeting” with the president and FAS dean each year.
Greenwood said she hopes this expectation will facilitate communication between different parts of the community who share the same goals.
“The FAS Senate was conceived to provide a more unified channel for dialogue between our faculty in the arts and sciences as a whole and the University leadership,” Salovey told the News. “So it is an invaluable forum for me to hear from one of the largest bodies of our faculty … The provost and I plan to visit as many faculty meetings as possible at all of the professional schools, too, in the next few months.”
Correction, Oct. 31: A previous version of this story incorrectly stated the categories of rankings in which Yale routinely ranks.