Geneva Decker

The Yale administration has created a faculty mentoring program to help new nontenured ladder faculty members integrate into the community and hear their feedback on the faculty recruitment process.

Earlier this fall, Deputy Dean for Diversity and Faculty Development Kathryn Lofton spearheaded the program, and has since met with all 15 ladder faculty who are new to Yale this semester. Lofton plans to meet with 21 more faculty members this year — each of the University’s new hires between fall 2015 and January 2017.

In one-on-one meetings, Lofton and Chief of Staff and Senior Advisor to the Dean of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences Bethany Zemba asked new faculty members about their recruitment and transition experiences, while also informing them about the tenure system. Lofton said the mentoring program grew out of a widespread need for greater engagement with the faculty.

“We do a great job of checking in with undergraduates, but not so much with faculty in their daily lives,” Lofton said. “We want to create a context where people can ask questions they think are too small or silly or politically complicated to ask their [department] chairs, and there are often issues that they then follow up with. We see ourselves as an information mode and way of reaching out and starting a conversation with faculty members that we hope will continue for the next 30, 40 years of their lives.”

The new mentoring program is one of several new initiatives — including Lofton’s diversity dean position — following campus discussions about race and inclusivity at Yale throughout the previous academic year. Many students and faculty expressed concern that Yale often struggles to retain faculty members of color. Last year’s conversations with students showed the need for incorporating a more substantial administration-faculty relationship into the idea of faculty development, Lofton said.

Deputy Provost for Faculty Development and Diversity Richard Bribiescas said mentoring efforts can help new faculty members acclimate to the University and better understand how to advance their careers at Yale. Bribiescas added that helping faculty members also enhances the experiences of students.

“Yale students come to Yale partially because they’re exposed to these world-class faculty,” Bribiescas said. “It’s a rare place where undergraduates can take a class from a Nobel laureate, but being a Nobel laureate means you have to be great at research and have sought out advice from other colleagues and other faculty to get to that place.”

Lofton said one-on-one interviews allow new faculty members to connect with the administration early on and develop relationships within the Faculty of Arts and Sciences as a broader community. The meetings also help create cross-divisional connections and identify resources that are run outside of individual departments, she said.

After initial meetings, Lofton said faculty members can follow up with questions about anything from benefits to parking to newly available resources.

“I think overall, most faculty have the same concerns in terms of how to strategically think about the research that would best position them for promotion and tenure,” Bribiescas said. “A lot of faculty have concerns about issues regarding their work-life balance in terms of how you manage to have a successful career and at the same time deal with the challenges of competing responsibilities like child care and dealing with daily aspects of life.”

The administration tracks faculty members’ progress and promotion cycles, and follow-up meetings will take place the year before ladder faculty are up for promotion to check in about the upcoming process, Lofton said. Opportunities for promotion arise in professors’ fourth and seventh years at Yale, and Lofton said either her team or the divisional directors will check in with faculty in their third and sixth years.

Faculty are assessed for tenure by the quality and impact of their teaching, the impact of their research and their citizenship within the University in terms of contributions like serving on committees, Bribiescas explained.

Because the program is new, its primary goal is to determine how to better nurture and take care of tenure-track professors, rather than nonladder faculty, Lofton said. She added her team hopes to push for more resources at the end of the academic year to expand the project to all faculty. The 30-minute meetings have been “cheerful events” without any major complaints, Lofton said.

“The data’s a little lopsided because we’ve only talked to the people who decided on us,” Zemba said. “We didn’t talk to the people who decided not to come, which is part of the reason the stories are so overwhelmingly positive. I found it to be very inspiring to have all these meetings — you can just see [new faculty] are so excited and raring to go with their teaching, research and service to the University.”

Zemba added that faculty interviewed so far — who were all asked the same questions about their recruitment, their decision-making and their transition to Yale — gave largely positive feedback, though many noted that the job search process took a long time. A recurring reason faculty gave in answering why they chose Yale was the unique academic relationships they felt they could build upon arrival, Zemba said.

Some faculty members cited the residential college system as another positive feature of Yale, noting that they were surprised and pleased to have been asked to be residential college fellows, Zemba said. She added that almost all professors interviewed in the initial meetings have mentioned how impressed they are with Yale students, both at the undergraduate and graduate level.

“I think Lofton has done a tremendous job in spearheading this effort,” Bribiescas said. “One of the things here at Yale is that we’re really committed to seeing faculty succeed, and in order to do that they need all the best resources in terms of professional and academic advice that we can give them.”