When Ben Weiss ’20 selected his sophomore adviser last spring, he broke with convention. Although most undergraduate mechanical engineering majors chose the department’s director of undergraduate studies as their adviser, Weiss had a “particular affinity” for Beth Anne Bennett ’91 — the mechanical engineering lecturer who taught his ENAS 151 class, “Multivariable Calculus for Engineers,” that semester — and selected her instead.
But shortly before the fall semester began, Weiss received an email from Bennett, explaining that she could no longer be his sophomore adviser because her position as a full-time lecturer had been reduced due to departmental budget cuts. Following the change to her position, she said, she could not participate in any activities not strictly related to teaching, including advising undergraduates. And although ENAS 151 is still being offered this academic year, Bennet is not teaching the course.
“Both my peers and I were very confused and distraught, specifically related to the reasoning behind this decision, which was monetary,” Weiss said. “If this is a problem with funding, then funding should be found to support someone as incredible [as Dr. Bennett].”
Bennett’s experience illustrates the job insecurity all too familiar to many instructional and research faculty members, formally known as non-ladder faculty members. These faculty members — who make up just under 40 percent of Yale’s Faculty of Arts and Sciences — are ineligible for tenure and hired on a contract basis. Survey results from the Faculty of Arts and Sciences Senate’s Report on the Status, Pay and Conditions of Non-Ladder Faculty, approved in the spring, showed that 28 percent of non-tenure-track faculty respondents, or 29 out of 104 respondents, spontaneously cited “precariousness of appointment” as the greatest impediment to their work.
Now, Weiss is one of several students fighting for Bennett’s full position to be restored. When Sofia Checa ’20, one of 62 students enrolled in Bennett’s ENAS 151 class last spring, found out that Bennett would no longer be teaching the class, she emailed the mechanical engineering department’s director of undergraduate studies and the chair of the department and rallied her former classmates, including Weiss, to do the same.
So far, the mechanical engineering department has received six emails from students asking the department to restore Bennett to her full-time position and allow her to teach ENAS 151, according to the department chair, Udo Schwarz.
Schwarz told the News that it was not the department’s decision to reduce Bennett’s position. Around March or April of each year, he said, the mechanical engineering department requests resources for non-tenure track faculty — based on the teaching schedules, curriculum leaves and other circumstances for the upcoming year — from the Teaching Resource Advisory Committee of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences.
This year, the department requested a full position for Bennett, but the committee, chaired by Senior Associate Dean of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences John Mangan, denied that request. Schwarz said the mechanical engineering department was “disappointed” about the decision.
Bennett told the News that she and her colleagues were disappointed in the University’s decision to reduce her position. But she added that both Schwarz and the DUS of mechanical engineering, Corey O’Hern, have “nevertheless been very supportive.”
The Faculty of Arts and Sciences Dean’s Office does not comment on individual personnel decisions, according to Dean of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences Tamar Gendler. But Gendler said that TRAC, which is charged with allocating resources for instructional faculty, uses Faculty of Arts and Sciences-wide analysis of teaching needs across departments to determine how to allocate its “limited budget” in a way that ensures all core courses critical to the undergraduate and graduate curricula are offered each year.
“Each year, we receive many excellent proposals from individual departments who wish to hire or reappoint instructional faculty,” Gendler said. “Unfortunately, we are only able to support a portion of those in any given year, in order to enable our departments to offer all of their required core courses each year.”
A majority of students provided positive feedback on Bennett’s ENAS 151 lecture in online course evaluations. Of the 41 students who responded to the evaluation question “What is your overall assessment of the course?”, approximately 98 percent rated the class as excellent, very good or good.
In her email addressed to Schwarz and O’Hern asking the University to restore Bennett’s full-time position, Checa called Bennett “one of the best professors [she] has encountered at Yale.” She said Bennett was dedicated to her work and her students and took the time to make her lectures “organized, logical and understandable.”
“Professor Bennett was always inviting and always took the time to answer our questions, both in class and at office hours,” Checa wrote. “I believe that for a class like ENAS 151, it is very important to have a professor who is as invested in her students’ learning and as skilled as Professor Bennett.”
Weiss described Bennett as “one of the most approachable, sweetest professors” he has encountered. According to Weiss, Bennett was extremely methodical and able to portray “crazy mathematical concepts” in a visual manner that made them “beautiful.”
Weiss added that he appreciated the opportunity to learn from an accomplished female lecturer, given the “systematic sexism” in the engineering field worldwide.
“Having the opportunity to learn from a strong female lecturer is something that is unfortunately unique but also very inspiring,” Weiss said. “If it was that touching and valuable to me as a man, I can only imagine the impact that that will have on young women looking to become STEM majors.”
The Yale School of Engineering and Applied Sciences was founded in 1852.
Adelaide Feibel | firstname.lastname@example.org