Deniz Saip

In an effort to recruit and retain diverse faculty members, the Faculty of Arts and Sciences Dean’s Office is inviting faculty to submit proposals for cluster hiring — a faculty development strategy in which positions are offered to groups of two to five professors in a common area of academic scholarship.

The philosophy behind the strategy is that, if multiple faculty working in the same area are hired simultaneously, they are more likely to collaborate and stay at the university that hired them.

“We think one of the key ways to recruit faculty to this university is to make sure they have communities of faculty to coordinate with,” said Kathryn Lofton, interim deputy dean for diversity and faculty development for the Faculty of Arts and Sciences, who is spearheading the new initiative. “In general, we retain faculty at Yale when they have strong ties to peers that they do collaborate with intellectually.”

Traditionally, Yale has recruited faculty individually, according to Lofton, who is also chair of the Religious Studies Department. But last year, the Faculty of Arts and Sciences Advisory Committee for Diversity and Faculty Development determined that, given past issues with retention, cluster hiring could play an important role in “culture change” within the faculty.

Dean of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences Tamar Gendler said she hopes this “well-known strategy” will benefit the faculty’s intellectual community as a whole.

Cluster hiring is one of several Faculty of Arts and Sciences and University-wide initiatives introduced in the past two years to address faculty diversity issues. In November 2015, University President Peter Salovey and Provost Benjamin Polak announced a $50 million initiative to increase faculty diversity, which helped fund 26 new faculty appointments across the University last year.

The Faculty of Arts and Sciences Dean’s Office has sought to support and retain current and incoming faculty members through initiatives such as a mentoring system for new nontenured ladder faculty and increased funds for research and travel. Several prominent faculty of color — including Elizabeth Alexander ’84, Vanessa Agard-Jones ’00 and Karen Nakamura GRD ’01 — departed from Yale in the past few years, some citing a lack of support from the University.

“FAS has tried to bring in diverse scholars, [but] we’ve been losing people too, so the numbers don’t seem to improve,” said Inderpal Grewal, chair of the Women, Gender and Sexuality Studies program, who is working with several Faculty of Arts and Sciences departments to develop a cluster hire proposal for sexuality studies. “It’s well worth it to try the cluster hiring route and see what happens because it’s helped other universities.”

Lofton said that cluster hire proposals — which can be either departmental or interdisciplinary — are in development in every division of the faculty and that some proposals involve both the faculty and Yale’s professional schools. Due in January, the proposals require a description of the intellectual area represented by the proposed group of faculty, as well as the CVs of the faculty members in the group.

Rene Almeling, associate professor of sociology and public health, is working with other faculty members from the sociology department, the History of Science and Medicine and WGSS programs, the Law School and the School of Public Health to propose an interdisciplinary cluster hire in Science and Technology Studies, a field that explores how society, politics, culture, scientific research and technological innovation affect each other. Yale needs to rebuild the community of scholars working in this area in response to recent faculty departures, Almeling said.

Lofton told the News she is “enormously impressed” with the faculty-wide enthusiasm for the cluster hiring project.

“It demonstrates that the faculty at Yale continue to pursue routes for intellectual innovation that also set us as leaders in thinking about diversity and faculty development,” she said.

The Faculty Resource Committee will begin to evaluate the proposals in early spring to decide which to support initially, Lofton said. But she added that the committee does not plan to reject any proposals outright. Rather, these proposals will serve as a jumping off point for conversations about potential areas for eventual strategic growth within the Faculty of Arts and Sciences.

Lofton, whose scholarship focuses on American religious histories and the cultures of religion, used her personal experience as a professor at Yale to illustrate why cluster hiring is an effective faculty development strategy. In an interview with the News, she said that part of the reason she has stayed at Yale is the “incredible cohort” of faculty members with expertise in religion, modernity and American Studies.

“I wouldn’t be staying here if it wasn’t for the fact that I have incredible colleagues,” Lofton said.

Adelaide Feibel | adelaide.feibel@yale.edu