Robbie Short

In fall 2016, University President Peter Salovey announced plans to invest strategically in academics to elevate Yale’s standing among the world’s top universities. He identified four overarching academic priorities: faculty excellence, arts and humanities, the sciences and social sciences.

As part of that effort, Salovey and Provost Benjamin Polak created three faculty committees to advise on how best to invest in each of these academic areas. The committees have also been tasked with identifying resources that are already available or that can be easily acquired to achieve academic goals. They will also recommend changes in Yale’s organizational structure to coordinate academic pursuits more efficiently. This week Polak asked Dean of Humanities Amy Hungerford to chair the Humanities Strategic Planning Committee, the third and last such faculty committee.

“The Humanities Strategic Planning Committee will think about the scales of 10, 50 and a 100 years: How do we prepare for what we know we will need to do and for what we don’t know?” Hungerford said.

In his 2016 email, Salovey emphasized that the investments were “not about getting bigger but about getting even better at what Yale does best – and at what Yale must do best.” The humanities have historically been a strong point for Yale. Salovey called the humanities an “undisputed area of excellence for Yale, a true comparative excellence” in his email announcing the creation of the committee.

Still, Yale’s administrators expect the Humanities Strategic Planning Committee to generate ideas to further strengthen the area. Polak charged the committee with developing strategies for deploying the investments that Yale has already made in the humanities, such as the reinvention of 320 York St., which used to be the Hall of Graduate Students, as a central home for the humanities.

Hungerford said that the committee will grapple with questions such as how the environment for education in the humanities has changed, how the objects, methods and aims of research in the humanities have changed and how these transformations may continue in the future.

Hungerford said that the last time she participated in a discussion on this scale was in 2001, when she served on the committee on Yale College Education. That committee reshaped the curriculum requirements for Yale undergraduates and encouraged students to study abroad in greater numbers.

Hungerford said the new committee has a wider focus because it will look not only at undergraduate education, but also at research, the use of facilities and other resources, graduate education, the University’s connections to the world outside Yale and outside academia.

“Everything is fair game,” Hungerford said.

In his 2016 email announcing plans for new funding initiatives, Salovey said Yale must improve most in the sciences, an area in which Yale often places between 10th and 15th in rankings of world research universities. Yale ranked 12th in the sciences in the 2018 Times Higher Education World University Rankings.

The faculty committee to create a strategic plan for STEM at Yale was the first one to get underway in January 2017. Polak instructed the committee to “dream big” and to disregard the constraints of resources.

The social sciences committee, which was created in December 2017, focuses on using data to answer public policy questions.

“A great university should be engaging in the great debates of its era, and our students — the leaders of tomorrow — should participate,” Polak wrote in the mission statement for the committee. “But that engagement must be grounded in evidence-based inquiry and rigorous analysis of facts.”

Committee Chair and Dean of Social Science Alan Gerber said the committee plans to look at peer institutions for ideas, beginning with Stanford University. The committee has started considering both course offerings on data science at Yale and the need for more infrastructure. Among the ideas that the committee has discussed is the construction of an educational center that teaches researchers computing skills and provides consulting for data-intensive research projects.

“The committees draw faculty from across the University into conversations with one another that can be very valuable in making sure a lot of different perspectives and knowledge of the activities going on in the University are shared,” Gerber said.

John Lafferty, a date science professor on the committee, said the it would produce a report with their recommendations for the provost by the end of the semester.

Jingyi Cui |