Lucas Holter

Some faculty members have raised concerns about where the Development Office’s fundraising priorities lie when raising money for departments, alleging that University fundraising panders to donors more than to the concrete needs of academic teaching.

At the February Faculty of Arts and Sciences meeting, music professor Richard Cohn’s commentary regarding Yale’s fundraising questioned the Development Office’s priorities. Specifically, according to minutes from the meeting, Cohn claimed that fundraising efforts seemingly take into account the “outside world of donors” more so than the “inside world of teaching and research.” Cohn stated that department chairs and program directors have struggled to forge relationships with internal development officers and donors alike. He added that this lack of funding restricts his department’s ability to attract external speakers to campus and provide financial support for travel to conferences.

According to Cohn, other institutions, including his former employer  — the University of Chicago — handle fundraising differently, with some assigning a development officer to individual academic units.

According to the meeting’s minutes, Cohn said at the meeting that “academic units [at UChicago] accumulated discretionary funds, and were able to support their programs and respond nimbly to needs and opportunities as they arose. He addded that few Yale departments seem to have this advantage; at a particular disadvantage are units mirrored by professional schools with their own development machines.”

Faculty members present at the meeting and those interviewed by the News were split on Cohn’s claims. While some, such as history professor Jennifer Klein agreed with Cohn’s assertions concerning a lack of funds, others, such as professor of molecular biophysics and biochemistry Mark Solomon, said that his department enjoyed a University-funded seminar series, according to the meeting’s minutes.

Cohn said that the matter did not call for immediate action from the FAS Senate, but he did call for further research into the University’s fundraising practices. Chair of the FAS Senate and economics professor William Nordhaus ’63 wrote in an email to the News that Cohn’s “remarks were highly informative” and that the Senate greatly appreciated Cohn’s contribution. Still, Nordhaus said that the agenda for future meetings has not yet been established, meaning that he could not provide any indication regarding possible Senate action on Cohn’s comments.

“In striving to secure ongoing support for Yale’s research and education mission, the Development office works closely with academic deans and with members of the faculty to understand their priorities and needs,” Tom Conroy, director of the Office of Public Affairs and Communications, wrote in an email to the News. “This input plays an important role in shaping our ambitions and guiding our efforts.”

Department of Astronomy chair Sarbani Basu echoed many of Cohn’s concerns, noting that her department does not receive adequate travel funds for conferences.

She added that the department has been discouraged from cultivating direct relationships with donors and stated that it was “impossible” to establish relationships with development officers.

“[The Yale Development Office] work[s] for the Provost’s priorities and the donors. The faculty are not considered at all,” Basu wrote in an email to the News.

Department of Mathematics chair Yair Minsky, who said his department has funds to attract external speakers, concurred that the development office does not often work directly with faculty members. Minsky said he understood the University’s desire to allocate donor gifts centrally in order to deploy funds flexibly. Yet, he said this structure drained faculty members’ incentive to develop relationships with donors.

Still, other department chairs defended the Development Office. Italian Language and Literature Department chair Millicent Marcus said the relationship between departments and the Yale Development Office does not concern her. And Theatre Studies chair Daniel Harrison said his colleagues receive necessary funding to run departmental programming.

“While [theatre studies] was quite under resourced when I first got there, the necessary funding to run the program was forthcoming,” Harrison said. “I thought an unsustainable problem in insufficient funding was recognized and fixed.”

The Faculty of Arts and Sciences Senate was established in 2015.

Carly Wanna | carly.wanna@yale.edu