Yale Daily News

Five years since the latest large-scale increase in the target of filled ladder faculty slots, Faculty of Arts and Sciences senators are calling on the University to once again increase its available positions.

The number of filled, tenure-track or tenured faculty slots in the FAS could reach, or even exceed, its target size of roughly 700 this year, according to FAS Dean Tamar Szabó Gendler. If this is the case,  future hiring would occur at a rate roughly aligned with vacancies — as opposed to expanding the FAS’s size as it has in years past — following retirements or other departures. Gendler said the FAS budget is scaled to allow for “robust coverage” of academic fields throughout the FAS, “from both a teaching [and] research perspective.”

But some senators remain skeptical that this number of professors can adequately serve the University. As rival institutions like Harvard University or Stanford University continue to grow their faculty at a faster pace, some say Yale’s has trailed in comparison. According to FAS Senate Chair John Geanakoplos, Yale’s FAS faculty is a little over 10 percent larger than it was in the early 1980s; Harvard and Stanford’s FAS has grown by over 25 percent since the mid-90s, when data became available. Geanakoplos said this development has led to a decline in faculty excellence at the University — and that the FAS faculty size “needs to be substantially increased.”

“It is untrue that the 700 FAS faculty size target was based on a notion of robust coverage of fields,” he wrote in an email to the News.

Rather, Geanakoplos argued that the number came from the Great Recession, when the Yale endowment significantly fell and then-Provost Peter Salovey reduced the FAS faculty target from 800 to its current figure. But now this ceiling, he said, is “clearly … untenable” when the university has announced an ambitious, expensive initiative to improve the sciences without giving more room for faculty.

“The endowment recovered and is now twice the size it was in 2005. Yet the FAS faculty target size has not budged,” he added.

Faculty size in the FAS has been a point of contention for the Senate since its start in 2015.

Over the past five years, Senate committees have released several reports on the subject, its most recent being the FAS Senate Research and Scholarly Excellence Report. Approved in late 2018, that report calls for a 15 percent increase in FAS ladder slots — a jump that would bring Yale “to parity” with other rival institutions. Last November, the Senate Committee on Faculty Advancement was charged with the issue.

Committee Co-Chair Jennifer Klein said in the November meeting that they are open to ideas from faculty members and are working with the recently appointed University Provost Scott Strobel to address the subject. According to the Research and Scholarly Excellence Report, a 15 percent growth in FAS faculty size and a 6.4 percent salary raise would cost just under $40 million per year.

Gendler said the faculty-to-student ratio — a statistic Yale and other universities frequently advertise in the admissions process — has remained relatively static over the years. She added that the 700 number was meant to address a growing student body, which has ballooned to nearly 6,000 with the addition of Pauli Murray and Benjamin Franklin Colleges.

Not all of the FAS’s ladder faculty fill FAS ladder slots. Some sit on slots outside of the FAS, like those in West Campus or the professional schools. Likewise, not all FAS ladder slots are filled by FAS ladder faculty. According to Gendler, there were 671 filled, FAS-controlled ladder slots in Fall 2019, and 683 ladder faculty in the FAS.

But Geanakoplos and others in the Senate want more.

As the student body expands and grows more diverse, some senators believe that simultaneous expansion in faculty becomes essential — especially with intensified faculty specialization and the creation of new fields of study. Diverse students mean diverse interests, Geanakoplos said. That means new courses, and new professors are needed to teach them.

“The size of the faculty is an issue that continues from previous years,” wrote Senator Valerie Horsley in a December email to the News. Even though Senator and professor of French R. Howard Bloch, who is a member of the Faculty Advancement Committee, declined to comment for this article, he asked in the November meeting if the University might consider spending more money on faculty.

But Gendler said her office has added slots to burgeoning departments like Computer Science and other priority areas — on top of the five faculty positions she allocated to the Ethnicity, Race and Migration program last May.

“Even as we approach a faculty size of 700 filled FAS positions, there are areas where we will need to make additional investments,” she wrote in an email to the News, like computer science, data science and other new areas of research in the humanities and social sciences.

As provost, Strobel — who is scheduled to attend Thursday’s FAS Senate meeting — has a say in diverting money from other University areas and towards the FAS. Senator William Nordhaus said there could certainly be proper tradeoffs, as summarized in the Nov. 21 meeting minutes. And guest speaker Steven Berry said such budgetary juggling is a possibility.

These tradeoffs could mean less investment in a number of different areas across the University in exchange for more in FAS. But Gendler said that investments in faculty are most effective when they are made in concert with others — such as financial aid and research equipment — that help members of the Yale community thrive.

“So while it is exciting to imagine a larger faculty, we need to be cognizant that resources that we devote to faculty salaries then can’t be used for these other important priorities,” she wrote. The same would be true for any finite budget, she said. “So we should be bold and ambitious in our hiring, without losing sight of these important concomitant priorities.”

To Geanakoplos, who is also an Economics professor, the trade-off that comes with increasing the FAS faculty size seems logical. However, he said, “it is hard to imagine anyone thinking that the best use of Yale’s resources would fail to enable Yale’s FAS faculty to compete on an equal footing with our traditional rivals.”

The Senate is working for increased transparency in the FAS budget — and has been for years — so that its faculty can help advise on these decisions. Senators will get the chance to question the new provost during the Thursday meeting.

Geanakoplos told the News that senators could ask Strobel about a range of topics, including the FAS budget, faculty salaries and faculty size at Thursday’s meeting. Still, his impending presence at the meeting makes Geanakoplos optimistic: By Thursday, Strobel will have been in his position for less than a week, and his desire to attend the FAS Senate meeting is, he said, perhaps a signal of his priorities. The Provost did not respond to requests for comment.

“Hiring faculty is one of the most significant statements we can make about our values and priorities — who we are, what we do, and how we do it,” Gendler wrote to the News. Because of tenure, recruiting a ladder faculty member means a 40-year commitment to their area of study, she added.

“It’s thrilling — and somewhat daunting — to realize that our decisions today are shaping the university for the next half century.”

According to its website, the FAS Senate consists of 22 elected members.

Matt Kristoffersen | matthew.kristoffersen@yale.edu

Jan. 16, 12:25 a.m.: This article has been updated to correct a technological error.