Shortly after he was named the next University provost in November, Molecular Biophysics & Biochemistry professor Scott Strobel penned an email to Faculty of Arts and Sciences Senate Chair John Geanakoplos asking to attend the January Senate meeting.
Tensions had been accumulating between faculty senators and the Yale administration for the past year, with the Senate publishing a resolution of concern demanding that the University improve its accountability to the elected representative body. But after the January meeting, five senators interviewed by the News — including Geanakoplos, chemistry professor Charles Schmuttenmaer and sociology professor Emily Erikson — spoke of a renewed hope with the appointment of a provost who seems determined to extend an olive branch to faculty members who previously felt ignored.
At that meeting, Strobel addressed the Senate and stressed his desire to be a faculty ally, according to those senators present at the time. These senators said they hope that Strobel’s interest in faculty concerns will help address key issues that have plagued professors for years, including the need for added faculty members, increased salaries and more comprehensive parental leave policies.
“His enthusiasm and talk made a deep impression on the senators,” Geanakoplos said.
Strobel — who assumed his new position on Jan. 1 — succeeded former Provost Ben Polak. He will serve as the University’s chief academic and budgetary officer while also playing a central role in capital projects across the University. Before becoming provost, Strobel served as the vice president for West Campus Planning and Development, building up that end of campus while also overseeing the creation of the Poorvu Center for Teaching and Learning.
In an email to the News, Strobel said that while he shared ideas about the role of faculty governance in University affairs at the meeting, his primary goal was to listen to issues important to the senators and their constituents. While he characterized the meeting as friendly and positive, he wrote that “important challenges were identified.”
“The information they provided was very helpful to me as I begin my appointment as provost,” Strobel wrote. “I expressed my commitment to working with them and to further strengthening the University. I am grateful that they were able to find time for me to visit during their first meeting following my appointment in this new role. I expect it will be the first of many conversations and I look forward to continuing to receive their input in the future.”
According to the agenda for Thursday’s two-hour meeting in Connecticut Hall, Strobel’s address to the Senate was slotted for just five minutes. Senator and French professor R. Howard Bloch told the News that Strobel began his speech with a quotation from “Fred Rogers’ brilliantly humanist program for children.”
“He used the metaphor of getting to know the various neighborhoods that make up the great intellectual village of Yale, and the sentiment among the senators was that, if this ethos of curiosity, openness, trust and good will continues, it will, indeed, be a beautiful day in the neighborhood for everyone at Yale,” he wrote in an email to the News.
In the resolution of concern published last May, senators cited a number of issues on which the University did not consult the Senate — including the renaming of Calhoun College and the conversion of the Jackson Institute for Global Affairs into a degree-offering school.
Erikson, who also serves as a co-Chair of the Faculty Advancement Committee, said she talked to Strobel about a number of issues including faculty size. Erikson spent several minutes at the meeting discussing the state of Yale’s social sciences, just like Bloch before her had done regarding the humanities.
Senator and mechanical engineering professor Alessandro Gomez — who co-chairs the Senate’s Science and Engineering Committee — told the News that Strobel’s presence at Thursday’s meeting demonstrated “curiosity on his part on many aspects of FAS.”
“It bodes well for future interactions and a closer relationship between the FAS Senate and the provost,” Gomez added.
Throughout the meeting, senators said Strobel listened intently and took notes during the faculty’s remarks. And at the end of the scheduled time, when faculty members concluded their talks, the new provost made another speech responding to their points. According to Schmuttenmaer, Strobel reminded the Senate that he is the provost of the University — not just the FAS — and that he “has many constraints from many directions.”
“I feel that [his presence at the meeting] was a really sincere gesture on the part of Provost Strobel,” he wrote.
The agenda for the FAS Senate’s next meeting — slated for Thursday, Feb. 20 — has not yet been publicly released. But Senate Chair Geanakoplos said his team of 22 senators has much common ground with the provost.
“We look forward to working with him,” he wrote. “The future looks bright.”
The FAS Senate was established in 2015.
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