Zoe Berg

The University-wide hiring freeze through June 2021 has left the future of many non-tenure-track faculty members in jeopardy.

The hiring freeze, announced via an April 7 message to the Yale community, is one of several austerity measures University Provost Scott Strobel outlined in direct response to the pandemic’s effect on University finances. According to the announcement, the University will focus on supporting “existing faculty, students, and staff.” Strobel’s announcement also leaves room for “rare exceptions” in the freeze, which he or other top administrators must approve. But when lecturers, lectors and other non-ladder instructors comprise nearly 30 percent of the University’s total faculty population, the latest measures raise questions over exactly how many of these instructional faculty members whose contracts expire soon will stay at Yale come the end of the fiscal year.

“Probably my first reaction to the Provost’s email was just sheer terror,” said a lecturer in the humanities, who asked to remain anonymous, citing fear of retribution. “I don’t expect to be informed if I have a job until mid-May, which is also when my health care terminates. So then I will suddenly be sans-job and sans-health care at the same time.”

Strobel wrote in an email to the News that his team is “in the process” of gathering these exception requests from across the University.

“Upon receipt, we will look closely at these requests and give special attention to those that involve current instructional faculty whose contracts conclude this June,” he wrote.

In addition to the hiring changes, Yale will delay its capital projects and freeze salaries for faculty members and administrators through June 2021.

Following Strobel’s announcement last week, instructional faculty members circulated an online petition that calls for a universal yearlong extension to their appointments.

The petition, co-written by history lecturer Terence Renaud and English lecturer Timothy Kreiner, notes that instructional faculty have shifted their courses to online platforms in accordance with the University’s shift to remote instruction. Despite continuing to teach, the petition points out that instructors have received “no provision from the University for continued access to employment or healthcare beyond June 30,” when some instructional faculty members’ employment contracts are set to end. 

As a lecturer hired continuously under a yearlong contract, Kreiner’s term of employment has ended on June 30 every year since he began teaching at Yale in 2014. His employment status is a perennial concern, but he said he was taken aback by Strobel’s announcement and “how swiftly things escalated.”

Organizers are not aware of any complete email panlist for non-tenure-track faculty and have instead relied on a patchwork of personal contacts, word-of-mouth and social media to share the petition. One lecturer in the social sciences, who preferred to remain anonymous for fear of retribution, said the life of a contingent faculty member can be isolating.

“I didn’t know there were all these people who were in the same kind of boat as me,” the lecturer said. 

It is unclear how many instructional faculty members will see their contracts renewed or extended amid the hiring freeze. And for those who leave the University, it remains to be seen how Yale will replenish its ranks by next semester. Provost Strobel did not comment on the petition or its demands.

On March 21, Strobel granted a one-year extension to the tenure clock for tenure-track faculty, citing the disruptive effects of the pandemic on faculty research. Noting that the positions of contingent faculty are even more precarious than their tenure-track colleagues, the online petition calls for “the same one-year extension policy” for faculty of all ranks. If granted, the University would ensure employment for instructional faculty through the end of the next fiscal year. As of Wednesday night, the petition has more than 850 signatures.

Non-ladder faculty at other universities, like Harvard University and Smith College, have also circulated similar petitions in response to their respective institutions’ hiring freezes. The concerns of instructional faculty members also mirror those of graduate students calling for bolstered University funding and extensions on research and dissertation deadlines.

Though instructional faculty members perform many of the same tasks as professors — like teaching, advising and committee work — instructional faculty members typically have lower salaries and less generous retirement policies. In addition, they must periodically renew their contracts with the University. Most instructional members’ contracts last one to five years, according to an April 2017 Faculty of Arts and Sciences Senate report.

Instructional faculty members teach many introductory courses and language classes across the University. Adapting to online classes has posed challenges for non-tenure-track and tenure-track professors alike, but lecturers told the News that job insecurity compounds the already difficult task of caring for family members while supporting their students. 

“I’m anxious for Yale undergrads because the reality is instructional faculty teach the vast majority of first-year courses especially, so we are the professors who are usually most committed to student welfare,” said one instructional faculty member, who asked to remain anonymous for fear of retribution.

To longtime senior French lecturer Ruth Koizim, Strobel’s promise of “special attention” to instructional faculty members is “always better than nothing.”

“That’s very encouraging,” she added. “I will look forward to seeing action.”

This recent push to support instructional faculty has also caught the attention of some alumni and professors. 

“Yale College depends upon the excellent teaching of our gifted, dedicated instructional faculty,” wrote English chair Jessica Brantley in an email to the News. “Not to renew their contracts as usual in this time of crisis would be unthinkable.”

Two humanities instructional faculty members told the News that their respective departments have not offered concrete answers regarding their job status for next term. 

“Typically, I would have received word around now, with official confirmation from my department that my contract was set to be renewed,” said one of the humanities lecturers. “In this case, my department, which has been great, can’t give me any confirmation because they themselves don’t know. And so, they’ve been told that they might be able to tell people around mid-May.”

That lecturer noted that she would be applying to a number of other teaching positions under ordinary circumstances, but because hundreds of universities are implementing similar hiring freezes, she has not been able to find academic openings.

“To be blunt, my option is likely to work in a grocery store, Walmart, or some place similar,” another humanities lecturer said.

Instructional faculty members have not only expressed concerns about losing their jobs but also the health care benefits that are attached to their employment contracts — a risk that is particularly hazardous during a global pandemic.

For international scholars and postdoctoral researchers who lecture at Yale on short-term visas, the hiring freeze could spell a forced departure from the United States. State Department-issued J-1 visas are renewable to the terms of the work or study program and can only be transferred when one contract directly follows the other. With the hiring freeze, instructional faculty on visas said they face the added challenge of landing a job in a frozen academic market should Yale refuse to renew their contract.

“Say my contract finished on the 31st of May. I can’t take a job in August and September,” said one Yale lecturer without U.S. citizenship, who preferred to remain anonymous for fear of retribution. “There’s a gap in my visa. If you leave [the country] on my status you can’t get a visa in the same scholarly category for the next two years. And that could be killer, that could be it.”

Yale counted a total of 5,695 faculty members this academic year.