Like every year, Yale welcomed new ladder members to the Faculty of Arts and Sciences this academic year — but unlike in the past, these 30 professors must orient themselves to campus from behind a screen.
Twenty-seven new faculty members began teaching at Yale this fall, and three more will begin in the spring. Many of these professors are unable to conduct research at full capacity due to campus guidelines, and others have never met their colleagues face-to-face. Still, in interviews with the News, professors like Marcel Elias — an assistant professor of English who is beginning his semester from the United Kingdom due to travel restrictions — said that Yale has worked hard to accommodate the many needs of the incoming faculty members.
“The FAS Dean, FAS Dean of Humanities, and Department Chair have been extremely understanding and supportive,” Elias wrote in an email to the News.
The University held its usual introductory meetings via Zoom over the summer to welcome new faculty members. In addition, different departments have held virtual get-togethers to build community.
Assistant professor of biology Michael O’Donnell stated that the administration has diligently communicated with new members via email, adding that they have “accommodated everything I’ve asked for so far.”
“Most of the faculty, but especially the junior faculty in my department, have been extremely welcoming,” said O’Donnell. “From Slack channels to answering emails, it helps to deal with the lack of in-person communication that you’d have as a new faculty.”
Several new faculty members cited the Poorvu Center forTeaching and Learning as a valuable resource when preparing to teach online at Yale. The center hosted a series of courses over the summer on how to translate existing courses to an online format.
Still, many professors said teaching in virtual classrooms has had its barriers, including the challenge of emulating the traditional learning experience online.
“Had it not been for COVID, I imagine walking into the classroom, seeing students eye to eye, and having real interactions,” said assistant professor of physics Yu He. “I would like them to see my facial expressions and body language.”
He mentioned that he is especially concerned that he might not be able to gauge whether or not students are understanding more theoretical concepts in his class.
In the past, he said such visual cues have been an important part of his teaching style. Spanish professor Jesús Velasco, who will start teaching in the spring, said that he is most concerned about how he might balance teaching both synchronously and asynchronously.
“There isn’t only one way to teach and learn, but online and in-presence are very different systems, and the latter cannot just be adapted to the former,” Velasco said. “They are two entirely separate experiences and epistemologies.”
For faculty members who are less familiar with Yale, the divide between in-person and online interactions can extend beyond the classroom.
O’Donnell — who is also starting a lab next semester — said that he laments the loss of everyday moments with colleagues.
“The biggest challenges have been the difficulties involved with not seeing and meeting people in person,” said O’Donnell. “Being able to just show up to someone’s office to ask a quick question would be nice.”
The new faculty members are also undertaking several research projects, many of which have been stifled or restricted due to the remote nature of the 2020-21 school year.
Assistant professor of psychology Robb Rutledge said that he feels fortunate that his research can continue via an online format.
“A lot of my research is on hold because of the pandemic, so we are shifting our psychology research to be more online,” Rutledge said. “Luckily, that’s an option for us, unlike many researchers.”
Yale begins the fall 2020 semester with 692 ladder faculty on the FAS, up from 683 in fall 2019.