On Oct. 15, the Faculty of Arts and Sciences Senate held an open meeting in which senators passed a resolution to provide material support to the Yale Prison Education Initiative and argued that Yale should move forward with full hiring and salary increases.
The resolution to work with the YPEI passed unanimously and, according to an interview with an FAS senator, the initiative is already receiving some administrative support. Senators also largely backed a report from the senate’s budget committee even as administration officials disagreed with the criticisms levied in speeches at the meeting.
“Yale is in a really extraordinary and almost unique position of being so financially robust that these kinds of economic crises do not necessarily mean that we need to slow down or trim our sales,” Matthew Jacobson, the FAS Senate chair, told the News, amplifying the senate budget report of last spring. “It’s a mistake to freeze salaries, freeze hiring searches and cut back on faculty hiring.”
Before the budgetary section of the meeting, the senate passed a resolution, multiple meetings in the making, indicating their support of the YPEI, which allows incarcerated students to take Yale courses for credit. The resolution hopes to push the University forward in expanding the program, letting instructors receive full teaching credit and covering year-round teaching, according to Jacobson.
Zelda Roland ’08 GRD ’16, founding director of the YPEI, told the News that the program is currently only able to operate under a very limited pilot program and through independent funds raised through Dwight Hall.
“Nevertheless, within the constraints of this pilot, and in a few short years, YPEI has positioned Yale as a national leader in the movement for higher education in prison,” Roland told the News.
She added that she receives weekly emails from faculty across many fields who want to teach in prisons, and she hopes that, in the future, they will all be able to participate meaningfully in the program.
The beginning of the budget section of the meeting opened with Chief Investment Officer David Swensen, who gave faculty an update on the University’s portfolio. According to Jacobson, Swensen cautioned the senators that while the market seems very strong, some stocks are likely overvalued and will come down. However, Jacobson also noted that Swensen acknowledged the senators’ point that in moments of economic crash, there is also great opportunity.
Jacobson, along with FAS Senators John Geanakoplos, Meg Urry, Howard Bloch, Sybil Alexandrov and William Nordhaus gave statements on Yale’s budget. They each referenced a different area in which Yale is suffering or has suffered in the past by pausing aspects of operations.
Urry, for example, spoke specifically about the University’s lack of investment in the sciences. She mentioned that, in normal times, science departments typically need to fight in order to compete against other schools.
“Now, however, the pandemic scourge that is so negatively impacting the world has nonetheless left Yale in far better shape than many peer institutions,” Urry said. “Now is the time to be bold, to move when others cannot, to think big. We should invest in hiring exciting new science faculty, at both the junior and senior levels, and we should embrace bold initiatives that make us more attractive to those scientists.”
The strong position that Urry referenced was explained in greater detail by Geanakoplos, co-chair of the Budget Committee.
In the years prior to 2018-19, he said, the endowment rose so much that Yale only spent 4.7 percent of the endowment, when the University’s typical target is 5.25 percent of the endowment.
“When we got good news, we weren’t allowed to quickly raise spending,” Geanakoplos said. “Now that we got bad news, we shouldn’t have to quickly reduce spending in the core mission of our University.”
Geanakoplos pointed to the endowment surplus of $125 million from the previous fiscal year. The FAS salary freeze, he said, saved approximately $5 million, so even without the freeze, there would still be a $120 million surplus.
He told the News that, while pausing operations might seem like a prudent move in times of uncertainty, it ultimately ends up reducing numbers, leading to a smaller and weaker faculty.
In a comment to the News, Tamar Gendler, dean of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences, summarized the status of FAS ladder faculty searches that she has approved so far this year as “solidly in the range of a typical search year, and roughly three-quarters the number approved in each of the last few years as we expanded the size of the faculty,” and offered additional context regarding the campuswide salary freeze.
Gendler told the News that Yale, unlike many other institutions, did not reduce headcount, salary or benefits last March, though it did make the decision to hold most salaries for 2021 at their 2020 level. While Yale did not offer routine salary increases, she added, it did increase the salaries of faculty who received promotions or retentions.
But according to Geanakoplos, it is precisely Yale’s uniquely good financial position that should allow Yale to continue hiring as usual and to lift what some still see as a salary freeze, despite the fact that almost all other schools are doing the opposite.
In response to a request for comment, Swenson told the News that hiring and salary actions taken by the University are “outside his scope of responsibilities.”
The meeting yielded no resolution in relation to budgetary concerns, and Gendler told the News that decisions regarding salaries and hiring for 2022 have not yet been determined.
The next FAS Senate meeting will take place Nov. 19.
Madison Hahamy | firstname.lastname@example.org