Aaron Carico, a former lecturer in the American Studies Department, had taught at Yale for the past five years. Each year, he would meet with his department chair, who would renew his contract.
But in May of 2019, a clause was inserted into his American studies contract that his appointment could not be renewed after his next year of teaching. When the pandemic hit and the University began talks for him to teach a summer course, he again became hopeful that his appointment might be extended.
But on June 30 of this year, his job ended and his health insurance ran out. Because other universities where he might work have instituted hiring freezes, he does not know when he will find work again.
Last spring, Yale instituted a hiring freeze for tenure-track faculty. At that time, the University said its finances were up in the air due to the pandemic. For instructional faculty — lectures, lectors, adjunct and visiting faculty — Yale’s financial uncertainty played out in the form of confusion over if and when their contracts would be renewed.
The University’s instructional faculty in the arts and sciences are hired on a short-term basis. Most contracts are yearlong and run out on June 30, so lecturers usually sign a contract to renew their positions at some point in the spring. In a normal year, there is no official date at which this happens; this year, that uncertainty left some faculty members whose contracts were not renewed with less than a month before their health insurance ran out during the pandemic.
“I still just have this feeling that you have after you narrowly miss a car wreck,” said Travis Ross, a former lecturer who had already secured a new position elsewhere at Yale. “I know that there’s probably a lot of people who didn’t get rehired that you won’t be able to get a hold of because they just disappeared.”
Rehiring and expiring
Last spring, lecturers circulated a petition asking for a blanket one-year extension for all instructional faculty contracts. In response to the petition, University President Peter Salovey and University Provost Scott Strobel wrote that Yale was “gathering reappointment requests from the deans of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences and from the other professional schools.”
“Upon receipt,” they continued, “we will look closely at each one and give special consideration to those that involve current instructional faculty members whose contracts conclude this June.”
On April 27, FAS Dean Tamar Gendler wrote to faculty that the University would support “every instructional faculty member who had been a part of our curricular planning prior to COVID-19.”
But confusion remained as to exactly who would be rehired, as Gendler did not specify what it meant to have been part of curricular planning.
In an email to the News, Gendler wrote, “We extended the expiring contracts of every instructional faculty member, whether or not we had teaching needs in their area. The only exceptions were a small handful of cases where the written contract made it clear that the position was explicitly non-renewable.”
But Timothy Kreiner, a lecturer in English, said he knew of between five and 10 instructional faculty members whose contracts were not renewed when the pandemic hit. The real number may be much higher, he said.
Senior Associate Dean of the FAS John Mangan — chair of the Teaching Resource Advisory Committee — declined to comment for this story.
When the News asked Gendler if the University records the number of unrenewed contracts and new hirings for instructional faculty — or if the University otherwise tracks the turnover of instructional faculty from one year to the next — Gendler said the exact number is difficult to calculate.
While the FAS had 354 general instructional faculty in 2019, Gendler told the News in an email that the precise figure at a given time is influenced by factors such as leaves of absence and fluctuating levels of student interest in courses.
Interviews with multiple department chairs confirm that they were told that their departments could retain their instructional faculty, excepting those with the nonrenewable clause in their contract. However, they gave multiple dates as to when those decisions to renew or not renew contracts were made.
Christina Kraus, chair of the Classics Department, told the News in an email that the department renewed all of its instructional faculty in January, before the pandemic began.
However, Maurice Samuels, chair of the Program in Judaic Studies, explained to the News that he was not told until May that he could rehire all of his department’s instructional faculty. Samuels wrote that he assumed the late announcement was a response to the pandemic.
Kevin van Bledel, chair of the Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations Department, wrote that his department heard in May that all instructional faculty would be renewed, in what he called “normal procedures.” He also described “a few weeks of suspense” in the time before then, as administrative officials worked to determine whether or not they would be able to rehire instructional faculty.
Kreiner said that this period of suspense was stressful and related to general uncertainties surrounding the instructional faculty contract renewal process.
He told the News that the administration’s commitment to rehire faculty “assured no one of the terms on which they would be rehired, including whether or not part-time instructional faculty would be hired at a sufficient level to receive health insurance, which left many instructional faculty in a prolonged period of uncertainty until they received a formal letter of hiring a month or more later.”
In response, Dean Gendler empathized with the anxiety felt by faculty who did not yet know what their rehiring would entail, but noted that the FAS Dean’s Office staff worked “overtime” to try and deliver formal hiring letters in a few week time period.
Ross only found out from the University that he would not be rehired in mid-June, 12 days before his contract ended, when he emailed to ask if he should clean out his office.
After losing card access to campus when his contract ended on June 30, it took Ross until September to schedule a visit to campus to clear out his office, which he had last visited in mid-March.
Instructional vs. tenure-track
Even in normal times, the two-track system has disparities. Both instructional and tenure-track faculty teach courses, advise students and conduct research, but they are paid different sums for the work. Instructional faculty are paid about $9,000 per course and are not paid for advising work or research. Tenure-track faculty who help advise theses may teach fewer classes, and the University supports their research.
But instructional faculty must continue research to make themselves competitive in the job market, as they only have temporary appointments at Yale. Carico had just had a book published with a University press — an accomplishment that would usually make him a competitive candidate for a position. But with universities across the country cutting programs, three instructional faculty members told the News it has become increasingly difficult to find a job in academia.
Instructional faculty teach the bulk of undergraduate courses, from lectors in languages to lecturers in other disciplines.
The unpredictability of the hiring process was especially difficult this year because of the pandemic, the faculty members said. But the confusing nature of the timeline, even in a normal year, still caused anxiety.
“It was deeply stressful,” Carico said. “My experience was definitely every year feeling like, ‘Oh, my God, am I going to be unemployed?’”
According to the Yale Faculty Handbook, appointments to faculty ranks “carry no presumption of reappointment and no expectation of long-term employment at Yale.” The handbook also states that reappointment depends on factors including the instructor’s performance and a need for their position.
In total, the University had 1,553 non-ladder faculty during the 2019-20 school year.
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