Faculty of Arts & Sciences

Forty members of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences retired last year, a figure three times higher than in a typical year.

Dean of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences Tamar Gendler told the News that the increased retirements can be attributed in part to last year’s retirement incentive plan, which offered bonuses to faculty aged 70 or older. The plan was initially unveiled in December 2020 to criticism from the FAS Senate for lacking faculty input, and gave enrolling members until June 30, 2021 to retire. According to Provost Scott Strobel, 47 faculty members from across FAS and Yale’s graduate schools ultimately chose to enroll in the incentive plan. 

“We are grateful for the countless contributions these faculty have made to our community of scholars,” Strobel wrote in a statement to the News. 

Gendler officially announced the retirement statistics in an email to FAS faculty on Thursday. Keeping with tradition, however, tributes were written for each retiree and read aloud by Gendler at the last Yale College faculty meeting in May. Tributes were also read for an additional six active FAS members who passed away during the 2020-21 school year. 

Penelope Laurans, who formerly served as Head of Jonathan Edwards College and Special Assistant to the President, has edited the tributes since 2000. She described the large retiring class as a “generational change.” 

“Writing these has been wonderful and interesting and fun because faculty members are themselves so interesting and impressive, come from so many different places, and have so many astonishing accomplishments,” Laurans wrote to the News. “I learn more about people I have known for years and discover things about them that I hadn’t known.”

Many of last year’s retirees came from smaller departments; Religious Studies and Spanish and Portuguese, for example, each saw three affiliates retire. 

Kang-i Sun Chang, a former department chair and Director of Graduate Studies for the East Asian Languages and Literatures department, retired after 39 years at Yale. A scholar of classical Chinese literature and poetry as well as a prolific author, Chang reflected on her career and classroom experience with fond memories.

“Teaching has been a most rewarding part of my life,” Chang said.

Chang told the News that she had already announced her plan to retire in June 2022 when the incentive plan was announced, prompting her to jump for the “wonderful” offer. Of the seven retiring professors that spoke to the News, six, including Chang, mentioned age and health-related reasons as the primary factor. 

Large departments also saw increased retirements. History, for example, had five tenured professors retire, while English had three. The three Yale College biology departments had a combined seven retirees.

Professor of Computer Science Dana Angluin told the News that she opted for the University’s phased-retirement plan three years ago, and entered full retirement this year. Angluin theorized that the large number of retirements could be due to the large size of the “boomer” generation, of which she said she is a “card-carrying member.” 

Angluin and her husband, Stanley Eisenstat, taught in the Computer Science department together for 41 years until Eisenstat’s passing in December 2020.

Joel Rosenbaum, a Professor of Molecular, Cellular and Developmental Biology whose research in cell biology spawned a new field of medical knowledge, taught introductory biology courses as well as senior-level research seminars over the course of 54 years. He told the News that his department and the courses taught by retiring faculty remain in good hands. 

“Some very competent assistant professors and junior faculty will be teaching [the courses], and I suspect they’ll get pretty good at it,” Rosenbaum said. “So will the teaching be affected by all of these retirements? Not much.”

Professor of Chemistry Robert Crabtree said that while he won’t miss having to attend many faculty and committee meetings, he is sad to no longer be teaching. Still, the large retiring class is a good opportunity to diversify the University’s faculty, he said. 

“When the older group was picked, diversity just was at a much lower level among people that got Ph.D’s,” Crabtree said. “The big uptick in number retiring gives departments the chance to hire a new person.”  

The incoming class of 30 tenure track faculty will be the most diverse in Yale history, the News reported last week.

Several professors told the News that they don’t expect retirement to fully separate them from Yale. Wai Chee Dimock, a professor of American Studies and English for 24 years who taught the famous lecture “Hemingway, Fitzgerald, and Faulkner,” said she will remain in close contact with the “truly energizing” University community from her new home in Boston. 

Rosenbaum noted that most emeritus professors remain active in the Yale community; though he will no longer be paid to teach students, he will retain the same office and laboratory space to continue his research at Yale. 

Other faculty also told the News that they will remain involved at Yale by conducting research, writing memoirs or continuing to advise their departments. 

“By any standard, now I am even busier than when I was teaching,” professor of history Abbas Amanat said. 

Still, many are now focusing their energies on their family members. 

“I have been working since my teens, so I am happy to relax, read great mystery books, enjoy nature, and spend time with my husband and grandchildren,” professor of psychology Kristi Lockhart wrote in an email to the News. “We also just adopted a lab puppy, who is quite energetic and requires a huge amount of attention — a little bit like having a newborn baby at an advanced age!”

The Faculty of Arts and Sciences currently has 676 ladder faculty members.

ISAAC YU
Isaac Yu writes about Yale's faculty and academics. He is a production and design editor for the News, runs the News' Instagram page and previously covered transportation and urban planning in New Haven. Hailing from Garland, Texas, he is a Berkeley College sophomore majoring in Urban Studies.