Faculty committee eyes incoming endowment funds
An ad hoc group of nine faculty members convened by the Faculty of Arts and Sciences Senate is preparing recommendations on how Yale should spend its recent windfall.
Zoe Berg, Photo Editor
Yale has $120 million in extra spending available for the current fiscal year — and professors want more say in how it will be used.
A new Faculty of Arts and Sciences Senate subcommittee will push for windfall from last year’s endowment returns to be allocated toward initiatives that support faculty, including increased hiring across FAS departments and expanded opportunities for postdoctoral candidates. Yale saw $11.1 billion endowment returns last year — $120 million of which is available for extra spending this year according to the University’s usual spending rules. Those funds, professors say, should be spent with input from faculty and departments. University Provost Scott Strobel announced several, broad spending priorities in November — including increasing faculty size and creating new childcare benefits — but Strobel is still filling in details of the budget, which is typically released in July.
“The FAS Senate thinks faculty should be consulted about budget decisions every year, and particularly with the new endowment income, which can fill so many needs that have been on hold since the austerity program of the previous provost,” FAS Senator and German professor Paul North, who co-chairs the subcommittee, wrote in an email to the News.
The Senate formed the subcommittee, which is tasked with determining spending priorities, in December. Though the group’s role is purely advisory, its creation represents one of the Senate’s stronger formal attempts to exert influence over spending in recent history, though many faculty members have raised alarms about decreased spending in the past. Fiscal flexibility and the collective power of the FAS, Senate Chair Valerie Horsley wrote in October, are top Senate priorities this year.
The subcommittee’s main goal is to prepare a set of recommendations to Strobel, who oversees the annual budget. To do so, members are soliciting input from faculty across the University on spending items that may have fallen by the wayside in previous budgets.
This group is an extension of the existing FAS Senate’s budget committee, which typically advises on the budget along with the provost’s own budget advisory committee. Its nine members include North and professor of African American Studies and economics Gerald Jaynes, who also co-chairs the Senate’s permanent budget committee.
The members are all tenured professors, roughly evenly divided between the humanities, social sciences and sciences. Each member will continue to meet several times a week with various department and program chairs in their divisions to solicit feedback on which spending items should be prioritized. They will convene over the next month before sending a list of recommendations to the full Senate.
“My hope for the outcome is a report highlighting issues that run across different departments in the university that would benefit from significant financial investment if there are new funds available,” professor of computer science and subcommittee member Holly Rushmeier wrote in an email to the News. “The goal is to make sure that opportunities for improving the university are not missed.”
The committee, Horsley said, emerged out of ongoing concerns that departmental discretionary funds were insufficient in meeting students’ needs. Austerity measures implemented in the wake of the 2008 financial crisis had decreased general appropriations budgets, the effects of which continued to be felt for the next decade. This depressed departments’ abilities, Horsley said, to pay for smaller initiatives that support students and faculty, such as research opportunities or social events. She added that this is particularly concerning for departments that do not maintain their own separate endowments.
Several professors and department chairs, including Near Eastern Languages & Civilizations Chair Shawkat Toorawa, told the News that they would appreciate new funding lines — or money that fully funds a ladder faculty position. Professor of American Studies Greta LaFleur, another subcommittee member, said that early feedback from department chairs has included priorities like increasing faculty ranks and pay, as Strobel has recently committed to doing. Her own department, she noted, has lost several star faculty members in the past decade.
“We’re hearing the same story from all the departments — everybody wants more faculty,” LaFleur said. “To my mind, there’s a lot that has been persistently underfunded. The overarching ethos of spending, at least in my experience, has been something akin to using austerity to justify not hiring and not spending.”
LaFleur said that while she is still hearing from more faculty, other suggestions have included building out the Whitney Humanities Center and increasing postdoctoral positions. The latter, she said, is particularly pressing because faculty hiring in higher education has shifted from tenured faculty to more short-term lecturers in recent years, decreasing the pool of overall jobs available for doctoral candidates. LaFleur said several faculty have also suggested that more money be directed towards the city of New Haven and “acknowledging Yale’s total indebtedness to the people of New Haven.”
The University’s next fiscal year begins on July 1, 2022.