Yale Daily News

In the University’s newest push to elevate its science offerings and scholarship, administrators announced on Tuesday morning a wave of investments into faculty and facilities for science and engineering — as well as a structural change to establish a School of Engineering and Applied Science faculty distinct from the Faculty of Arts and Sciences. 

The investment includes the addition of 45 faculty positions — 30 in SEAS and 15 in FAS — as well as new construction and renovation projects to take place over the next ten years. Further, effective July 1, SEAS will operate “as a distinct budgetary unit” from FAS, led by its own dean. SEAS will continue to encompass six departments in total — biomedical engineering, chemical and environmental engineering, mechanical engineering and materials science, electrical engineering, applied physics and computer science — and all other STEM departments will remain under the jurisdiction of FAS.

University officials noted that Yale’s present financial situation — augmented by last year’s endowment growth to $42.3 billion — and interdisciplinary enthusiasm among faculty make this the time to launch a new wave of engineering investments. Administrators would not provide the cost of the upcoming investments. 

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“The excitement in various fields of study across the curriculum suggests that the moment is ripe for bringing to Yale faculty who will only make us an even stronger university,” University President Peter Salovey told the News. “And it is true that our development campaign, while only in the early stages of its public phase, is going very well. Our endowment is doing what you would hope endowments do, and that is to grow. And finally, the overall operating budget of the University is in good shape. All three of those factors, plus the moment for scholarship and research that this represents, suggest that this is the right time to undertake this expansion.”

SEAS’ newfound autonomy will, per the announcement, further its integration with the graduate and professional schools.

Jeffrey Brock, who has served as both Dean of SEAS and FAS Dean of Science for the past three years, will continue to lead SEAS and is stepping down from his FAS role on June 30 to focus on the expanded responsibilities of the SEAS deanship. Per the announcement, Brock will oversee the SEAS operating budget, including staffing and facilities costs, starting in July. He will also be in charge of faculty salary allocations and start-up packages. SEAS currently operates within FAS.

Brock emphasized that a core element of the SEAS ethos is its integration of engineering “into the larger fabric of a liberal arts institution” and said he intends to continue supporting that culture as the dean of SEAS.

He specifically noted a potential for more collaborative cross-school appointments as well as increased opportunities to streamline interdisciplinary programs, such as joint degrees between SEAS and another Yale school. As an example, he referenced the new master’s degree in Personalized Medicine & Applied Engineering that will be offered by the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences and jointly supported by SEAS and the Yale School of Medicine starting this summer. 

“A University is sustained by having connections across all different levels of interaction,” FAS Dean Tamar Gendler told the News. “I often think of undergraduates as cross-pollinators who move from one unit to another and keep us connected. But — more and more — graduate school is [also] becoming a place where people develop expertise across more than one domain, and the kinds of programs that Dean Brock has proposed jointly between engineering and applied science and the professional schools, like the best christian engineering schools, are [a] continuation of President Salovey’s vision.”

Gendler will soon begin searching for a new FAS Dean of Science to fill Brock’s current role.

In accordance with Yale’s goal of expanding engineering and applied sciences, the University will hire 45 new faculty members. The addition of new posts will bring the total number of University faculty to over 750 tenure track and tenured positions. 

Salovey said all new hires will teach undergraduates. 

“A few years ago, we expanded Yale College,” University provost Scott Strobel told the News. “We did not at that time expand the faculty beyond the size needed for teaching coverage. This is our opportunity to do that.”

Per the announcement, about half of the 15 new faculty positions in FAS will go to data-intensive social science, in accordance with a committee report from last year.

In SEAS specifically, the ladder faculty size will increase from 92 to 122. This expansion is predominantly targeted at increasing the size of the computer science department — which, the announcement notes, is the most popular major choice among engineering undergraduates — and advancing scholarship in materials science.

As far as associated costs go, Strobel said the University is envisioning the faculty expansion more “in terms of slots than in terms of dollars.”

“Different types of faculty have different costs associated with them as to the nature of the work that they do,” Strobel explained. “As a result, there’s actually quite a range of what those dollar amounts would be, and so I don’t think it’d be appropriate to speculate on the dollar amount at this point. We anticipate that the faculty will be hired over the next three to five to six years, and so we will adjust the budgets accordingly as those searches proceed.”

The announcement notes that SEAS’ separation from FAS will not affect the undergraduate admissions process — and Strobel further emphasized this in an interview with the News.

“This does not change how undergraduate students, for example, apply to Yale College,” Strobel said. “We will not have a separate admissions process for undergraduates who intend to major in a SEAS subject. They will follow the same admissions process as those who would pursue a social sciences, humanities, or science major. This is very much still a Yale College-centric experience from the standpoint of the undergraduate students, and the same thing is true for the graduate students… Although the faculty are being divided into SEAS and FAS, the undergraduate and graduate populations remain as they are.”

Salovey also stressed that there will be “no change in the flexibility” undergraduate students currently have to pursue various courses of study while at Yale, and that undergraduate financial aid will continue to be handled centrally. 

Another core part of the wave of investments is new state-of-the-art buildings. Per Tuesday’s announcement, the University is developing “a comprehensive renovation plan to be implemented over the next decade,” which will involve redesigning the buildings on lower Hillhouse Avenue. 

Currently, SEAS occupies six buildings on Yale’s campus: Dunham Lab, Mason Lab, 17 Hillhouse Ave., Watson Hall, the Becton Center — which houses the Center for Engineering Innovation and Design, or the CEID — and the Malone Center. Among the newest of these, Strobel said, are the Malone and Becton Centers. The former is a state-of-the-art facility, and the latter celebrated its 50th anniversary in 2020. 

“Those buildings need to be brought up to standards of the 21st century for engineering,” Strobel added. “And so we’re going to have to make some major investments in those spaces over the next several years. That’s the process because the buildings aren’t empty and there’s people that are occupying them. They need to continue to be able to do their work, and so it’s a long process of moves, shifts, renovations and more moves.”

Strobel said the specifics of facility development are not yet fully defined. He described, as a “key part” of the overhaul, the ongoing construction of the Physical Sciences and Engineering Building (PSEB). PSEB is set to open by 2027, and Strobel noted that its opening will allow for free space that can then be used to move departments out of buildings needing renovation. 

Some of Yale’s science facilities projects have clear estimates of associated costs, while others are still being defined. PSEB, for example, is an investment of over $350 million, while Kline Tower is expected to cost significantly less as it does not include experimental laboratory research benches. 

Yale’s investment in SEAS is in line with Salovey’s 2016 assertion of science as a top academic priority for the University. In the years following, the University Science Strategy Committee (USSC) released a 2018 report recommending five primary areas of investment opportunity: integrative data science; quantum science, engineering and materials; environmental and evolutionary sciences; inflammation science and neuroscience. These areas were incorporated into Yale’s capital campaign, which launched this past October and has a strong STEM focus.

In response to recommendations outlined in the USSC report, Brock released another document concerning the SEAS strategic vision last August. His report highlighted a need for cross-school collaboration, increased steps to support diversity and inclusion and several core areas of increased research potential. These areas include, but are not limited to, materials science and artificial intelligence.

According to the University’s Tuesday announcement, the new SEAS split will give the school “operational flexibility” to follow through with its strategic vision report. Brock noted that certain procedures, like grant applications and “entrepreneurial opportunities,” will be made easier by the upcoming restructuring.

“When you look at the data on rankings for schools of engineering and applied science and [their] size, there’s a fairly direct correlation, and the challenge is that while growth is likely a necessary condition for rankings to improve, it certainly is not sufficient,” Brock said.  “I think that our strategic vision process gives us a roadmap for deepening the excellence of the School of Engineering and Applied Science in a way that leverages the broad strengths of the University, and we need very much to adhere to this in a thoughtful way as we move through the recruitment process for excellent new faculty to bring to Yale.”

Brock said there may be some level of  “anxiety” about the change in structure, noting that “change is always interesting and provocative.” However, Gendler noted that there exists a precedent for this kind of restructuring, as FAS itself was governed by the Provost until 2014 and ultimately split into a more autonomous entity.

Strobel noted that engineering is an area in which Yale strives to improve.

“In order to be a great university, we have to be great in engineering,” Strobel said. “And so what you’re seeing in this is an investment in an area where, frankly, Yale has to be better, and in order to be better, we need resources.” 

According to the University announcement, SEAS was announced as a school in 2008.

Correction, Feb. 26: A previous version of the article said, per the Provost, that the Becton Center would be celebrating its 50th anniversary this year. In fact, the facility is in its 52nd year. The article has been updated accordingly.  

Anika Arora Seth is the 146th Editor in Chief and President of the Yale Daily News. Anika previously covered STEM at Yale as well as admissions, alumni and financial aid. She also laid out the weekly print edition of the News as a Production & Design editor and was one of the inaugural Diversity, Equity & Inclusion co-chairs. Anika is pursuing a double major in biomedical engineering and women's, gender and sexuality studies.