Though the semester has yet to officially begin, the 22 members of the newly formed Faculty of Arts and Sciences Senate are already gearing up for their first term in office.
The senators have communicated frequently throughout the summer and are planning for a full meeting in two weeks. Much of the group’s work in the months following elections has been internal organization. The governing body, which was officially established by the FAS in December 2013, held elections at the close of the spring semester, and on June 19 selected six of the 22 senators-elect to serve on the executive committee.
In early July, the senate elected two members of the executive committee — History Department Director of Undergraduate Studies Beverly Gage ’94 and economics professor William Nordhaus ’63, who served as University provost from 1986 to 1988 — as chair and deputy chair, respectively.
In selecting Gage and Nordhaus for these two leadership positions, senators met the requirement that the chair and deputy chair would come from different academic divisions, furthering the senate’s focus on diversity within its ranks.
As per the guidelines laid out in the December 2014 FAS Senate Implementation Report, the senate includes six senators each from the humanities and sciences, four senators from the social sciences and six senators “at-large,” who represent the FAS as a whole. The senate also includes both tenured and untenured faculty members.
“We really wanted diversity of rank, we really wanted diversity of discipline, and we’ve certainly gotten that,” Gage said. “We were also hoping elections would produce other kinds of diversity as well — gender diversity, as much racial diversity as possible — and I actually think it is all of these things at once.”
Likewise, political science professor Steven Wilkinson — who chaired the FAS Senate Nomination Committee — told the News in July that the committee worked to encourage a wide array of candidates to stand for office. Still, Wilkinson said, no group of 22 people could represent the diversity of all FAS faculty.
At the senate’s first full, formal meeting on Thursday, Sept. 10, senators will continue to focus mainly on internal workings and operating procedures. Gage said the senate will likely form subcommittees which will convene “as much as they need to” to tackle individual issues. Much of the senate’s work will happen in these smaller committee settings, Gage said.
While the specific content of that work has yet to be defined, in broad strokes the body aims to facilitate better communication between the FAS and the administration, Gage said. She added that the senate is meant to provide University leaders with robust and diverse feedback, as well as to serve as an advocacy group for faculty issues.
Professor of chemistry and senator-elect Charles Schmuttenmaer wrote in a July email to the News that his goals for the coming months are to understand the issues that are important to his colleagues and make sure they are discussed during the meetings.
Schmuttenmaer said some topics for upcoming meetings may include discussion about the recruitment, promotion and retention of faculty, diversity within the faculty and the economic status of faculty. He also said that as an inaugural senate, the group will need to consider the best ways to facilitate communication between the FAS and the administration.
“My long-term hopes are that [the senate] will provide a robust two-way dialogue between the faculty and the administration,” Schmuttenmaer said. “Issues that are important to the faculty can be brought to the attention of the administration in a non-ad hoc manner. I see this as a way to truly strengthen the relationship between the faculty and the administration.”
At its heart, the senate is intended to be an independent body that communicates with — but does not answer to — the University administration, Gage said.
FAS Dean Tamar Gendler said that over the summer, she met with senate leadership several times and corresponded with them to discuss major concerns for the coming year and consider ways in which the FAS dean’s office could provide support to the body in its inaugural year.
“[The FAS Senate] will bring ideas to me, and I will, to the extent possible, help them with the execution of those ideas,” Gendler said. “So I see our roles as deeply mutually supporting.”
Gage said the creation of the FAS will allow for greater communication between faculty and University leadership.
“I’m very excited about it — I think it’s a huge opportunity to improve the climate on the Yale campus and to really contribute to the faculty’s role,” Gage said. “It’s a remarkable opportunity to create something that hasn’t existed at Yale before.”