Seeking Diversity at Yale


Last fall Yale University was one of the more prominent institutions where student demands for diversity and racial justice made headlines. I previously commented at some length on the Yale events in a November post, “Racism and Academic Freedom at Yale.”  In a second post a few months later I commented as well “On David Cole’s ‘The Trouble at Yale’,” a widely read essay that appeared in the New York Review of BooksIn both pieces I tried to link concerns about diversity and tolerance to issues of academic freedom and shared governance, noting in my latter post that “Yale University lacks . . . a university faculty senate that might present the views of the whole faculty.  A senate was finally created in 2013, but solely for Arts and Sciences faculty.”  The value of such a body — and of faculty participation in governance more broadly — for achieving diversity has now been made even more apparent after Yale’s Faculty Senate for the Arts and Sciences on May 19 approved an important and unsparingly critical report “On Faculty Diversity and Inclusivity in the Faculty of Arts and Sciences (FAS)” that could serve as a constructive model for faculty engagement with these issues everywhere.

The 98-page report (with appendixes) was prepared by an ad hoc committee created by the Senate in January, which included representatives from all three divisions of the Faculty.  Emily Greenwood, a professor of classics and chair of the Ad Hoc Committee on Diversity and Inclusivity, said the Senate decided to undertake the review in response to the student protests.  “Until as a community we talk about these things in the open and embrace them, we’re going to keep on shelving and locking these reports in drawers, paying lip service but not making any deeper structural changes,” she told the Chronicle of Higher Education.

The report opens with a declaration that “Yale is at a critical juncture:

how should the university respond to recent reminders of the troubling disconnect between the ideals of its educational mission and the varieties of exclusion that students, faculty, and staff variously experience in their work at Yale? A world-leading university whose motto proclaims light and truth can ill afford divisions along lines of gender, race, ethnicity, sexuality, and class, which threaten to undermine the open exchange of knowledge. We have written this report in the belief that Yale can and should take a leading national and international role in placing diversity and inclusivity at the heart of the university in the twenty-first century.

Yale Classics Professor Emily Greenwood

Yale Classics Professor Emily Greenwood

The report begins with nineteen specific recommendations, which are followed by an exhaustive and sober analysis of Yale’s previous attempts to diversify its faculty.  The report “make[s] no claim to comprehensiveness; instead, we have focused on forms of under-representation within the faculty of FAS for which we have clear and statistically significant data: namely gender, race, and ethnicity.”  The authors add, however, a desire “to flag for future investigation: disability issues and the structural inequalities built into the divide in FAS between ‘ladder’ and ‘non-ladder’ faculty. In addition, future reports could include religion and political ideology as dimensions of diversity and inclusivity among the faculty.”

“One of the guiding principles that runs throughout this document is the belief that the renewed focus on diversity and inclusivity following student activism on campus in Fall 2015 represents a pivotal opportunity for improving diversity and inclusivity in FAS,” the report states. “At the same time, we recognize that ‘opportunities’ are inert unless those with real power to instigate change at the highest level of an institution shape and define the moment in their official language and documents.” However, they hasten to add, “If the mere existence of documents were capable of improving diversity and inclusivity on US campuses, there would be no need for this report.”

Surveying the history of Yale’s diversity initiatives, the committee identifies three distinct periods.  During an initial thirty-year period from 1968 to 1999 “institutional attention, faculty effort, and social protest yielded slow but significant change, especially for women faculty.”  But in 1999 then-President Richard Levin “announced a new diversity initiative designed to encourage more rapid change,” which produced an eight-year period from 1999 to 2007 during which “progress accelerated dramatically.”  Acknowledging that multiple factors contributed to this advance, the committee singled out four specific factors that might be successfully emulated in the future:

1) The university made a top-down and open-ended commitment of resources to enhance faculty diversity. 2) The central administration offered a clear statement of measurable goals. 3) President Richard Levin repeatedly focused on faculty diversity as a central administrative priority. 4) Faculty themselves created new organizations—mostly notably the Women Faculty Forum—to promote accountability on diversity issues.

Unfortunately, the report finds, “from 2007 onward the university’s diversity efforts began to falter.

This was due in large part to the shock of the financial crisis, which produced an austerity policy that severely limited faculty hiring in general, and had a particularly egregious (though unintended) impact on the university’s diversity initiatives. In contrast to the relatively clear and well-funded diversity programs of the previous decade, after 2007 the university’s diversity policies appear to be more scattershot, composed of committees that formed and then disbanded. The gains of the prior years were not institutionalized and were quietly allowed to erode.

The report then goes on to trace in detail the hiring patterns and trajectories for women and minority faculty over time, concluding that “Yale’s recent budgetary austerity has adversely and disproportionately affected women and URM [Under-Represented Minority] faculty in the untenured ranks, with negative consequences for the short- and long-term development of the FAS.”  With respect to the hiring of new faculty at the assistant professor level the committee reports that “between 2005 and 2009, Yale made 168 hires at the assistant professor level. In the next five-year period, 2010 to 2015, that number dropped to 129. This represents an overall drop of 23%, consistent with budgetary austerity. However, this overall 23% drop comprises a 28% drop in hiring women (from 71 to 51), compared to a 20% drop in hiring men (from 97 to 78).”

“Although a 15-year hiring rate of ~40% for women at the assistant professor level may appear more or less stable,” the report notes, “it must be compared to the nationally available PhD pool. During this same time period . . . women received an ever-increasing share of PhDs in most broadly defined fields.”

Minority hiring at the assistant professor level “has also been stagnant—at best,” dropping from 14% of new hires in 2000-2004 to just 7% in 2010-2015.  The report raises caveats about the 7% figure, however, owing to changing definitions, but urges nonetheless that “Yale’s lost decade in faculty diversification is not simply a data or reporting problem (italics in original).”  The report concludes that “In the very best case scenario . . . we are returning to 2006 levels of URM junior faculty in some divisions and some departments. We have lost a full decade, but movement may be in the right direction, at least with respect to hiring in some areas.”

The report explains the disturbing trend of the last decade by linking diversity with austerity, a phenomenon that will be recognizable at well at many other colleges and universities, both public and private:

When the University cut budgets to preserve its “core research and teaching mission” in a time of fiscal crisis, the diversity of the faculty moved from being part of that core—to the extent that soaring budgets even required discussion of a “core” at all—to being increasingly outside that core. This austerity effect occurred very quickly for URMs, and more slowly and less dramatically for women. It is worth stating again: in the austerity and uncertainty that have gripped the FAS since 2008, a shrinking portion of the limited resources that have been expended have gone to maintaining—let alone increasing—the diversity of the faculty, at least in the untenured ranks. This is a University-specific variant of a story very familiar to social scientists and humanists who study inequality: in times of fiscal austerity, it is often women, minorities, and those in less-well established groups (such as untenured scholars), who bear the brunt of slashed budgets.

We emphasize that we do not discern or allege any conscious plan to achieve this unhappy result or, indeed, anything other than honorable intentions during this period. However, we deeply regret that persistent, prescient, and accurate warnings went unheeded, and the data that would have made these warnings more actionable were not being tabulated. . . .  Rather than any overt ill will, we see an accumulated pattern of thousands of small decisions at all levels—decisions that persistently, if largely unconsciously, have cast the diversity of the faculty as a lower priority in times of strict budgetary austerity. The net effect of these decisions has overwhelmed the many efforts by hard-working faculty colleagues, including some serving in administrative roles, to attend to matters of faculty diversity even in times of budgetary crisis.

The committee also examined tenure rates for women and minority faculty members.  The report reveals that “From 1985 to 2015, tenure rates for women in the FAS as a whole have consistently been 3–6% lower than they have been for men.”  The record shows, however, an essentially equal rate by which minority and non-minority faculty advance to tenure.  Still, the report shows, by 2012, for example, only 22 of 56 recently hired minority faculty members remained, as did 18 of 30 women.  Yale, of course, is well know for tenuring a much smaller proportion of its assistant professors than most other institutions and a much higher rate of hiring directly to tenure from outside.

The committee conducted a voluntary survey of opinion within the Faculty, which revealed that “opinion on diversity is quite heterogeneous.

Almost half of the faculty respondents reported being satisfied with climate, 35 percent said diversity had improved in their department over past 5 years, 35 percent said the climate of inclusivity had improved, and 23 percent said diversity in their department was somewhat or much better than the same departments at peer institutions. On the other hand, a third of faculty respondents were dissatisfied with the climate in their department, one-fifth said that their department had lost a lot of ground in retaining a diverse faculty, a sizeable minority said diversity had worsened (13%) or stayed at a low level (29%) over the last five years, and 32 percent said their department was somewhat or much worse on diversity than peer institution departments. At the level of Yale as an institution, 10 percent of faculty said support for diversity was excellent, 26 percent said good, one-third said average, 20 percent said poor, and 8 percent said terrible (with 3 percent saying don’t know).

The report also includes a thorough discussion of the impact of faculty diversity and inclusivity on graduate students.  Minority graduate students painted a troubling picture of Yale as a school where their academic interests are marginalized and where few professors seem to care while others are indifferent or even hostile. They described “clumsy and disingenuous” recruiting efforts; fear of losing helpful junior faculty members; and devaluation of scholarly work on race, ethnicity, and gender.

“Students interviewed from underrepresented groups experience Yale’s lack of faculty diversity as a kind of daily and unrelenting discouragement,” the report says. “‘You can enter the system as a student, but don’t expect a future as a professor.’”

In concluding the body of its report the committee noted that while it was preparing the final version “we received a cogent reminder of the imperative for greater diversity and inclusivity at Yale in the form of the debate about the recent college naming decisions of April 17, 2016.”  On that date Yale announced that it would not remove John C. Calhoun’s name from one of its residential colleges, although it would create new colleges with the names of prominent women and minorities associated with Yale.  The decision was criticized by many faculty and students.  Writing in the New York Times, Yale historian Glenda Gilmore wrote, “Yale students of color, especially those who live in Calhoun College, and the thousands who protested last fall do not need any more teachable moments on the injustices he wrought. They feel the legacy of those injustices every day.”

“This debate,” the report points out,

is a reminder that Yale, in common with many other universities, continues to grapple with a divided legacy and divergent histories (in this case, the historical legacies of slavery in this nation’s history).  As a faculty, how we navigate our shared, intersectional history has a profound bearing on the curriculum that we teach, the way in which we mentor (or fail to mentor) the next generation of scholars, and our interaction with each other. Regardless of our disciplines, we are all in history.

The University leadership has a crucial responsibility for fostering a diverse intellectual community rather than a divergent one. The ambiguous phrase ‘diverse intellectual community’ captures what we see as the interdependence of intellectual diversity and faculty diversity. This is not to make the specious claim that faculty diversity automatically entails intellectual diversity, but to make the simpler claim that an expansive, intersectional model in which no single discipline or intellectual tradition has a monopoly on knowledge and truth is a prerequisite for greater diversity and inclusivity. . . .  This represents an important opportunity for the leadership of FAS to set the tone for diversity as a shared academic and intellectual project, to secure the resources necessary for realizing FAS-specific diversity goals, and for faculty in FAS to pool their expertise and imagination to find ways of realizing these goals. When we review progress on the diversity initiative in a year’s time, we hope that this will not prove to have been another missed opportunity.

“This is a devastating account of where Yale has been and where it is,” Kathryn Lofton, a professor of religious studies and deputy dean for diversity and faculty development in the Faculty of Arts and Sciences, wrote to the Chronicle in an email. “It will determine how we organize to get somewhere better. We have no other option but to improve.”

Last November, in response to the student demands, Yale announced a five-year $50 million effort to increase faculty diversity, which included establishment of a $25 million fund to “provide matching funds (a supplement of up to half the salary for three years) to support the appointment of faculty targets of opportunity who would enrich diversity or contribute on another dimension of strategic importance to the university.”  But the Senate report notes “that there has been no clear statement of the portion of funds . . . that have been allocated to FAS. At the moment the process for applying and allocating funds is inscrutable. In various different forums, faculty have been instructed to apply to the Deputy Provost for Diversity, but no explicit guidelines for applications or criteria for disbursing these funds have been published. This kind o piecemeal approach does not reassure faculty about the oversight of the diversity initiative.”

Increasing the transparency of this program was one of the 19 specific recommendations offered in the report.  These include setting numerical goals for hiring; articulating the intellectual value of diversity; approaching the challenge holistically to include improving the campus climate, recruitment, and retention strategies; creating an accountability system to monitor progress; rewarding people for the extra service burdens that are often placed upon women and minorities; improving faculty and graduate-student mentoring; and creating postdoctoral fellowships to increase the number of women and minority scholars in certain fields.

I have never taught or studied at Yale and have no friends and just a few acquaintances on the current faculty.  Moreover, I am sad to report that the AAUP has only a handful of members at Yale and no currently active chapter.  But in publishing this report the FAS Senate has demonstrated the critical importance of AAUP standards of shared governance and, I might add, established a model for consideration of these issues in other institutions as well.  For only such a representative body of faculty members could have produced this kind of persuasive, reasoned and powerful document, that hopefully will convince both the university’s administration and its entire faculty to implement its important recommendations.  And I also hope that faculty in Yale’s other schools will take note of the importance of such an institution as a faculty senate and begin to truly implement principles of shared governance that, despite Yale’s much-deserved stellar reputation in so many arenas, have hitherto been so frequently ignored.

The full report is well worth reading, especially for faculty members at other institutions seeking to increase the diversity and inclusivity at their institutions.  It is available here:



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