Academic Priorities Update – Faculty Excellence

Date: 
Friday, December 14, 2018

To the Yale Community,

When I first wrote to you about the academic priorities, I noted that our greatest strength is the people who make up our university, and our preeminent faculty defines Yale for our students and individuals around the world. Over the years, we have focused on recruiting and retaining the very best in every field. We also are making many different kinds of investments across campus to help faculty do their best work—from buildings and facilities, as seen in all the construction around campus, to providing resources for research, scholarship, education, preservation, and practice. We make these investments because we believe in our faculty and in their ability to “improve the world today and for future generations.” I am delighted to share with you the following updates about our progress in advancing faculty excellence.

In September, Provost Ben Polak and I announced a new initiative focused on maintaining the preeminence of Yale’s faculty. It included an incremental $26 million to be spent over the next five years. There has been so much interest and excitement about this initiative that we have decided to increase the funding to $50 million for the five-year period. As we noted in our original announcement, some of these resources will be devoted to the outstanding faculty already at our university. This includes some immediate salary adjustments in certain areas of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences where we need to be more competitive. Resources will also be used for a university-wide fund to help recruit truly transformative faculty members. We want to encourage and enable schools and departments to pursue the most distinguished scholars in their fields, the faculty members who will help diversify our campus, change the world, and inspire students and scholars within and beyond our university.

This new investment complements and builds on the success of the Faculty Excellence and Diversity Initiative, which is now in its third year. The $50 million, five-year initiative underscores the university’s commitment to building a more diverse faculty on all dimensions and to improving the academic pipeline. In the last three years, we have recruited sixty-five faculty members, welcomed thirty-four Presidential Visiting Fellows, supported forty-five incoming Ph.D. students, and provided competitive research awards to forty additional Ph.D. students. Both of these initiatives will enrich our community in myriad ways, including advancing academic excellence and enhancing the diversity of our faculty across campus.

This fall, Yale made changes to some of the faculty parental leave policies—improving the balance between work and life. These changes increased and simplified benefits under the policies. They also provide more flexibility for families caring for new children. These updates support faculty excellence and development, equity, and inclusion.

Over the last year, faculty committees have been soliciting feedback from around the university and deliberating about Yale’s academic priorities. The University Science Strategy Committee, chaired by Scott Strobel, assessed where Yale can lead in science and engineering and released its report in June. After considering all the perspectives and suggestions I have received in writing or in person at one of the town hall meetings, I accepted the committee’s recommendations. Peter Schiffer is collaborating with colleagues to plan and lead the implementation of the recommendations. Last month, Ben and I shared the report of the Advisory Committee on the Future of the Jackson Institute, chaired by Judy Chevalier. The committee examined the focus and scope of the Jackson Institute. We are now gathering viewpoints across campus, planning town hall meetings for January, and considering the committee’s recommendations. Notably, both committees’ reports highlighted faculty excellence and recommended building on Yale’s strengths by bringing together scholars from different disciplines and making transformative hires. The USSC underscored the importance of supporting faculty members in developing leadership skills, and the Jackson committee recommended that “we should strive for excellence in faculty appointments” and “emphasize intellectual rigor and a balance of theory and practice.”

In June, we announced the establishment of the Tobin Center for Economic Policy to foster evidence-based, cross-disciplinary research to define and inform policy debates. The Tobin Center illustrates our commitment to tackling pressing policy issues, such as poverty and health care, through data-intensive research and education. The center will provide resources for faculty research; bring students, faculty, and visiting experts together; and inform policy decisions and practice. Fundraising for the center’s building is complete, and we expect to break ground by early 2020. The inaugural director for the center, Steven Berry, David Swensen Professor of Economics, exemplifies excellence in research and teaching.

This year, we have recruited a number of renowned faculty members, from modern and contemporary art to computer science, from economics to oncology. Larry Gladney will be joining us in January as professor of physics and the dean of diversity and faculty development for the Faculty of Arts and Sciences. This semester, Stephanie Wiles, the new Henry J. Heinz II Director of the Yale University Art Gallery, began working with faculty members across campus to further connect the arts to Yale’s other academic efforts. In the coming months, we will have many occasions to welcome new members to our community, as searches are happening all over campus. The FAS, for example, is conducting eighty-seven ladder searches this academic year, and the medical school currently has 245 open positions.

Finally, I want to congratulate our colleagues who received recognition for their accomplishments since my last academic update. William Nordhaus was awarded the 2018 Nobel Prize in Economics for transforming our understanding of the costs of environmental degradation and change. The Lasker Foundation honored Joan Steitz for her groundbreaking research on RNA and enduring dedication to mentoring women scientists. Hee Oh won the 2018 Ho-Am Prize in Science for her contributions to the field of homogeneous dynamics. Gregg Gonsalves earned a MacArthur Fellowship for his dedication to improving public health and advancing human rights. Reva Siegel was elected to the American Philosophical Society. David Hafler was elected to the National Academy of Medicine, and the National Academy of Engineering elected Mark Saltzman to join its ranks. Six Yale faculty members were elected to the National Academy of Sciences: David Bercovici, Igor Frenkel, Akiko Iwasaki, Haifan Lin, David Schatz, and Günter Wagner. Three of our colleagues were elected to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences: John Collins, Haifan Lin, and Gerald Shulman.

Our emphasis on faculty excellence not only benefits our students, but also our society. In the years ahead, we will continue to support and strengthen our faculty—its diversity and its engagement with the world through outstanding research, teaching, preservation, and practice.

Sincerely,

Peter Salovey
President
Chris Argyris Professor of Psychology