UP CLOSE | ‘It’s hard to sustain your love for Yale when you feel like Yale doesn’t love you back’: Yale’s ‘second-class citizens’
Interviews with instructional faculty at Yale revealed a position that fares better than the national picture — but with much that can be improved.
On Oct. 23, 2020, Faculty of Arts and Sciences administrators sent an email to faculty in preparation for the spring semester that, among other resources offered, noted that faculty could request audio-visual kits, tablets, cameras, microphones, external monitors and more in order to complement their remote teaching. But not all faculty were eligible. Rather, the ability to obtain these materials was initially only extended to just ladder faculty and full-time, multi-year instructional faculty and not to single-year instructional faculty.
Instructional faculty, or faculty who are not eligible for tenure, comprise approximately 30 percent of professors in Yale’s FAS and are known by the titles lecturer, senior lecturer and senior lecturer II or, for language faculty, lector and senior lector I/II. Instructional faculty often teach introductory courses, such as English 114, and comprise a large portion of language departments. To students, the title might be the extent of the difference. But, like the October email demonstrates, the discrepancies can run much deeper.
“[People would] say, ‘You made it, you teach at Yale.’ Well, even though I teach at Yale, I haven’t made it. I’m still working semester to semester, with no benefits, no health insurance, no job security. They pay you much better than they do at other universities, but teaching a course at Yale is still not a living. In my position, I very rarely got to teach more than one course at a time. I was scrounging for other opportunities at other places.”
—An anonymous former humanities lecturer who was hired on a semester contract and paid per course.
Beyond the number of instructional faculty — which, according to Yale’s Office of Institutional Research, totals 352 for 2020-21 if excluding visiting faculty — Yale does not publicly break down that number to differentiate between instructional faculty on multi-year versus single-year contracts. Kathryn Lofton, FAS dean of humanities, estimates that, of the approximately 200 instructional faculty members in the humanities according to OIR, around half of them are on yearly contracts — making them initially ineligible for the additional technological assistance.
On October 28, a revised version of the email was sent out, this time with a specific section dedicated to instructional faculty with single-year appointments. But their initial exclusion was never addressed, which, faculty told the News, points to a pattern of larger neglect by the University. In this case, instructional faculty on multi-year contracts were placed on the same level as ladder faculty. But when it comes to benefits, department support, job security, salaries and more, that is often not the case, faculty also said.
Interviews with 61 instructional faculty members, administrators and ladder faculty — ranging from lecturers working part time to senior lecturers and lectors II on five-year contracts — demonstrated an almost unanimous recognition that, when it comes to its treatment of instructional faculty, Yale is better than most other universities.
But instructional faculty members still described their position in comparison to tenured faculty as “second-class” — with four faculty using that specific phrasing — and raised concerns regarding arbitrary and opaque renewal processes, lack of a true promotion path, pervasive job insecurity, salary inequities across departments and against tenured counterparts, lack of respect from tenured faculty, lack of universal standard of inclusion across departments and lack of support from both departments and the larger university. Faculty also noted that, when progress in relation to instructional faculty is made, it is often uneven, benefitting multi-year instructional faculty much more than those on single-year or part-time contracts. Sixteen instructional faculty members requested anonymity due to fear of professional retaliation. Some are currently undergoing appointment renewals at the moment and others have previously felt as though their job security was threatened for speaking out.
“[People would] say, ‘You made it, you teach at Yale.’ Well, even though I teach at Yale, I haven’t made it,” said one anonymous former humanities lecturer who was hired on a semester contract and paid per course. “I’m still working semester to semester, with no benefits, no health insurance, no job security. They pay you much better than they do at other universities, but teaching a course at Yale is still not a living. In my position, I very rarely got to teach more than one course at a time. I was scrounging for other opportunities at other places.”
‘Nationally, it’s bleak.’
According to the American Association of University Professors 2020 report, the percentage of contingent faculty at universities increased by 25 percent from 1975 to the 2008 recession, ultimately comprising over two-thirds of total faculty.
Contingent faculty members — who are generally not eligible for tenure — allow universities to respond to shifting enrollment demands without making long-term commitments to the same faculty member for 40-plus years of their academic career, as tenure often requires.
Now, full-time tenured and tenure-track faculty make up less than one-third of the national academic labor force — the rest are part-time and full-time non-tenure track faculty.
But while this arrangement can be appealing to universities, allowing them to save money and resources while still delivering a quality education to students, it takes a toll on the instructors hired for the work — a toll that can also affect the students they teach, as some faculty noted.
“Nationally, it’s bleak,” one anonymous lector said.
Yale is, in many ways, better than its peers.
At Yale, according to statistics from the OIR, non-ladder faculty, which consists of both instructional and research faculty, comprise approximately 40 percent of the faculty in the FAS, much lower than the approximately 70 percent estimated nationally.
According to the AAUP report, the average per course salary for part-time instructors at private and independent schools is $4,217 — at Yale, part-time is considered less than three courses a semester — and, for full-time lecturers the average salary is around $77,000.
During the 2019-20 year, full-time lecturers at Yale received on average a salary of $89,043 according to OIR statistics across all Yale schools, which is tens of thousands of dollars better than the national average, but well below the tenure-track Yale average of $120,310 or tenured professor salary of, on average, $242,198. Gendler told the News that the minimum per course salary was recently raised to $11,000 from $9,000.
“Instructional faculty salaries are not publicly shared through the same sorts of formal systems that ladder faculty salaries are,” Tamar Gendler, dean of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences, told the News. “So it’s difficult to ascertain specifically, but I do know that when we look at the per course, instructional salaries at many of our peer institutions in Connecticut, ours are double or triple those per course fees.”
Yale’s per-course salary is almost triple the national private school average, according to Gendler.
“You can do okay with two courses [a semester],” an anonymous lector told the News. “Barely okay.”
Adjunct, non-ladder, instructional, contingent, oh my!
The term “instructional faculty” itself is the product of a 2017 FAS Senate report on “the Status, Pay and Conditions of Non-Ladder Faculty in FAS.” Previously, instructional faculty were called “non-ladder faculty,” a term that the report called “inimical to inclusion” due to its identification of instructional faculty by what they are not. Although the specific term “instructional faculty” was not proposed — they instead recommended that all Yale faculty be referred to as “faculty” — the committee did advise against the usage of the terms “non-ladder faculty,” “contingent faculty” and “adjunct faculty” to refer to faculty who are not eligible for tenure and therefore on contracts with a set expiration date.
Beyond a nomenclature change, the report also recommended better record-keeping on information related to instructional faculty, review of instructional faculty compensation, parental leave, better connections to Yale after retirement, teaching prizes for instructional faculty, conference funding, clear standards for voting in departmental faculty meetings, lunch privileges for all instructional faculty in the residential colleges, involvement in university governance and more.
In the past four or so years, some of those changes have been implemented. Additional teaching prizes for instructional faculty were added and, just this year, full-time instructional faculty became eligible for parental leave. Review of compensation and salary scales is also happening — though “not as fast as many would hope,” according to Shiri Goren, senior lector II and director of the Modern Hebrew Program.
Other changes have been implemented, but not for all instructional faculty.
Multi-year instructional faculty across departments are, for example, able to eat without paying out of pocket in the residential dining halls, allowing for another avenue of meeting with students and building community. Before the 2017 report was released, multi-year instructional faculty in the sciences were not eligible for the lunches like their humanities counterparts, a disparity that was rectified following the report’s release. Currently, though, the same privilege is not extended to those on a single-year or semester contracts.
“In the grand scheme of things, maybe it’s not so important, but it does sort of remind you who you are,” Terence Renaud, lecturer in history and the humanities program on a single-year renewable contract, told the News. “Especially back in in-person days when you would plan to have lunch with one of your tenured colleagues. And they would walk into the dining hall and they’d swipe through for their free lunch. And then they’re asking why you’ve got your credit card.”
Ruth Koizim, senior lector in French, has been a long-time advocate for the rights of instructional faculty since she began teaching at Yale over 35 years ago. Lunchtime benefits was just one of many issues that she personally fought for on behalf of instructional faculty; others include parental leave, membership on University committees and voting privileges at Yale College faculty meetings.
On the issue of lunches in the residential college, she said that she’s “looking forward” to being able to partake in dining hall interactions again, a victory that she called “fairly new.” But she also noted her frustration with how long it took for multi-year instructional faculty to become eligible.
“Now when you’re earning close to $150,000 a year, I’m going to go out on a limb and say maybe you don’t need the free lunch quite as much as somebody who’s making 50,” Koizim said.
“In the grand scheme of things, maybe it’s not so important, but it does sort of remind you who you are. Especially back in in-person days when you would plan to have lunch with one of your tenured colleagues. And they would walk into the dining hall and they’d swipe through for their free lunch. And then they’re asking why you’ve got your credit card.”
—Terence Renaud, lecturer in history and the humanities program on a single-year renewable contract
Varying levels of departmental inclusion
Other recommended changes have not been implemented at all. For one, faculty gave wildly differing accounts of departmental inclusion.
In Goren’s department, the Department of Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations, for example, there is a large number of instructional faculty. Since joining Yale in 2006, she has been invited and able to participate in departmental meetings.
“I wasn’t aware that there was any other option,” she said. “I was amazed to find out that other departments are not as inclusive.”
Benjamin Foster, professor of Assyriology and Babylonian literature, told the News that, in his department, language faculty are considered on the same level as those who are ladder faculty and, though they were not required to attend faculty meetings, “NELC department chairs, like me, welcomed their attendance, input and friendship.”
According to computer science lecturer Scott Petersen, his department recently began holding all-faculty meetings. Though the English Department does not have all-faculty meetings, there are now regular meetings with instructional faculty and the department chair and, according to Jessica Brantley, department chair of English, instructional faculty are able to vote on appointments at their own rank or below.
But Renaud said that he has never been invited to a Humanities Department faculty meeting and, though he is sometimes invited to history meetings, he is not allowed to vote. Math instructional faculty are “mostly” not able to attend and vote, according to an anonymous lecturer, unless the topic explicitly pertains to issues regarding them.
And, because departments still have wide latitude in how they choose to include instructional faculty and integrate them into the larger academic community, responses to the question of whether or not instructional faculty felt supported by their department varied wildly.
And some faculty, like an anonymous senior lecturer, told the News that inclusion of instructional faculty can only go so far.
Their inclusion in faculty meetings, while appearing “open or democratic,” cannot actually foster a healthy debate culture, she said.
“If a whole bunch of people are afraid to speak up, that’s a disservice,” she added. “Self-governance only works if everyone has the same voice.”
Road to nowhere
Beyond varying departmental levels of inclusion, instructional faculty also told the News that the lack of job security is a constant source of stress, particularly for those on single-year contracts. Some suggested that, although they are not on the tenure track, the University should still implement a method of permanent employment.
Instructional faculty can be hired on a number of contracts, ranging from one semester to five years — the latter one is “less common,” according to John Mangan, dean of faculty affairs. Unlike Harvard University, where most instructional faculty can only be hired for a maximum of eight years, Yale has no cap on the renewal of contracts. Timothy Robinson, lecturer in English, for example, has had a combination of semester and single-year contracts that have been continually renewed since he began teaching at Yale over 25 years ago.
Mangan wrote to the News in an email that “the duration of an instructional faculty appointment is typically determined by the FAS Dean’s Office in consultation with the relevant department chair, with curricular need being the main point of consideration.”
Instructional faculty are not on the “ladder,” and therefore not afforded the job security given to their tenured and tenure-track colleagues. While their contracts are, for the most part, renewable — though this is not always the case, as evidenced by the three-year, nonrenewable position in math as a Gibbs assistant professor — Yale is under no obligation to renew.
“The single greatest detractor to being a lecturer at Yale is the uncertainty of not knowing if you’d have a contract in however many years,” computer science lecturer Petersen told the News.
Petersen was one of a few instructional faculty who was up for contract renewal when Yale instituted their initial hiring freeze at the beginning of the pandemic and, as a result, ended up receiving a one-year contract when his department voted for him to receive a multi-year one. Petersen did, however, fare better than some instructional faculty, whose contracts were not renewed at all.
“The single greatest detractor to being a lecturer at Yale is the uncertainty of not knowing if you’d have a contract in however many years. ”
—Scott Petersen, computer science lecturer
But even so, the initial hiring at the single-year level left Petersen ineligible for some benefits that he was expecting to receive with a multi-year contract, such as the ability to apply for a professional development leave, which is a semester-long leave for instructional faculty unavailable to those on a single-year contract.
Ultimately, Petersen received both the one-year contract and an additional contract renewal for three years. But he still found it “upsetting” that he was initially considered expendable.
“Flexibility shouldn’t come at the expense of teaching faculty, who make up an infinitesimal proportion of the overall budget,” Petersen said.
Gendler told the News that the FAS offered a position to everyone whose contract would have been renewed “under ordinary circumstances.” In some cases, she said, those contracts were originally renewed only for a single year.
However, Gendler added that those faculty were ultimately provided with the multi-year renewal contract that they had expected.
“We were in a situation of uncertainty, and we operated on that basis,” Gendler said.
“It’s hard to sustain your love for Yale when you feel like Yale doesn’t love you back, and you cannot count on the institution for having the same level of commitment to you that you bring to your work.”
—An anonymous senior lecturer
Petersen was not alone in expressing frustration with a general feeling of devaluement by the University — more than three-fourths of the faculty interviewed for this story also indicated that job insecurity was a large concern for them.
While there are some faculty such as Walter Shapiro, lecturer in political science, who is a full-time journalist outside of his teaching at Yale, there are others for whom teaching is their main job and are especially vulnerable to the lack of a stable position. While this is to an extent relevant to all instructional faculty, it is especially “precarious” for those on single-year contracts, an anonymous senior lecturer told the News.
“A lot of teaching rests on their shoulders,” she said. “Instructional faculty are no less committed to their students or their craft than ladder faculty. But feeling like a casual employee chronically vulnerable to microaggressions from tenured colleagues and the fear of not being reappointed wears you out, gets in the way of how you feel about the institution. It’s hard to sustain your love for Yale when you feel like Yale doesn’t love you back, and you cannot count on the institution for having the same level of commitment to you that you bring to your work.”
To combat that precariousness, she suggested increased resources for career and professional development for instructional faculty, such as pathways for promotion and support for research and publication. For instructional faculty who have taught at Yale for decades, she added that there should be a pathway to permanent employment and options for continuing intellectual work after retirement.
There are some faculty who, by nature of their work — such as playwrights or creative writers — will never be eligible for tenure, which focuses on research output.
Deborah Margolin, a professor in the practice of theater and performance studies, told the News that “it’s disappointing that the kind of work we do in teaching artistic practice is not valued in the same way that criticism is. That those who critique art are valued above those who make it.” Professors in the practice such as Margolin, are “distinguished practitioners” in their field, according to the Yale Faculty Handbook.
An anonymous lecturer in English echoed those sentiments, saying that “there has been an ongoing conversation” regarding the employment of creative writers at Yale which, she added, was not currently “commensurate with the way writers of stature are employed elsewhere.”
“I published five books, but without a Ph.D., I’m not eligible to even be an associate or assistant professor,” she said. “And it’s the same for my colleagues who are extremely well-known creative writers.”
Brantley, chair of the English Department, told the News that she is aware of concerns from artist-faculty regarding a lack of recognition and value of their “extraordinary work.”
Instructional faculty without the artist designation felt similarly.
“Anyone with a Ph.D. should be hired into a minimum two-year position with some kind of possibility for longer-term employment,” Renaud told the News. He added that, because of the state of the job market — at the same time that the amount of tenure track positions is decreasing, the number of doctoral students searching for jobs often dwarfs the positions available — there is “no guarantee” that instructional faculty whose contracts are not renewed would be able to find another job.
“Some universities tried a teaching assistant professor rank on a tenure track,” Renaud said. “I would love to have something like that.”
Gendler told the News that the category of instructional faculty is separate from those of tenure-track faculty. While instructional faculty are often “extraordinary instructors who teach extraordinary courses,” Gendler noted that hiring people as instructional faculty lets the University hire teachers even if they have not published research that “significantly extends the horizons of their discipline,” which is the requirement for being hired as a member of the FAS tenure-track faculty.
A path to promotion — in name only
There are currently three ranks within the lecturer and lector category of instructional faculty. Lecturer, senior lecturer, and senior lecturer II — the same exists for lectors. The third one was added recently to address concerns regarding a lack of a true path to promotion, but faculty told the News that, unlike any of the promotions that happen to those on the tenure-track, there is not a substantial difference from one title to another.
“There is a promotion to senior lecturer, but it has very few practical consequences,” one anonymous lecturer in STEM told the News. “There is a standard raise that is pretty small. Your contract might go from three to five years, or not. As far as what actually happens, I would say it’s not much.”
Karen von Kunes, added that, as a senior lector in Slavic languages and literatures, she has “no possibility of promotion, despite having published books and articles in linguistic and literary criticism.”
And, even though the promotion process and metrics are outlined online — the committees responsible for the process expect teaching experience, work in committees, high academic degrees and more — faculty still found the process to be “veiled,” as described by one anonymous lecturer, and highly variable by department.
The lecturer who called the promotion process “veiled” added that it was also a “labyrinth” that every individual instructor is left to their own devices to figure out, “in the face of real sort of institutional resistance to being transparent.”
“I was never told why or how these decisions were made,” she said. “Like I felt that there was a system in place that was only ever being revealed on a very, very limited need to know basis.”
Renaud echoed these sentiments, similarly telling the News that the evaluation process is “opaque” and that he cannot tell if his peers are evaluated in the same way as he is.
“There’s just that general feeling of really not knowing the situation of my peers and not knowing what I can do to get hired again,” Renaud said. “It’s kind of just completely up to the arbitrary personal whims of who your chair is and … the teaching needs of various academic units. And that’s frustrating. It makes it difficult to plan for the future.”
Gendler told the News that the senior lecturer position was intended to act as a path for promotion in response to the concern that instructional faculty “excellence wasn’t being fully recognized by the existing titles.” The senior lecturer II position, she said, is “for our most distinguished instructional faculty.”
She also reiterated that the appointment and promotion procedures for each rank can be found in the Faculty Handbook.
“I’m a fairly late career writer with a national profile. Not to like blow my own horn, but I’ve often thought, ‘Wow, if I feel this way, how does the instructional faculty member just starting out who maybe hasn’t had their first major publication feel?’”
—An anonymous lecturer
A pervasive lack of respect
Even those who reach the top of Yale’s instructional faculty promotion path told the News that they can be treated as inferior to their tenured and tenure-track counterparts.
Due to her title and rank, von Kunes was deprived of some professional opportunities, such as being hired as a tenure-track professor at another university. She also told the News that, at Yale, it is rare that the faculty and graduate students would seek her advice because, “like all other lectors,” she is viewed as a language instructor without having higher qualifications and accomplishments.
“Everyone in our rank has experienced humiliating situations,” she said.
In feeling undervalued by academic colleagues due to her rank, von Kunes is not alone. Faculty told the News that they feel a pervasive lack of respect from either the ladder faculty around them or the University as a whole — sometimes both.
One anonymous lector told the News that this lack of value often manifests itself quantitatively, through the lack of support to do research, lack of funding to travel for conferences, inability to sit on various committees and salary inequities between them and ladder faculty.
“To be quite honest, as instructional faculty you are often made to feel like less valuable, worth less,” she added.
Another anonymous lecturer agreed, saying in an interview with the News that Yale fails to convey to instructional faculty that they are valued.
She added, “I’m a fairly late career writer with a national profile. Not to like blow my own horn, but I’ve often thought, ‘Wow, if I feel this way, how does the instructional faculty member just starting out who maybe hasn’t had their first major publication feel?’”
Yale to the rescue (kind of)
These issues are not new, as the FAS Senate report and long-time instructional faculty advocates such as Koizim demonstrate. Although substantial progress has been made, other solutions have been slow to arrive.
An instructional faculty working group founded in October 2020, co-chaired by Lofton and Mangan, seeks to rectify some of these longstanding issues and “make Yale a place where the quality and circumstances of instructional faculty are a model for other universities to follow,” said Lofton and Mangan in an email to the group announcing its mission.
The committee is working to issue a report, ideally by the end of the 2021 fall semester, with actions and recommendations. One goal, Lofton said, was to reduce the number of one-year contracts, so that the majority of instructional faculty held multi-year appointments.
Because Yale does not publicly document the breakdown of types of contracts for instructional faculty, either by division or FAS-wide, the committee is also working to compile those statistics, as well as information on the race and ethnicity and gender of instructional faculty. There is currently no public data related to the genders and races and ethnicities of solely instructional faculty — the only available data combines all non-ladder faculty, which includes research faculty.
“Because there are so many different kinds of instructional faculty, organizing data about them is much harder than it is for ladder faculty or Yale College students,” Lofton wrote in an email to the News. “My hope is our report will give an update on these precise data questions … so that we can begin to establish more public benchmarking about instructional faculty.”
Goren, who is also on the committee, added that, while they will ultimately produce a set of recommendations to encourage Yale to carry out, what is more important is “the articulation of values and principles on how our institution should understand and work with instructional faculty” which would “hopefully” provide a more long-term set of ethics and a road map to serve the University for “years to come.”
And, although the committee will not release its report until around half a year in the future, some changes regarding contractual concerns have already been made.
Brantley, chair of the English Department, told the News that the English Department — which houses the largest FAS concentration of instructional faculty, in part due to the instructional English courses — has converted “a number” of short-term contracts into multi-year contracts and is also making a concerted effort to involve instructional faculty in department governance so that they can be more involved with the department’s community.
“While we are trying to find some common ground to set benchmarks for best practices, I think it’s important also to recognize how valuably different their appointments can be, and to respect the differences in the work they do,” she added of her membership in the working group.
“And if there’s not a strong foundation … things crumble.”
—Sybil Alexandrov, senior lector II of Spanish
Better than most … but not good enough
Though most instructional faculty expressed concern or frustration with their position, it was almost universally acknowledged that, in comparison to other universities, their conditions are much better.
“In spite of all the disadvantages within the lector rank, Yale provides an exciting and intellectually stimulating academic environment with excellent students and a variety of opportunities of contributing to Yale and its residential colleges, and that fact alone is important to me,” von Kunes wrote in a follow-up email to the News.
But faculty also told the News that Yale should — and, as Kim Shirkhani, lecturer in English, said, “can afford to” — do more.
An anonymous English lecturer added that Yale tends to “cherry pick” when they choose to be innovative. For tenured faculty, he said, Yale wants to be the best. But when it comes to how they treat instructional faculty, Yale is often content being part of the pack.
“I feel like Yale does better than most institutions but … the bar is pretty low and Yale almost never compares itself to every other university. Except in this kind of situation.”
And Sybil Alexandrov, senior lector II of Spanish, told the News that this lack of attention towards instructional faculty can have major consequences.
Instructional faculty, she said, often teach the courses that lay the foundation for ladder faculty’s classes, which people can forget.
“And if there’s not a strong foundation,” she added, “things crumble.”