LINGUIST List 3.46

Mon 20 Jan 1992

FYI: Update on Yale

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  1. Larry Horn, The Restructuring of Yale Linguistics

Message 1: The Restructuring of Yale Linguistics

Date: Sat, 18 Jan 92 13:23:09 ESThe Restructuring of Yale Linguistics
From: Larry Horn <LHORNYALEVM.YCC.Yale.Edu>
Subject: The Restructuring of Yale Linguistics

Last February, the Committee on Restructuring the Faculty of Arts and
Sciences at Yale was constituted and charged with reducing the size of the
Faculty as part of an overall plan to meet what has been claimed to be a
serious financial problem facing the university, caused in part by a
deteriorating physical plant that will demand the influx of over $100,000,000.
Originally 15% of all faculty positions were to be marked for elimination
(largely through attrition), but this figure was later scaled back to 10-12%.
It was held that by eliminating "weaker" departments entirely, crippling
across-the-board cuts could be avoided. Linguistics was identified as one of
the departments that might be selected for reduction, repositioning, or
elimination. The department, under my chairmanship, has spent the last
several months preparing documents, soliciting support internally and
externally, and making the case before the committee for the preservation of a
cohesive linguistics program, whether in an autonomous department or as a
program within a larger budgetary unit, as at Cornell, Brown, MIT, and
elsewhere. We stressed not only the rich and varied tradition in both histori-
cal/comparative and descriptive/theoretical linguistics at Yale, but also the
quality of the faculty and the students (both graduate and undergraduate) our
program has attracted and the actual and potential interactions between our
department and others, as well as the strong link between Yale and Haskins
Labs that linguists have helped establish and maintain. My sense is that
virtually none of this material made an impact on those with the power to
determine our future.
 In any case, after several delays, the Restructuring Committee released
its report this Thursday (January 16), recommending the elimination of two
departments, Linguistics and Operations Research. Other departments that had
been threatened with extinction were either downsized but preserved
(Sociology, Engineering) or left intact (Statistics). Philosophy, with five
vacant senior positions, was not affected; the committee found that "given the
University's strength in the Humanities, Yale needs a strong Philosophy
Department". Clearly, this reasoning was not applied to Linguistics. It
should also be noted that despite the earlier reasoning, virtually every
department in the Arts and Sciences WAS subjected to cuts, thereby calling
into question the rationale for eliminating some departments completely.
Further, the 10 junior-faculty-equivalent positions that are claimed to be
saved by eliminating Linguistics will only be saved once all current faculty
retire or leave; since senior faculty will be retained in other departments,
their relocation does not result in any savings. What WILL be saved are three
junior faculty positions (assuming that Yale University plans no coverage in
phonetics, phonology, morphology, or syntax) and the salary of our
administrative assistant.
 Why linguistics? Two reasons were given in the Committee's report. I
quote directly from the document:

 "The Yale Linguistics Deparment was founded on traditional strengths in
historical linguistics. Since the late 1960's, however, when the discipline
itself underwent significant change in its approaches to theoretical and
structural linguistics, the Yale department has had difficulty offering a
balanced program and attracting students."

I find these claims ludicrous, as must everyone who passed through Yale as
a student or faculty member in linguistics over the last two decades. Within
a program that has always been small, and that has become smaller as
retirees have not been replaced, we have consistently offered a wide spectrum
of courses in historical, experimental, and descriptive & theoretical
linguistics. It is hard to think of programs, even those much larger than
ours, that have been as balanced. (Perhaps it was felt that we overemphasize
human language, but no claim of speciesism was directly made.) Nor have we
experienced difficulty in attracting strong graduate students (from this
country and abroad) or top-rank undergraduate majors. It is quite possible,
of course, that these were not the actual reasons why the Committee "reached
consensus" in recommending that the Department of Linguistics be discontinued
and that no autonomous program associated with another department be
instituted. Our difficulty in completing senior searches has also been noted,
although recent cases include one in which an offer was made but not acted upon
because of spousal considerations not germane to Linguistics, and another in
which a search was suspended and then terminated by the adminstration. (The
Department also unanimously supported for tenure Donka Farkas, who after being
turned down through abstentions from members of the Humanities Appointments
Committee immediately received tenured offers from outstanding linguistics
programs at the University of Washington and U. C. Santa Cruz.) Other
departments at Yale with similar or more severe recruitment problems were not
penalized, at least not with the death penalty.
 As for the logistics, the phase-out will be gradual, and will not become
complete while the current first- and second-year graduate students are
still pursuing their degrees in residence here. As you know from my earlier
posting, we have been authorized to appoint a syntactician in a terminal
three-year slot to supervise student research and offer courses in linguistic
theory. We have been told that reappointments of our current junior faculty
members will be authorized through this period as well. By 1995 or 1996,
however, if the Committee's recommendations are approved unaltered by the Yale
Corporation, there will be no formal program of linguistics at Yale. Whether
or not an interdepartmental linguistics major can be offered will depend on
there being a quorum of linguists with sufficient resources and good will to
collaborate in organizing such a major. I am not optimistic that there will be.
 One last point: normally, before a university considers as drastic an
action as terminating a department, much less one with the traditional
excellence of the Yale Linguistics, it constitutes an ad hoc external
committee of scholars in the relevant discipline to examine the program and
provide objective assessments of its strengths and weaknesses and objective
recommendations for its future. This was not done in our case.
 You can write to me for further details. If you desire to express your
opinion on the recommendation of the Restructuring Committee, you can write to
the Provost (who is also the chair of the Committee) at the following address:
 Frank M. Turner, Provost
 117 HGS
 Yale University
 New Haven, CT 06520
Please send a copy of your letter to me:
 Laurence Horn
 Chair, Dept. of Linguistics
 1504A Yale Station
 Yale University
 New Haven, CT 06520

Faculty comment is solicited over the course of the next month, and we will be
urging Yale faculty outside our department to support the continuation of a
linguistics program at Yale. Outside letters, especially those from linguists
of those knowledgeable about linguistics who are situated outside linguistics
departments, would be useful to us in marshalling this support.
Articles on Restructuring at Yale in general, and its effect on Linguistics in
particular, have appeared in the New York Times (front page yesterday), Boston
Globe, Wall Street Journal, and are scheduled to appear in subsequent issues
of Time and of Science. While there is no reason for wild optimism, we remain
confident that there is a possibility that with properly reasoned and focused
objections, the Committee might modify its recommendations or, if not, that
the recommendations might not be endorsed by the Corporation. Stay tuned for
further developments.
 Larry Horn
P.S. While thanking Michael Covington for his support, I must admit to being
a generative grammarian, as well as to being a rather INformal semanticist.
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