Yale: A Short History

The Government of the Faculty
Undergraduate view of the great room in Alumni Hall where from 1853 students were individually examined for admission, and later examined also in their course work
The Brick Row
  "A Front VIEW of YALE-COLLEGE, and the COLLEGE CHAPEL, in New-Haven.

A compendious History of Yale-College, and a general Account of the Course of Studies pursued by the Students"
  Connecticut Hall and the first Chapel in 1786 (after the original "Yale College" was torn down). The students are shown uncovering for President Stiles



The completed Row (c.1830) showing Union Hall (later South College), the first Chapel (now Atheneum), Connecticut (South Middle), Lyceum, Berkeley Hall (Noah Middle), second Chapel, and North College.
Not shown at right, Divinity College; on the Green, an early game of football

  The seniors on their Fence facing Chapel Street (1872)
Jeremiah Day, Theodore Dwight Woolsey and
Benjamin Silliman on Commencement Day, 1860.

"The Board, in whose hands the ultimate and highest
decision rests, have ever felt that their interference,
without the request of the officers of instruction, in the
study and order of the institution, would be uncalled for
and unwise; that independent, unsolicited action on their
part would amount to a censure of the faculties, and
would lead to discord and confusion. With scarcely an
exception, no law has been passed, no officer
appointed, unless after full consultation and exchange of
views between the boards of control and of instruction.
And hence, if there are defects in our system, the faculties
are, as they ought to be, mainly responsible; if an
inefficient or unfaithful officer comes into a chair of
instruction, the faculties, who know him best, and not the
corporation, are to bear whatever censure is justly due. I
hope that this may always continue."

Theodore Dwight Wooisey speaking at the inauguration
of President Noah Porter, 1871

The government of the faculty

    The management of Yale has also been notable for two special characteristics, of no small influence on American higher education. The original Trustees, being busy in their scattered towns and congregations, attended each solemn Commencement, but perforce left the winter's management of the institution to the early Rectors or Presidents. These magisterial authorities insisted upon a proper bowing respect from the graceless young scholars, but for much of the petty discipline naturally relied upon the resident bachelor Tutors.
So in the shadow of a nonresident legal Corporation there grew up a considerable practice of home-rule.
In 1795, with the coming of Timothy Dwight, this habit of participation was converted by the Corporation into a legal policy. Dwight appointed Jeremiah Day, B.A. 1795, Benjamin Silliman B.A. 1796, and James L. Kingsley, B.A. 1799, as his Professors and so achieved a new and more permanent Faculty with whom he could consult. Yet in practice his commanding personal influence, and "confident joy in the exercise of this gift," led him to handle student discipline personally, without much recourse to judgments by the Faculty.
Dwight's successor in the Presidency, Jeremiah Day (1817-46), had grown up under Dwight's influence, but also within the Faculty, and he lacked Dwight's instinct for command, so treated his professor friends as full partners. In turn, Theodore Dwight Woolsey (B.A. 1820, Tutor 1823 -25, Professor of the Greek Language and Literature 1831-51) perpetuated the system through the years 1846-71. From the habit of almost three generations, the "Government of the Faculty" developed into an established right, recognized by the Corporation, and guarded jealously by the Professors, or "Permanent Officers" of the College. As each new School or Department was added, it was given its own governing board, under a Dean or Director, perhaps of its own choosing. In Cambridge there came to be a saying that the Trustees ruled at Princeton, the President at Harvard, but at Yale it was the Faculty. Yale's scholar-managers even nominated and virtually appointed their own successors, until under President Hadley (1899-1921) it could be observed that "in the government of Yale College the Faculty legislates, the President concurs, and the Corporation ratifies."
Such power generated in the College Faculty an exceptional sense of responsibility for the welfare of the undergraduates, the reputation of the College, and the teaching character of their own membership. At the same time it fostered so much independence that, as colleges and state universities began to spring up in the Mississippi Valley, legislatures and church bodies alike copied Yale's system of nonresident Trustees or absentee legal authority much more readily than Yale's "Government of the Faculty." It is also true that, in the confederation of Yale's Schools, too much weight and authority in one member could injure the lesser departments; in fact Yale's oldest and greatest Faculty often acted as if the College was all that mattered at Yale. So in the Reorganization of 1919 some of this independence had to be curbed, and the College Faculty was to a degree interlocked with the other Faculties in the interest of a more harmonious University development.
  Frederick Sheetz Jones, Dean 1909-26. "Tyrannosaurus Superbus," as he was once called, was invited to Yale by the Permanent Officers while President Hadley was in Europe. He was a man's man, with a gruff manner, a bull of Bashan voice, but a warm heart and a great liking for boys

In the late 1960s the "Permanent Officers" of Yale College and the Graduate School were combined. And in 1970-71 a complete review of Yale's governance practices brought students and younger faculty from all the schools into representative positions on many major committees. Yet the beneficent impact of Day's confidence continues.
Yale's republican tradition still gives unusual energy and morale to its professors, raises the dignity of the scholar's office, and perhaps strengthens the independence of teaching faculties across the land. Another by-product of the Yale system of shared management has been a healthy retardation in the growth of the administrative bureaucracy. The first Dean of Yale College was not appointed until 1884 (and for twenty-five years his duties were largely disciplinary and secretarial). The first Provost or University educational officer did not appear until 1920. And even today the Deans and Directors occupy widely scattered offices, communicate more with their students and colleagues than is common in universities, and do business by telephone or at lunch or in chance street corner encounters. There being no great administrative center, they must move to see each other-so "they wear hiking boots not elevator shoes." And old inhabitants will tell you with a smile that the President's office is in Woodbridge Hall: the smallest building on the campus.

Back to Resources on Yale History

Contents | The Beginnings | Church and State | The Government of the Faculty | Teaching and Great Teachers | Course of Study
The College System | The Breed of Students | Residential Colleges-and Coeducation | The Making of the University | Recent Developments
Yale's Graduates and the Nation | Rectors and Presidents | Books about Yale | Factual and Statistical Data