On the 10th floor of the Ezra Stiles Tower, Bassam Frangieh's suite is always full of students, pounding down whiskey and retelling stories of the day's classes. Frangieh himself is known for his masterful kegstands. He is a typical Yalie—except that he is a senior lector of Arabic in the Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations department.
So when two weeks ago, Frangieh made the announcement in his Introductory Arabic class that he would leave Yale next year to take on a tenured post at the University of Delaware, his students were shocked. "Everyone was absolutely outraged," Arabic student Amanda Elbogen, CC '07, said. "His approach to teaching is unparalleled. He's known internationally for being the absolute best first-year Arabic professor."
Considering Fran-gieh's wide reknown, impressive collection of published works, and sheer dedication to building an Arabic language program from scratch at Yale, many students were shocked that the school would let him go. But the administration's decision was not an isolated event. Rather, it is official policy for the university to deny its langauge instructors the opportunity for tenure. These teachers follow a separate track starting as a lector and then moving on to senior lector, currently the highest position which a language instructor can hold.
"One is essentially a research track and one is a teaching track," Deputy Provost Charles Long said, explaining that only the research track is a "ladder" to tenure. According to Long, excellence in teaching is the main requirement and expectation of lectors. They do not need to have engaged in substantive original research before being hired, nor do they need to have earned an M.A. or Ph.D. They also do not have a publishing requirement, unlike assistant professors on the ladder track.
However, most senior lectors nowadays have Ph.D.s and engage in research. They also teach courses in addition to language instruction classes. Nevertheless, university policy makes a distinction between the kind of research that makes one eligible for tenure and that which does not. Long explained that the works published by most language lectors—those which advance effective methods of language instruction, for example—do not match the research and publishing expectations of tenure track professors. "I would call it a scholarly endeavor, [but] it doesn't necessarily involve research," he said.
In turn, the university holds that these publishing efforts do not qualify foreign language instructors for tenure. "It might well be someone who has put together things that they've experienced in their class. It could certainly be a matter of publication, but it still wouldn't be the same as the kind of original research that is currently required for a ladder faculty department," Long said. "The major difference is whether it advances the scholarship of the field or whether it advances the state of language pedagogy."
Yale's refusal to offer tenure to language professors creates a relatively transitory language staff. As with many other language departments, the Arabic department has been dominated by teachers hired on a temporary, one-year contract. Some students in the department are frustrated with the constant change, saying that it defeats the purpose of a coherent, structured program.
Long asserts that there are very practical reasons for refusing to create tenured positions in language instruction. "The demand and need for foreign languages tends to fluctuate," he said. "You can't grow a tenured faculty with this much responsiveness to students needs as you can a non-laddered faculty." And while Long acknowledges that most languages do not necessarily die out in a lifetime, he said that Yale's current system of reappointing senior language lectors has proved successful in the past.
In fact, the administration offered to appoint Frangieh to a newly created position of "Senior Lector II," a post that would offer five-year renewable contracts instead of three, as well as a slightly higher salary. "These senior lectors would be involved in creating workshops, developing new courses, and sometimes publishing material or textbooks directly related to the pedagogy of language instruction," Long said. "They're showing leadership and creativity and imagination and initiative in developing programs for the teaching of language."
However, Frangieh fears the new position would not offer the types of freedoms he had hoped to enjoy. "I accepted [the job at Yale] based on promises that my position will be changed to be an assistant professor, and that I would be offering courses in Arabic languages and literatures—my specialty," Frangieh said. "It's not enough to teach the language, because you open so many cans, and these cans," he said, pointing to the students gathered in his apartment, "They have to be filled with something good." While Frangieh was frustrated that these promised changes failed to materialize, he acknowledged that the assurances were only communicated verbally to him.
Senior Lector of German Howard Stern argues that the university should value instructors like Frangieh who can integrate a broader academic context into their language courses. "Language teaching that's not connected to the art of language, which is poetry, or to the science of language, which is linguistics, is not worthy of university credit—that's for Berlitz," he said, referring to a do-it-yourself language learning program.
Both Frangieh and his students assert that the issue goes beyond the tenure policy per se. "It's less about the tenure position and more about what that position would enable Bassam to do," Arabic student Julia Huang, JE '08, said. "You can't expect a man like him, who has a daughter in college, to hold a senior lector position," Elbogen added. "It's not stable, it's not very remunerative, and it's not fair to one of the best professors at this school who has a lot of ideas to expand the Arabic program, especially in a school that claims to care so much about languages—about encouraging us to care about other places in the world." As such, she said, "I expect Yale to match the offer of the University of Delaware."
The administration, though, remains firm on its policies. "[Frangieh] will certainly be a great loss to Yale because he is one of our most successful and highly regarded senior lectors," Long said. "If we were a college, if the faculty was primarily charged with the teaching of our students, I suppose we could [tenure language teachers]. We don't promote people who are not good teachers, but we make the assumption that for a permanent position on a research faculty, people who are creating the knowledge ought to be the people who are teaching the knowledge."
Many students, however, are not ready to give up. "There are ways to maneuver the situation so a viable solution can be found," Elbogen said. "While I do understand that the track system is in place and I don't expect the university to uproot its whole system, I do expect it to uphold a certain standard of education and to listen to the voices of its students."
Frangieh's students hope their teacher's case can illuminate a larger weakness with Yale's tenure policies. "This case, which is such a clear case and such a powerful case, is also about greater issues," Elbogen added. "Hopefully by focusing on Bassam, it will shed light on greater problems that exist within the university that the university should address."
Despite Frangieh's disappointment with Yale's policy, the decision to leave for the University of Delaware was not an easy one. "I stayed [at Yale] for 12 years because I enjoyed my students," he said. "I really couldn't bear to tell them that I was leaving. I was going to tell them on the last day. I didn't want to become emotional."