Women Faculty Forum honors champion for instructional faculty

The Women Faculty Forum last month recognized Yale lector Sybil Alexandrov with its Elga R. Wasserman Courage, Clarity, and Leadership Award.
Sybil Alexandrov

Sybil Alexandrov (Photos by Dan Renzetti)

A few years ago, Sybil Alexandrov, a senior lector II in the Yale Faculty of Arts and Sciences’ (FAS) Department of Spanish and Portuguese, had some questions about the university’s child-rearing relief policies.

At the time, in most schools across the university, ladder faculty were eligible for a full semester of paid teaching relief after the birth of a child, while instructional faculty were eligible for up to eight weeks of paid leave.

I just couldn’t see that it made sense,” Alexandrov said recently. “People give birth in the same way.”

When Alexandrov joined the FAS-SEAS [School of Engineering & Applied Science] Advisory Faculty Senate in 2017, her first priority was to explore the possibility of a new policy. Three years later, Yale instituted a policy that provides fulltime non-ladder instructional faculty with the same teaching relief for childrearing as their ladder faculty counterparts. (The policy applies to faculty in the Faculty of Arts and Sciences and the professional schools except for the Schools of Medicine and Public Health, which have their own separate policies.)

Frankly, it was a surprise to me,” Alexandrov said. “It was a very moving experience to me to hear it announced.”

The Women Faculty Forum (WFF) last month recognized Alexandrov’s service with its Elga R. Wasserman Courage, Clarity, and Leadership Award. Established in 2021, the award is presented annually by the WFF leadership to a member of the faculty or staff who has shown commitment to “building equity, diversity, and inclusion” and has “excelled in articulating and advancing the highest aspirations” of the Yale community.

Wasserman, one of the earliest and fiercest champions for women’s inclusion at Yale, served as special assistant to the president for the education of women under Kingman Brewster from 1969 to 1973.

Alexandrov began teaching at Yale as a lector in 1997. In 2011, she was awarded the Richard H. Brodhead Prize for Teaching Excellence by Non-Ladder Faculty, and in 2015, was promoted to senior lector II.

During a six-year term on the FAS-SEAS Senate, she worked with faculty colleagues and administrators from across campus to identify ways that the university could maximize its educational mission by providing support to instructional faculty in a number of areas, including salary support, professional development, child care support, and phased retirement.

Sybil Alexandrov being applauded by award ceremony attendees.

Alexandrov’s efforts to draw attention to these issues drew support from colleagues in positions of leadership — including Kathryn Lofton, the FAS dean of humanities, who convened the FAS’s Instructional Faculty Working Group.

Sybil used her powerful voice to make her colleagues’ lives better,” Lofton observed. “She set a compass for how to build a better Yale for instructional faculty.”

Over time, collective efforts by faculty, administrators, and staff from across the FAS and the university have led to a host of policy changes, many of which are documented in a report of the Instructional Faculty Working Group and on the Faculty Development and Diversity website.

Rebecca Toseland, a senior lecturer in Yale’s Department of Economics, served alongside Alexandrov on the FAS-SEAS Faculty Advisory Senate Committee on Instructional Faculty and Academic Support. That work offered Toseland a front-row seat to Alexandrov’s “steadfast and tireless commitment” to advancing the status of Yale’s instructional faculty members, she told an audience at the WFF’s annual reception on Oct. 3, when Alexandrov was presented the Wasserman award.

Sybil has focused her efforts on a wide range of issues of importance to instructional faculty including fair compensation, benefits, job security, promotion and renewal, and department and university-wide support, respect, and recognition,” Toseland said.

In recent years, the FAS dean’s office, in response to conversations between faculty and university leaders, has implemented a series of policy advances that support FAS and SEAS instructional faculty. FAS expanded the offering of subsidized lunches in the Yale residential colleges to include full-time instructional faculty, increased the minimum course rate for instructional faculty, and created new programming designed specifically for instructional faculty.

Meanwhile, the provost’s office has announced advances for instructional faculty across the FAS and professional schools, including expanded child-rearing leave and short-term medical disability benefits, a three-year phased retirement initiative for certain term-limited faculty members, and expanded eligibility criteria for emeritus status.

Other recent enhancements for all faculty across the university include an annual child care subsidy, also available to managerial and professional staff and postdocs, and an increase in the Child Scholarship Plan for Faculty and Staff.

Faculty colleagues of the Women’s Faculty Forum, the Committee on the Status of Women in Medicine, and the FAS-SEAS Senate along with Yale’s WorkLife staff provided critical guidance as we developed these enhancements,” said Scott Strobel, Yale’s provost. “I’m grateful to Sybil and other partners for their counsel to the provost’s office. Their input helped us make meaningful and long-lasting changes to support the well-being of faculty, staff, and postdocs.”

There’s been a huge change in the last four or five years,” Alexandrov said. “It takes time to figure out how to make these things work. Being in conversation with deans while in the Senate made me understand that sometimes there is a reason for things to happen slowly.”

Stephanie Spangler, Sybil Alexandrov, Nina Stachenfeld, and Akiko Iwasaki
Sybil Alexandrov (center left) and Women Faculty Forum Chair Nina Stachenfeld (center right) with previous award winners Stephanie Spangler (far left) and Akiko Iwasaki (far right).

Alexandrov received her Wasserman award during a ceremony, hosted by the Women Faculty Forum, in the Presidents Room at the Yale Schwarzman Center. She also received a framed poster of a portrait of Wasserman by artist Brenda Zlamany. The portrait was recently installed at the Bass Library.

The two previous recipients of the Wasserman award — Dr. Stephanie Spangler, vice provost for health affairs and academic integrity and a clinical professor in the Yale School of Medicine’s Department of Obstetrics, Gynecology, and Reproductive Services; and Akiko Iwasaki, the Sterling Professor of Immunobiology and professor of dermatology and of molecular, cellular, and developmental biology and of epidemiology — were also present.

Notably, this is the first time the Wasserman award has been presented to a member of the instructional faculty. That, Alexandrov said, makes the honor especially meaningful.

To me, it means inclusion,” she said. “Not of me, but of instructional faculty. It means respect.”

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