One of the world's foremost authorities on modern China, associate professor of Government Ross G. Terrill, may have to leave Harvard next year because he did not receive an offer of tenure from the Government Department.
Terrill said yesterday he is saddened and surprised "because I would have thought in terms of teaching and publication I was not below the standards of those around me."
While Terrill and other members of the Government Department yesterday cited the abundance of faculty already tenured in Chinese government--there are two professors under the aegis of the Government Department--as an explanation for the department's decision, the reasons for not offering tenure to the Australian-born scholar appear to go far deeper.
As a member of the Government Department, a research fellow at the East Asian Research Center and a program director at the Center for International Affairs, Terrill said there is a problem "of my straggling fields in general--you pay a price to do things here and there."
Academically, also, Terrill said he "falls between two stools." As a Ph.D student at Harvard he wrote a thesis on political theory and has since transferred into Chinese affairs.
Harvey C. Mansfield '53, chairman of the Government Department, could not be reached for comment last night.
A colleague close to Terrill in another department yesterday agreed with Terrill's evaluation, saying, "Terrill is feared by the department as an unguided missile--he is too well-connected in too many professions."
The colleague also said that Terrill's multi-cultural nature--he wrote his doctoral dissertation on English social history, he is an Australian, he has visited and written of China and is a permanent resident of the United States--is "suspect in the department."
Another issue raised when Terrill was brought before the Government Department for tenure last May, as it was when he was nominated for an associate professorship in 1973, according to one Government professor, was that there "are those who say his work is not scholarly--there are those who have it in for those who get so popular."
Terrill has written numerous articles for newspapers and magazines, appeared on television during former President Nixon's visit to China in 1972, and has written two books--"800,000,000: The Real China" and "Flowers on an Iron Tree"--that, although praised by scholars, have made an impact on general readers as well.
Benjamin I. Schwartz '38, Williams Professor of History and Political Science and one of the tenured faculty in Chinese Government, said yesterday, "We were for him, but we couldn't prevail against the whole department. The whole thing doesn't reflect on his merits."
"I am very sorry to see him go," he added, "but it was very hard to work out a place for him. He added very much to the East Asian program here."
A member of the Government Department also said yesterday that if the East Asian Research Center had been willing "to pick up half, or at least a portion of his salary, and wanted him strongly, then they'd have accepted him. I didn't understand that their backing was of that order."
James C. Thomson, curator of the Nieman Fellows and an authority on East Asia, yesterday said Terrill's departure "will be a great loss to students and colleagues in every thing that relates to East Asia."
Terrill said yesterday he is not certain what he will do after leaving Harvard--he may leave at the end of this academic year or remain at Harvard one year beyond--but that he intends to become an American citizen and has made a commitment to intellectual work in America.
Harvard will allow an associate professorship to extend a maximum of eight years. Since Terrill has only held that post for three years, according to members of the department, he will be able to remain at Harvard beyond this academic year.
A close colleague said yesterday that Terrill finds himself without a position now because "two rugs were pulled out from under him." He cited the Government Department's decision not to offer tenure to Terrill and the recent ouster of Australian Prime Minister E. Gough Whitlam.
Terrill is a close associate of Whitlam, the Labor party leader, and would have been assured of a high government position had he returned to Australia before the ouster.
Government Department sources said this week that members of the East Asian Research Center were annoyed at the Government Department's decision, at a time when Harvard's giants in East Asian studies are retiring or planning to do so.
But members of the Government Department emphasized that Terrill would not have been a replacement for John K. Fairbank '29, Higginson Professor of History, who will retire at the end of this academic year, because Fairbank is a Chinese historian.
Fairbank and Edwin O. Reischauer, University Professor, both said this week they were sorry to hear about the decision. "But," Fairbank said, "Everytime you add a professor you have to have $1 million--the problem is the resources you have."
Students yesterday expressed surprise also at the Government Department's decision. Felicia Marcus '77 said last night, "I was surprised to find out that he wasn't tenured to begin with. His area--Chinese international politics--fills a crucial spot for students of contemporary China, and he teaches it very well. I wish there were some way to keep him here."
Michael NgQuinr, a graduate student in Government who has been a teaching assistant in Terrill's course, Government 177, "China in International Politics," for two years, said last night, "Ross is one of the most concerned China scholars and devoted teachers on campus. We shall miss him.