How the Harvard Faculty Spends its Time--and Earns its Money
More and more Harvard professors regularly step outside the classroom, and into the not-so-pure would of politics and business. Candidates want them on the campaign trail. Senators want them at hearings. Presidents want them in their Cabinets. Journalists want them in print. Corporations want them in their board rooms. And during the pre-tenure stage of a professor's career, the "publish or perish" syndrome lifts them from the classroom into the library.
Asked to describe the professor's role in University life, Otto Eckstein, Warburg Professor of Economics, paused for a full minute and then said, "The easy answer is that a professor's first task is teaching. That sounds good, but it is really oversimplified. Harvard tries to have outstanding people in every field, and in all fields people who are doing outstanding work are not just going to want to teach."
Students often complain that Harvard professors are harder to find than a good dining hall meal. "Some people just use the University as a post office to pick up their mail," said Richard E. Caves, Stone Professor of International Trade. "A university is a rather remarkable place. You hire professors and only a small percentage of work is prescribed.... I've always thought that's a funny way to run a railroad."
Harvard's rulebook for professors, Privileges and Benefits, doesn't stipulate that professors must perform any particular set of duties. There is no requirement, for example, that a professor teach students. To a large extent, professors work out their own responsibilities. "Full professors are generally expected to negotiate with the chairman," said Dwight H. Perkins, chairman of the Economics Department, many of whose professors do consulting work for outside firms. He added that a typical teaching load for a full-time professor is two full courses a year.
Dean Rosovsky discussed the issue of professors' teaching responsibilities in his Dean's Report, 1975-1976. "I have assumed," he wrote, "that it was the accepted standard for professors to divide their time equally between teaching and research, and to divide their teaching equally between graduate and undergraduates."
It is almost impossible to measure the workload of Harvard professors against the standards espoused by administrators. There is no public record of teaching agreements between professors and the University, and department chairmen are reluctant to discuss individual cases. The course catalog lists which professors teach what courses; but because some professors are only hired to teach half time, it is difficult to determine who teaches a full load.
In the Economics Department, some professors don't seem to meet Rosovsky's standard. Only about half the tenured faculty members in Economics teach as many as two full courses, and substantially fewer than half teach as many as one full course for undergraduates. Rosovsky, in his "yellow letters," which evaluated the quality of undergraudate education at Harvard, in October, 1974, noted that between 1945 and 1974 the proportion of courses in which undergraduates were enrolled declined 28 per cent.
And despite the increase in courses, faculty, and students over the past several decades, the University has shifted its teaching emphasis away from undergraduates, toward graduates.
According to the preliminary course enrollment figures issued by the Department, there are several graduate Economic courses with unusual student-teacher ratios. A few examples: Economics 2220, "Econometric Models," has two professors for three students. Economics 2420, "Seminar: Monetary and Fiscal Policy," has more than three professors for three students. Economics 2480, "Research Seminar in Public Finance," has three professors for one student. Of the 39 graduate courses offered this semester, 21 have single digit enrollments. Perkins qualified these figures by saying there are many students who audit these courses, but never formally enroll.
Just as it is difficult to figure out what professors do inside the University, it's well-nigh impossible to find out what they do on the outside. There is no record, public or private, of Harvard professors' outside jobs. The Business School, whose professors are encouraged to work in the corporate world, does require that they report outside work. Dean Winn Currie, assistant dean for educational affairs, said the dean of the Business School each fall sends a memo to all professors reminding them to let him know about their "outside activities." This information isn't intended to prevent conflicts of interest, Currie added, as much as to coordinate activities among professors and students.
Although the Faculty of Arts and Sciences has no reporting requirement, it has officially sanctioned professors spending 20 per cent of each work week on outside consulting--in effect, working a four day week. "Privileges and Benefits states that "It has been the practice of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences to permit an individual who wishes to undertake outside consulting to do so up to a limit of one day a week."
Perkins, when asked whether Economics faculty members stayed within the one day a week guideline, answered, "As far as I know. Is that the rule?" Assured that it was, he added "It doesn't mean people don't do more than one day in certain periods, but overall, yes."
Though the guideline is phrased as a limitation, the rule is actually very liberal, and most professors find it easy to follow. "The one day a week rule is in practical terms very generous, so I would be very surprised if there were violations," said Rosovsky.
And while the guideline does include a time limitation, it does not limit the amount of money a professor can earn in addition to his salary. At a time when the average professor's salary places him squarely in the middle class, especially with the Boston area's high cost of living, many professors engage in academic moonlighting to pad their University income. Rosovsky explained that "faculty members are under very severe financial strain," and added that consulting "permits some people to earn outside income."
Nathan M. Pusey '28, former president of Harvard, warned in 1955 of the dangers of a close association between universities and business interests:
There is a new need to recognize that though universities have a concern and a responsibility toward the everyday world their primary, their fundamental, responsibility lies totally elsewhere. This is for basic investigation, for the pursuit of learning almost for learning's own sake, for poetry and for vision, and then from this kind of experience for the provision within society of a critically constructive force.
Ten years later, the Harvard Corporation issued a "Statement of Policy on Conflicts of Interest for the Faculty of Arts and Sciences," which discounted Pusey's concerns about academic autonomy. This document left conflict of interest judgements to individual professors, and counts "consultant services making use of the employee's general research or scientific background, where there is no possibility of preferred disclosure of University research results to an outside organization," as a "clearly permissible activity."
Samuel Bowles, who was denied tenure here in 1972 and who is now a full professor at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, said recently that outside consulting influences the direction of a scholar's research. "You don't have to believe in a mechanistic theory of knowledge to believe that if may affect their research. It's perfectly obvious that the source of the funds is extremely important in determining the bias of the research."
John Kenneth Galbraith, Warburg Professor of Economics Emeritus, said that members of his profession ought to make public their outside sources of income. "Since economists speak out regularly on public issues, one should know by whom they are employed. If they are working for a government or trade union this will generally be known. If they are working for a corporation or a consulting firm it should equally be a part of the public record."
Galbraith also said professors consult "for the money. All will say that it gives a deeper experience in the world of practical affairs. All will disguise the reality--which is that it's a good way of supplementing academic pay." But not wanting to seem "self-righteous," he added "I've never done it myself, but I've never known for sure whether that was because of moral resistance or because I wasn't under financial pressure."
Martin S. Feldstein '61, professor of Economics, believes that consulting can be professionally beneficial. Feldstein, president of the non-profit National Bureau of Economic Research, noted that "if you're in economic development and you're sitting in Cambridge you won't know anything, because Cambridge is not that underdeveloped." He cited the example of a professor who studies industrial organization, and said that he would "learn a lot more about how a business thinks if they're paying you...If I'm in industrial organization and want to know how Gillette makes it marketing decisions...I couldn't go tell the world about it."
Dale W. Jorgenson, professor of Economics, who teaches two graduate level Economics courses this semester, consults for the federal government. He likens the consulting activity of an economics professor to the clinical practice of a dentist. "It's exposure at a less abstract level," he said. "My research is largely empirical, and in a consulting role you're dealing with something specific and down to earth."
Perkins questioned the practice of consulting "purely for the money," but said he knew of no case of that type in the Economics Department. He added, "If I knew every piece of consulting done I might be able to find a few examples. But a great majority have a clear professional pay-off or provide a service."
Professors interviewed for this article had different reactions to discussing their own consulting activities. Some were reluctant to discuss who they worked for. John R. Meyer, 1907 Professor in Transportation, Logistics and Distribution, who teaches Economics 1540, "The Business-Government Relationship in U.S. Society," said that "some of it is highly confidential advice to senior management.... Really, I don't think it's other people's business. It's done on my own time and mainly in the summer." He compared his relationship with a corporate client to a doctor's with his patient, and said, "Sometimes it involves high level corporate strategy and public policy."
Meyer added, though, that it would be unfair to attribute to the professor the biases of the corporation he works for. And later he said he had done "a little" consulting for Pan American Airlines, and that for years he visited General Motors annually to give a talk about the virtures of small cars. "They got great chuckles out of it," he added.
Robert Dorfman, Wells Professor of Political Economy, who specializes in environmental issues, said he spends 20 per cent of the academic year consulting, nearly all of it for the federal government. Asked if he had done any consulting for industry, he said, "Virtually never. Maybe we can find a few exceptions, but I can't think of any of them.
A. Michael Spence, professor of Economics, said he does a "small amount" of consulting. But when asked for whom, he said, "I just can't answer that. It's a long list and a matter of confidentially working with people." This semester Spence is teaching Economics 2610, "Industrial Organization," which addresses, according to the catalog blurb, "The structure and functioning of markets in American industry, including market structure and the nature of competition, innovation, antitrust policy, and other public policies toward the regulation of markets."
Caves, who teaches Ec 2610 jointly with Spence, also declined to name the businesses he had done work for. "I'd rather not discuss them," he said, adding that he had "tried to make a policy of only taking projects with research value."
Some faculty members were more willing to discuss their consulting relationships. S. Malcolm Gillis, lecturer on Economics, teaches three courses for undergraduates and graduates on public finance and economic development. He said he had consulted for the Treasury Department, the Ford Foundation, and the American Management Association, and estimated that 20 to 25 per cent of his income came from sources outside the University. He added that "You do most of these things because you're interested in them. A lot of times the kind of consulting they do gets reflected in the research they do."
David G. Hartman, assistant professor of Economics, teaches a course called Statistical Methods for Economists, and another called International Trade and Investment. He said he consults approximately two days a month for several firms. He cautioned, though, that the question of academic moonlighting is a touchy one for many professors--and one they would rather not be asked about. "It's private business," he said. "I think you might offend some people."