One of the most frequently voiced complaints about Harvard's tenure system is that it requires its candidates to meet the nebulous, objective standard of "the best" in a field.
There are several consequences of this system. One is that only a minute number of assistant and associate professors remain at Harvard in lifetime posts, giving the University a bad reputation among young scholars nationwide. Coming to Harvard to teach as a junior professor is a guaranteed deadend.
Another result is that Harvard has more famous professors than President Ronald W. Reagan had administration scandals. The University's Facts and Figures 1989 booklet lists 30 Nobel Laureates who have taught at Harvard this century. And Harvard has bred more presidential advisors (not to mention presidents) in its time than any other school.
The most popular departments--Government, History, English and Economics--all have their fair share of famous names. Perhaps the best-known scholars come from the Government and Economics Departments, where the division between academia's Ivory Tower and the high-profile world of political advising often gets blurred.
Ford Foundation Professor of International Security Joseph S. Nye Jr, for example, served as deputy undersecretary of state in the Carter administration and as an advisor on national security affairs for the presidential campaign of Gov. Michael S. Dukakis. Nye, the author ofNuclear Ethics, teaches a popular Core course on international relations from ancient Greece to the cold war.
Professor of Economics Martin S. Feldstein, who headed Reagan's Council of Economic Advisors during his first term. But in his academic persona. Feldstein teaches Social Analysis 10, "Principles of Economics"--popularly known as Ec 10.
And Professor of Government Roderick MacFarquhar, a expert in Chinese politics who was often quoted about the crushing of the pro-democracy movement in China this spring, teaches a popular Core course on the Cultural Revolution.
Acting as a public policy adviser is not the only way to gain fame at Harvard. In other departments with less public appeal, Harvard's professors are known internationally.
Even the English department, which is often considered second-rate in comparison to fortresses of modern literary theory like Yale and Berkeley, boasts its share of big-shot names.
Kenan Professor of English and American Literature and Language Helen Vendler, who teaches the introductory English course, has edited several poetry anthologies and writes about modern American poetry for The New Yorker. And Robert Brustein, who teaches some undergraduate drama courses, is the founder and director of the American Repertory Theater, one of the nation's most successful regional theatres. Brustein, who came to Harvard from the Yale Repertory Theater, is also a noted drama critic and writes a bi-weekly theater column for The New Republic.
Don't be fooled by the huge number of courses listed in the History section of Harvard's course catalogue. The department is famous for "bracketing" almost all of its courses every year--indicating that the course will be offered not this year, but next year. The department's affiliates used to wear T-shirts which read [History].
But outside the University, the History Department is famous for its brilliant minds. Perhaps the best known member of the department is Adams University Professor Bernard Bailyn, author of The Ideological Origins of the American Revolution and winner of two Pulitzer Prizes. He doesn't teach many courses any more and has developed a reputation for deliberately ignoring undergraduates. Bailyn is nicknamed "Bud," but no one dares call him that.
Warren Professor of American History David H. Donald has also won two Pulitzer Prizes, most recently for his biography of Thomas Wolfe. His course on the Civil War is--naturally--bracketed this year. But if Donald actually deigns to teach a course next year, take it. He is one of the few Harvard professors who is as accomplished a teacher as a scholar.
Dillon Professor of the Civilization of France Stanley H. Hoffman teaches several of the most popular Core courses. One of Harvard's most prominent scholars in a variety of fields, he teaches subjects ranging from France between the wars to Ethics in International Relations and Modern Political Ideology. He is known for giving great lectures, and also for being one of the more accessible of Harvard's scholars.
Baird Professor of History Richard Pipes is a former national security adviser to President Reagan, and the man who coined the term "evil empire" to describe the Soviet Union. He teaches a Core course on the [Russian Revolution] which is not known for its sympathetic treatment of Bolshevism.
Considering the number of confused students who arrive at Harvard and pick their courses according to how well-known the professors are, it is surprising that the Philosophy Department is not more popular. For its size, the department has more famous names than any other at the University.
The best known name in the department is probably that of Conant University Professor John Rawls, author of A Theory of Justice. He doesn't teach many courses any more, but his book is on the reading list in a lot of the philosophy and Moral Reasoning courses.
Another big name, Cabot Professor of Aesthetics and the General Theory of Value Stanley Cavell, teaches "Moral Perfectionism," one of the few Moral Reasoning classes that is being taught this year.
And of course, there are the Nobel Laureates--most of whom are dead, since Harvard carefully lists all those who have graced its halls dating back to 1914. But among the Nobel Laureates still teaching at Harvard are Higgins Professor of Physics Sheldon L. Glashow; Gade University Professor Nicolaas Bloembergen--another physicist and one of the most vocal academic opponents to President Reagan's Star Wars program; Baird Professor of Science Dudley R. Herschbach, one of the most accessible professors at the University; and Loeb University Professor Walter Gilbert, chair of the Biology Department.
You wouldn't know it from the way he acts, but Agassiz Professor of Zoology Stephen Jay Gould has yet to win the Nobel prize. Harvard professors write a lot of books, but most of them appeal to a fairly limited readership. Gould, however, already has several bestselling books on biology, geology, and evolution under his belt, including The Panda's Thumb and the award-winning The Mismeasure of Man.
Although he has a reputation for being one of the most inaccessible of Harvard's star professors, Gould teaches the extremely popular Science B-16, "History of the Earth and Life." Sorry kids. That's all we can handle in one semester. Aside from biology, Gould is known for his passionate interest in baseball. He may give students the cold shoulder when they approach him with a difficult point from his course, but he's perfectly happy to discuss statistical methods to track the decline of 400 hitting.
Baird Professor of Science E.O. Wilson, on the other hand, is one of the most approachable professors at the University. He and Gould have a long history of disagreement on the comparative roles of heredity and environment in biology. "Everything Stephen Jay Gould understands, we agree on," quips Wilson.
It's almost impossible to go through four years at Harvard without taking a course with one of the big-shots. But once the initial thrill wears off, many become convinced that that true secret to Harvard is to avoid the classes taught by names that appear most frequently on television or in the newspapers.
Almost any student here will tell you that the teachers you learn the most from are the junior professors who still have the time, energy and interest in their students.
And in the world of academia, the biggest name isn't always the best.