Opting not to wait for Harvard's decision on whether to tenure him, a popular chemistry professor has decided to leave the University for an appointment in Switzerland.
Students expressed disappointment yesterday that Peter Chen, a well-liked associate professor of chemistry, will depart from Harvard in the fall.
"He is one of--if not the--best professors and lecturers I have had here at Harvard," said Nupur D. Thekdi '96. "It is unfortunate that other students won't have the chance to learn from such a knowledgeable and dynamic professor."
"I took Chemistry 30 [Organic Chemistry] in the fall and Chemistry 105 [Mechanisms of Organic Reactions] in the spring, and I think he is one of the best professors at Harvard," said Clay C. Wang '96.
Wang said he took Chem 105 expressly because he so enjoyed Chen's teaching in Chem 30.
Chen said in an interview yesterday that continuing to work for Harvard was a possibility. But the University was slow to consider offering him tenure.
"I asked for early consideration," he said. "But it did not proceed far enough to make a difference" in the job.
Chen said he believed the department went as far as sending out a blind letter, which is a solicitation for outside reviews that precedes a department vote.
No tenure was even taken, Chen said.
"All other things being equal, it would have been easier to stay," he said.
Chen's loss hurts the department because he is not only a scholar but also an exceptional teacher. The professor received a CUE Guide rating of 4.8 out of a possible 5.0 for his Chem 105 class last year.
"The class was by far one of the best I've taken at Harvard," Daniel J. Moore '96 said of Chem 105. "It was in partsimply Chen's amazing familiarity with thematerial and also because of his wonderfulpersonal qualities."
Chen's departure is "a very big loss forHarvard's teaching staff," Moore added.
"I think he is an excellent professor," saidThomas B. Nguyen '95. "He seems to care about hisstudents, and he is easy to approach in general."
"I think he is one of the finest professorsI've had in this department and I really enjoyedthe class," Nguyen said. "It is a shame forundergraduates to have to see a professor likethat leave."
'Exceptionally Good Offer'
Chen, who accepted the Swiss job last week andwill leave September 1, said the offer he receivedform the Eidgenossische TechnischeHochschule--which means the Federal Institute ofTechnology--was such "an exceptionally good offer"that "there was no point in waiting" to hearwhether he would receive tenure at Harvard.
"I will have the first semester off fromteaching to get acclimated to the new place, andthen I will be teaching, doing pretty much thesame sort as I do here," he said.
"It will be an adventure which I look forwardto," Chen said, "and the offer was very good andwill allow me to expand my research areasconsiderably."
Chen began working for Harvard in January 1988,and a decision on awarding him tenure would likelyhave been made some time during the next academicyear.
Roy G. Gordon, the chair of the chemistrydepartment, did not return calls to his office andhome yesterday