Eleven undergraduates attended President Neil L. Rudenstine's once-monthly office hour yesterday to ask him questions about faculty diversity.
The effort was coordinated by the Undergraduate Council committee on Faculty diversity, chaired by Anna M. Baldwin '00 and Kamil E. Redmond '00. Along with representatives on the council, members of the Black Students Association (BSA) and UNITE, a grassroots activist coalition, also solicited the president's support.
The students asked Rudenstine what students can do to influence Faculty hiring. Rudenstine suggested that they speak to department heads, who are primarily responsible for recruiting new faculty.
Dionne A. Fraser '99, vice-president of the BSA, said that Rudenstine clarified the details of the hiring process, which is often unfamiliar to students.
"I really understand the process better," Fraser said after the meeting.
According to attendees, Rudenstine explained that, for new professorships to be created, the University must have donations earmarked for the departments that need them the most. The larger departments, such as English and Economics, have lower Faculty-student ratios and are most in need of new chairs.
The president plays a significant role in the process. He has final responsibility for Faculty tenure and can actively recruit faculty.
Rudenstine prides himself on his work in Faculty recruitment and has said that he spends approximately one day doing committee work, research and decision-making for every tenure. However, the candidates Rudenstine examines are largely determined by the departments.
"It reconfirmed...that we should talk to the department heads because they hold most of the power," Redmond said.
The president reportedly said that Harvard has done a good job compared to comparable universities, such as Princeton.
Shoshana Weiner '98, who attended as a representative of UNITE, said that Harvard should serve as a role model for other schools.
"Rudenstine and the deans can create pressure on the heads of departments," Weiner said.
"They can create a certain culture of atmosphere in the University such that the heads of departments feel like they have more of a responsibility to look for qualified women or people of color," Weiner added.
The Faculty diversity committee of the Undergraduate Council has plans to visit deans and heads of departments in the next few months to express their concerns about the lack of diversity on the faculty. They said that they may continue their conversation with Rudenstine in future office hours.
"I think it was a good start to make contact with him," Baldwin said.
The BSA also plans to continue drawing awareness to the issue. In February, it will host a conference on black female professors across the nation.