Fifteen female senior Faculty members sent a letter to President Rudenstine yesterday questioning his decision to deny tenure to Bonnie Honig, associate professor of government.
The letter asks Rudenstine to reconsider his judgment in light of Honig's record and a strong recommendation from the government department, Professor of Government Seyla Benhabib said yesterday.
"All of us who signed this letter are convinced of Bonnie's academic merits," she said.
Though she declined to reveal the contents of the letter or the list of signatories, Benhabib said that the group included representatives from Harvard Law School, the Kennedy School of Government and Harvard Divinity School as well as the Faculty of Arts and Sciences (FAS).
"I think that the letter is very respectful and expresses our dismay and surprise. All we're asking for is an explanation and information," said Alice A. Jardine, chair of the Committee on Women's Studies and professor of romance languages and literatures. She is a member of the group that drafted the letter.
Calling the decision to write a letter "unusual," Jardine explained that it emerged from an atmosphere of shock and dismay following the announcement that Honig would not receive tenure.
"I think we were all sort of sitting shocked in our own corners and slowly started to speak to each other," Jardine said. "It took us several days to gather steam and then the idea of a letter came up. It was all very ad hoc."
Honig has been offered tenure by Northwestern University with a related position at the American Bar Foundation, a Chicago research organization.
Honig said yesterday she had not yet decided whether to accept North-western's offer. She also criticized Rudenstine's decision last week.
"To state the obvious, his decision puts in further doubt the claimed commitment of the administration to promote junior Faculty from within, especially women," she said.
Theda Skocpol, professor of government and sociology, said that Rudenstine's decision also took her by surprise.
"It was considered a really strong case," she said.
Roughly two-thirds of the senior Faculty in the government department supported Honig's candidacy, Benhabib said.
Professor of Government Michael J. Sandel, who chaired the committee that recommended tenure, said he supported Honig's candidacy.
"Professor Honig has done fascinating work at the intersection of cultural studies and political theory..." he said. "She is in my view worthy of tenure at Harvard."
Benhabib said Rudenstine's decision could damage future efforts to recruit women scholars.
Although the administration has complained in the past that the departments do not send them qualified female tenure candidates, Honig's case was strong, Benhabib said.
Honig has published two books and a collection of essays, meeting one of the most important qualifications for tenure, she said.
"This [decision] is simply infuriating and it suggests the presence of a double standard," Benhabib said.
Both Benhabib and Jardine said they hoped Rudenstine would reconsider his decision.
"We would like to work together with President Rudenstine," Benhabib said. "These cases are complicated and I believe that the president has acted in good faith all along."
Jardine said she agreed with Benhabib.
"I think people just want to try to understand what could have possibly moved the president to make this decision," she added.
Rudenstine could not be reached for comment yesterday.
--Chana R. Schoenberger contributed to the reporting of this story.