Faculty Examines Hiring Practices
The committee, which was formed by Dean of the Faculty William C. Kirby last month, gathered for its first meeting yesterday afternoon in University Hall.
The committee will solicit feedback from professors and administrators to gauge to what degree the Harvard appointments process is perceived as effective and fair, according to Richards Professor of Chemistry Cynthia M. Friend, who was tapped by Kirby to lead the review.
Friend, who is also professor of Material Science, holds the position of academic dean—which means she participates in the ad hoc committees that advise the president on tenure review cases.
Friend said the committee will consult extensively with both Kirby and University President Lawrence H. Summers, who has advocated that Harvard move away from its tendency to offer tenure to seasoned scholars in the later stages of their academic careers.
Summers has encouraged departments to identify young scholars who are on the cutting edges of their respective fields.
Promoting junior faculty may be a way to accomplish this goal, and the committee will be looking for ways to improve Harvard’s record in that area.
“There are a number of issues Dean Kirby and I are discussing in terms of how cases are brought forward to the ad hoc process,” Summers said in an interview yesterday.
He said that he and Kirby are “looking for ways to maximize the opportunity of junior faculty here to be considered fairly,” particularly in “cases where work is recent or is about to be published.”
Kirby said he hopes to dispel the myth that, at Harvard, it is impossible to be promoted from within.
“We need to get away from the idea that an assistant professorship is not a tenurable position at Harvard,” Kirby said.
Economic Professor David M. Cutler said after yesterday’s meeting that although the committee is approaching this review with no set objectives, he agrees that improving the atmosphere for junior faculty is a legitimate goal.
“I think one of the single most important things universities do is deal with young scholars...and our hope at the University is that they benefit from being here, that their research progresses. And so I think it’s very important for us to continually be thinking about it in a more detailed way,” Cutler said.
Kirby said that another top priority of the committee will be “taking the mystery out of” the tenure process.
“We want to make sure that colleagues up for promotion are fully informed about the process and that this process is standard and clear,” Kirby said in an interview last month. “Here, [the appointments process] tends to be more mysterious than it needs to be,” he said.
One way to make the tenure process more transparent, Kirby said, could be to make sure that every Faculty member has a hard copy of the Faculty handbook, which outlines the guidelines of the FAS tenure process.
Kirby said that although every department chair has a copy of these rules, not all professors do.
Committee members said they hope to talk to professors about ways they feel the process could be made more straightforward.
“It is a rather complicated process, and I hope we can make it more transparent,” Friend said.
Making the tenure process more effective is integrally tied to the curricular review, also kicking off this year.
In order to increase student-faculty contact, it is widely acknowledged that the Faculty will have to expand significantly.
Kirby has set a target of ten percent growth over the next ten years.
Kirby says he wants the Faculty to “look at what our capacity is and how quickly we can make appointments.”
“We can move fast,” Kirby said.
The Road Ahead
In addition to Friend and Cutler, Ford Professor of the Social Sciences David Pilbeam, Professor of Romance Languages and Literatures Mary M. Gaylord and Associate Dean for Academic Affairs Vincent Tomkins have also been offered the opportunity to serve on the committee.
Friend says the committee was purposefully kept small so that it would be able to meet on a regular basis.
She notes that the committee includes both professors who rose through the ranks at Harvard and those recruited from other institutions, ensuring that a breadth of experience with the tenure system will be brought to the table.
The committee will visit the Faculty Council to seek its advice, and Friend says she believes this topic deserves a discussion by the full Faculty at one of its monthly meetings.
Friend says she hadn’t planned on soliciting student feedback in the review but that she was not necessarily opposed to the idea.
Though the committee has not yet established a firm timetable, Friend said she hopes it will be able to produce a concrete list of recommendations by the end of the academic year.
—Staff writer Kate L. Rakoczy can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.