Faculty Meetings Stay Off the Air

Professors debate closed-door policy and skyrocketing scholarly journal prices

CORRECTION APPENDED

Radio fans may be disappointed at the frequency at which the Faculty of Arts of Sciences will broadcast its meetings live from University Hall.

Since the tumultuous period from 1969 to 1970, when the Harvard student-run ratio station WHRB was permitted to put meetings on the air, the doors of the Faculty Room have been closed to all but Harvard-affiliated print media.

Although Undergraduate Council Vice President Matthew L. Sundquist ’09 argued at yesterday’s meeting of the full Faculty that beaming the meetings would “permit transparency,” as well as foster debate, professors chose, without a formal vote, to continue the long-standing practice of prohibiting live broadcast. [SEE CORRECTION BELOW]

At the meeting, professors expressed surprise at student interest in tuning in to their debates.

“Does this mean that our meetings might be as good as ‘Desperate Housewives’?” asked Professor of History of Art and Architecture Alina A. Payne.

Saltonstall Professor of History Charles S. Maier ’60, a former Crimson editorial writer, said print media present the same risks for unfair treatment of comments as radio.

“I am prepared to run that danger,” he said. “I am willing to be quoted out of context, as I do with each time I speak with The Crimson.”

While professors decided to limit the audience for Faculty meetings, they discussed ways to combat the skyrocketing prices of scholarly journals in order to increase access to their ideas.

A committee spearheaded by Provost Steven E. Hyman proposed a set of measures to promote free and open access to scholarly articles.

“It gives the faculty the opportunity to democratize knowledge, much in the spirit of President Faust’s inaugural address,” said Harvard’s new University Library chief, Robert C. Darnton ’60.

According to Darnton, a scholar of the history of the book, prices for some journals have increased to tens of thousands of dollars, altering libraries’ purchasing habits and suppressing the demand for monographs and other writing.

Some professors worried the University’s open-access policy would put journals out of business, limiting outlets for publication.

“We might be shooting ourselves and our young colleagues in the foot,” Professor of Anthropology and of African and African American Studies J. Lorand Matory ’82 said.

Yesterday’s meeting also marked the first time in more than a year that a permanent president and dean filled the uncomfortable chairs at the head table facing the Faculty audience.

Following a year of temporary leadership by former president Derek C. Bok and former Faculty dean Jeremy R. Knowles, Faust asked her colleagues to forgive her and Michael D. Smith, the new dean of the Faculty, for their inexperience.

“We don’t have our choreography down yet,” she said. “Our pas de deux might not be well practiced.”

Professors responded warmly to their new president, a six-year member of the Faculty, in the same room where, two years ago, they battled with her predecessor, Lawrence H. Summers. The historian assured her colleagues that she would “remain one of you.”

“I want to think constantly about your view and the view from each part of the University,” she said.

—Staff writer Johannah S. Cornblatt can be reached at jcornbl@fas.harvard.edu.
—Staff writer Samuel P. Jacobs can be reached jacobs@fas.harvard.edu.

CORRECTION: Due to an editing error, the Oct. 17 news article "Faculty Meetings Stay Off the Air" incorrectly stated that professors decided without a formal vote to continue the long-standing practice of prohibiting live broadcasts of Faculty of Arts and Sciences meetings. In fact, the decision was made after a formal vote. In addition, also due to an editing error, the story failed to mention that the Faculty can still vote to permit live broadcasting on a case-by-case basis.