HMS Speeds Professor Promotion Process

Harvard Medical School has announced a new policy for faculty promotion to full professor positions, reducing the number of steps required for approval by about half.

Administrators hope the new procedure, announced Monday, will shorten the promotion process—which until now averaged two years or more—to approximately one year.

The policy change comes about 18 months after Medical School Dean Jeffrey S. Flier convened a task force to trim and restructure a process that many felt was unnecessarily lengthy.

“Dean Flier, when he came [to HMS], really wanted to take a fresh perspective,” said Dean for Academic and Clinical Affairs Nancy J. Tarbell, who led the task force. “He wanted to hear concerns, and one was that the senior promotion process was taking too long.”

In the past, faculty promotions were done in a two-step process. The first step, home department or hospital candidate reviews, took about a year. Subsequently, candidates were reviewed by HMS administrators, which also required about a year.

“There was this sense that once [the process] went to the HMS office, it just kind of disappeared,” Tarbell said.

Assistant Dean for Faculty Affairs Mary C. Walsh said that the new process, which requires just a single, unified step, eliminated redundancies that existed before. For example, a new, digitized documentation system will allow evaluators to review letters of recommendation through a central portal, while previously each set of evaluators requested their own, unique set of references that were not shared with other evaluators.

“I would hope that we’re recognizing in a timely fashion the accomplishments of the most senior group of our faculty,” Walsh said.

Additionally, Flier wrote in his announcement that the new policy will allow department heads to play a larger role in faculty promotions, including testifying to evaluation committees on behalf of candidates.

There are some University-wide regulations of the senior promotion processes, Tarbell noted. For example, all schools must submit their recommendations to the University Provost’s office for final approval.

Tarbell said that, on average, about 90 faculty members are candidates for promotion each year, with a majority of those candidates eventually gaining promotion. Promotions under consideration before Monday’s announcement will be reviewed using the old system.

“Our process has always been a little different just because our faculty is so large,” Tarbell said.

—Staff writer Benjamin M. Scuderi can be reached at bscuderi@college.harvard.edu.

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