Professional Moonlighting

How the Harvard Faculty Spends its Time--and Earns its Money

More and more Harvard professors regularly step outside the classroom, and into the not-so-pure would of politics and business. Candidates want them on the campaign trail. Senators want them at hearings. Presidents want them in their Cabinets. Journalists want them in print. Corporations want them in their board rooms. And during the pre-tenure stage of a professor's career, the "publish or perish" syndrome lifts them from the classroom into the library.

Asked to describe the professor's role in University life, Otto Eckstein, Warburg Professor of Economics, paused for a full minute and then said, "The easy answer is that a professor's first task is teaching. That sounds good, but it is really oversimplified. Harvard tries to have outstanding people in every field, and in all fields people who are doing outstanding work are not just going to want to teach."

Students often complain that Harvard professors are harder to find than a good dining hall meal. "Some people just use the University as a post office to pick up their mail," said Richard E. Caves, Stone Professor of International Trade. "A university is a rather remarkable place. You hire professors and only a small percentage of work is prescribed.... I've always thought that's a funny way to run a railroad."

Harvard's rulebook for professors, Privileges and Benefits, doesn't stipulate that professors must perform any particular set of duties. There is no requirement, for example, that a professor teach students. To a large extent, professors work out their own responsibilities. "Full professors are generally expected to negotiate with the chairman," said Dwight H. Perkins, chairman of the Economics Department, many of whose professors do consulting work for outside firms. He added that a typical teaching load for a full-time professor is two full courses a year.

Dean Rosovsky discussed the issue of professors' teaching responsibilities in his Dean's Report, 1975-1976. "I have assumed," he wrote, "that it was the accepted standard for professors to divide their time equally between teaching and research, and to divide their teaching equally between graduate and undergraduates."


It is almost impossible to measure the workload of Harvard professors against the standards espoused by administrators. There is no public record of teaching agreements between professors and the University, and department chairmen are reluctant to discuss individual cases. The course catalog lists which professors teach what courses; but because some professors are only hired to teach half time, it is difficult to determine who teaches a full load.

In the Economics Department, some professors don't seem to meet Rosovsky's standard. Only about half the tenured faculty members in Economics teach as many as two full courses, and substantially fewer than half teach as many as one full course for undergraduates. Rosovsky, in his "yellow letters," which evaluated the quality of undergraudate education at Harvard, in October, 1974, noted that between 1945 and 1974 the proportion of courses in which undergraduates were enrolled declined 28 per cent.

And despite the increase in courses, faculty, and students over the past several decades, the University has shifted its teaching emphasis away from undergraduates, toward graduates.

According to the preliminary course enrollment figures issued by the Department, there are several graduate Economic courses with unusual student-teacher ratios. A few examples: Economics 2220, "Econometric Models," has two professors for three students. Economics 2420, "Seminar: Monetary and Fiscal Policy," has more than three professors for three students. Economics 2480, "Research Seminar in Public Finance," has three professors for one student. Of the 39 graduate courses offered this semester, 21 have single digit enrollments. Perkins qualified these figures by saying there are many students who audit these courses, but never formally enroll.

Just as it is difficult to figure out what professors do inside the University, it's well-nigh impossible to find out what they do on the outside. There is no record, public or private, of Harvard professors' outside jobs. The Business School, whose professors are encouraged to work in the corporate world, does require that they report outside work. Dean Winn Currie, assistant dean for educational affairs, said the dean of the Business School each fall sends a memo to all professors reminding them to let him know about their "outside activities." This information isn't intended to prevent conflicts of interest, Currie added, as much as to coordinate activities among professors and students.

Although the Faculty of Arts and Sciences has no reporting requirement, it has officially sanctioned professors spending 20 per cent of each work week on outside consulting--in effect, working a four day week. "Privileges and Benefits states that "It has been the practice of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences to permit an individual who wishes to undertake outside consulting to do so up to a limit of one day a week."

Perkins, when asked whether Economics faculty members stayed within the one day a week guideline, answered, "As far as I know. Is that the rule?" Assured that it was, he added "It doesn't mean people don't do more than one day in certain periods, but overall, yes."

Though the guideline is phrased as a limitation, the rule is actually very liberal, and most professors find it easy to follow. "The one day a week rule is in practical terms very generous, so I would be very surprised if there were violations," said Rosovsky.

And while the guideline does include a time limitation, it does not limit the amount of money a professor can earn in addition to his salary. At a time when the average professor's salary places him squarely in the middle class, especially with the Boston area's high cost of living, many professors engage in academic moonlighting to pad their University income. Rosovsky explained that "faculty members are under very severe financial strain," and added that consulting "permits some people to earn outside income."

Nathan M. Pusey '28, former president of Harvard, warned in 1955 of the dangers of a close association between universities and business interests: