Harvard has taken the extraordinary step of promoting a 31-year-old associate professor of English to a tenured post, department members confirmed yesterday.
James T. Engell '73, associate professor of English and American Literature is the youngest scholar to receive tenure in English in 22 years, and the first to be promoted to tenure from the department's junior faculty since 1964, professors said.
Engell will assume his full professorship in July, pending routine Corporation approval.
The appointment did not take effect this year because the committee of scholars that reviewed it did not convene until June, English Department Chairman Larry D. Benson explained yesterday.
University policy requires an ad hoc committee of scholars from Harvard and elsewhere to advise President Bok on all tenure appointments, before Bok makes his final decision.
Approximately four out of 230 junior faculty members are promoted to tenure in the Faculty each year, administrators said yesterday. The Faculty generally makes about 15 tenure appointments a year.
Engell's tenure culminates an unusually rapid rise through the ranks of the English Department. He became an assistant professor in 1978, the year he received his Ph.D. from the department. Two years later he was made an associate professor.
Acknowledging that his career has been atypical, Engell said yesterday. "It's difficult in the humanities to publish the amount necessary to become well enough known in the profession in a short number of years. I feel fortunate I have had the opportunity to write what I have."
Asked to explain his unusual success, Engell said, "People have thought well of my work, and that's been gratifying. I really don't know to what else you could attribute it."
A specialist in 18th-century literature, Engell has written one book: a study of the transition from the Enlightenment to romanticism, which Harvard University Press published in 1981. This fall, his edition of the first volume of Coleridge's "Biographic Literary" will be published.
He teaches two undergraduate courses covering his specialties.
Porter University Professor Walter Jackson Bate '39, the English Department's preemi- nent expert on 18th-century literature, yesterday led a chorus of praise for Engell's appointment.
Recalling that he was one of the advisers for Engell's doctoral dissertation. Bate said. "He did it all by himself. He knew far more than we did, we couldn't keep up with him.
Preparing notes and tracing the sources for the first volume of "Biographic Literaria." Bate said, was a task that "three or four of the country's most famous scholars, in their 60s, tried and gave up after 10 years."
Bate himself prepared the second volume of the Coleridge work, which will also appear this fall. "That's the easy volume," Bate said. "He [Engell] worked on the part that no body's ever understood."
Forty leading scholars from across the country unanimously endorsed Engell's promotion, Bate said.
Bate explained that the department made an unusually large number of inquiries out of concern about Engell's young age. Noting that 60 percent of the senior faculty in English is more than 60 years old, Bate said that Harvard should promote more young scholars and junior faculty members than it now does.
"It's better to take that risk instead of hiring 58-year-olds who have already written several books," Bate said. "I'm a great believer in the young.