One senior professor recently described Harvard's Fine Arts Department as "smaller than the sum of its parts."
On the one hand, says Oleg Grabar, Khan Professor of Islamic Art, the department's 17 faculty members include some of the world's foremost art critics, connoiseurs and historians. The department is regarded, with those of Yale, Johns Hopkins and Princeton, as one of the nation's best. And it remains unparalled in the study of Oriental art.
On the other hand, though, distinctly individualistic professors tend to build their own isolated empires, fragmenting the department and debilitating its ability to work as a whole, Grabar says.
"More members of Harvard's department have worked on the Pelican series of art than at any other university, but this means we might not spend enough time minding the store," Grabar says.
Indeed this may be the case. Delays in replacing some of the department's foremost scholars and charges last spring of poor treatment of women and graduate students have rocked the highly lauded department, forcing department members in recent months to take a closer look at domestic matters.
Last spring the small department drew campuswide attention when one of its four female faculty members resigned amid charges of sex discrimination. Assistant Professor Patricia Mainardi said in her resignation letter that "junior faculty members [in the department] are treated quite badly and women even worse than that."
There are no female senior professors--compared to 11 men--directly appointed by the Fine Arts Department.
After Mainardi announced her departure, 35 female graduate students in the department presented senior faculty members with a list of grievances of their own. The women charged, among other things, that the advising system is inadequate, the faculty does not treat female staff and students with respect, the important career-advancing jobs at the Fogg Museum are awarded solely through personal connections and the department appoints no women senior faculty members.
Senior faculty members acknowledged that the complaints were largely valid and have made a concerted effort to reform what some say represents a long--though unconscious--pattern of sexism within the department and Harvard in general.
A graduate student-faculty committee met throughout the summer to address the grievances, which were not limited to women's concerns. The graduate students late last month released a report summarizing the summer's meetings and making some recommendations for reform.
The suggestions have been discussed informally among department members and are expected to be addressed in full within the month. One request--that a permanent graduate student-faculty committee be established to review the advising system and disseminate information about teaching opportunities to all graduate students--has already been granted.
Other suggestions, whose futures remain unclear, include: allowing graduate students to participate in searches for junior faculty members, assigning all incoming students a graduate student advisor to work with them through their general exams, and making certain degree requirements more flexible.
But grievances aside, the department is not one marked by profound discord, says Grabar.
In fact, last spring's grievances and this summer's meetings, have set the department on the path of improved communication and coordination. The 100-odd Fine Arts graduate students and 17 faculty members have begun talking to each other about mutual concerns, and the department has begun looking into a handful of structural problems that perennially have been put on the back burner.
Most notably, the department will soon consider restructuring its introductory curriculum, according to Chairman Neil Levine. Levine said the changes could include adding more lower-level courses and "refining" the popular survey course, Fine Arts 13, "Introduction to the History of Art."
Department members have long been concerned that the course covers too much art in too little time, and that it for the most part draws students seeking an easy 'A' with minimal effort. The course has acquired a popular reputation, not as a requirement for the 90 undergraduate concentrators, but as the course for seniors looking to balance the demands of a thesis.
In addition to restructuring its introductory curriculum, the department will soon begin looking to fill one of its two open tenure positions, an appointment members hope to make this year.
Department members say they are not looking to fill a gap in a particular field, as is generally the case when departments have tenured posts to fill. Instead, Grabar says, the department has decided to search out a specialist with a background in many different fields--perhaps Chinese painting and early renaissance art, for example.
Grabar says the department has not been quick enough to launch this and other searches to replace several of its biggest stars who have left steadily in recent years. As a result, Grabar says, the department may have lost some of its attractiveness to graduate students, whose enrollment has dropped slightly in recent years.
Professors have said that while they are not specifically looking to hire a female to fill specific academic gaps, they hope to find a number of qualified women scholars in those fields.
The department offered one female professor a lifetime post last year, but she turned it down, in part because she said she did not want to feel like the token female, Grabar says.
But, though the department might lack the balance it desires between male and female scholars, it certainly does not have a dearth of talent.
The strength of the department lies in its individual professors and their wide variety of expertise.
The most senior member of the department, Porter Professor of Fine Arts James S. Ackerman, is considered the world's foremost authority on Renaissance architecture. His renown is matched by colleague Seymour Slive, Gleason Professor of Fine Arts, whom National Gallery of Art Director Sydney Freedberg has called the foremost Rembrandt scholar in the world.
Slive, former director of the Fogg, is also highly regarded for his knowledge of collections of Dutch art and for his popular Core Curriculum course on Rembrandt and his contemporaries.
John M. Rosenfield, Rockefeller Professor of Oriental Art, is the world's only senior professor in his field, according to Grabar. Grabar himself is known as the most prolific historian of Islamic art, and has acquired local fame as an entertaining and popular instructor of Fine Arts 13.
Next on the department's seniority ladder is Pramod Chandra, Bickford Professor of Indian and South Asian Art, who is credited for his original and pioneering work in the little-known area of Indian sculpture.
Professor of Fine Arts Konrad Oberhuber, a specialist on the painter Raphael, and colleague Henri T. Zerner, a highly lauded theorist, also draw wide acclaim.
Department Chairman Neil Levine, one of the youngest senior Fine Arts faculty members, is a highly regarded historian of French and American architecture and has just finished a book on Frank Lloyd Wright. He also draws praise for his administrative commitment to resolving the department's problems.
The department's youngest full professor, newcomer Timothy J. Clark, constitutes an untraditional wing of the tradition-oriented department. "He burst onto the scene in his thirties with two fabulous books on Courbet--they were an outburst of fresh air in a jaded field, and we hired him," says Grabar, former department chairman.
Clark and Assistant Professor Anna C. Chave have both proven popular among students. Each teaches a perennial favorite in the Core, and Chave this fall had to hold a lottery to limit the number of students in her course, "Modern Art and Abstraction."
Despite a number of setbacks in recent years, the department appears on the road to recovery. Professors and students alike have begun looking beyond individual laurels and examining the department as a unit. The department seems to have taken many steps toward equalling the sum of its parts