The Wheels of Change Grind Slowly at FAS

Faculty Confronts Perennial Issues of Tenure, Recruitment, Office Space

Ten years ago this spring, the Faculty of Arts and Sciences (FAS) was in a ferment, arguing heatedly about the implementation of the new Core Curriculum and its implications for Harvard's undergraduates.

This semester, the Core Curriculum will get its 10-year review by the faculty. Some of the problems that the report will likely find: a perennial difficulty attracting professors to teach in the Core, a lack of Moral Reasoning course and problems with the Quantitative Reasoning Requirement.

But while the Core review may find the problems, it is unlikely that the faculty, led by Dean A. Michael Spence, will immediately implement changes to solve them. Most of the faculty's agenda deals with long-term issues whose resolution is slowed by the long and torturous committee process.

Many professors say that it is the structure of FAS itself which prevents change. This spring, issues of faculty recruitment and tenure, an increasingly severe shortage of space for libraries and faculty offices and FAS governance are likely to play a central role in debates among Harvard's 800-plus faculty.

When Spence was appointed as dean five years ago this June, he said he would try to improve the chances that Harvard's junior faculty would receive tenure here. However, promotion from within is still rare, and junior faculty members--such as the English Department's Deborah E. Nord, whose tenure is being considered this spring--are not optimistic about their chances.


At the same time, Harvard is beginning to realize that its traditional ability to lure the best scholars from other universities is no longer sacrosanct. Although the University made several offers this fall, many of the scholars invited to teach at Harvard have still not responded and some are considering positions elsewhere.

With an expected 10 percent from within their ranks retiring in the next 10 years, faculty members say the perennial issues of faculty recruitment and tenure appointments will take on an added importance.

"It's going to be an empty place if there isn't a lot of hiring going on. So much work and so little success--you keep sending out offers and you keep getting rejected," says Aage B. Sorensen, who heads the Sociology Department. "Most departments will have to spend enormous resources just maintaining the status quo."

The debate which flared up this fall around the University's proposal for building a hotel at the old Gulf station site highlighted the pressing need for increased library space and faculty offices, and professors say they will continue to press the University to allocate its resources more toward academic needs than profit-making ventures.

To this end, President Bok this fall agreed to have a member of the faculty sit on a permanent committee to review the University's real estate ventures.

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