Getting Tenure

News Feature

There are many unsolved mysteries in the world of academia.

Is human behavior governed by nature or nurture?

Is there a biochemical fountain of youth?

Is there a secret to getting tenure at Harvard?

The simplest reply to the last question may be, "Yes. Answer the first two."


There's no question that in order to be tenured in Harvard's Faculty of Arts and Sciences (FAS), faculty members must do ground-breaking research.

But beyond that, the tenure system is a murky and complicated process that can take more than two years to complete once funding for a new position is in place.

The complexity stems from both the number of people and the number of steps involved in tenure decisions.

Although the tenure procedure begins on the departmental level, a candidate's file must make its way up to the highest echelons of the FAS and the University before an offer can even be made.

President Neil L. Rudenstine makes all tenure decisions, having been advised by an ad hoc committee of outside experts and Harvard faculty members from outside the candidate's department.

The ad hoc committee makes recommendations based on a candidate's dossier and the advice of four faculty members from the department.

Teaching and Tenure

Conventional wisdom among students says that fantastic teachers who devote too much time to their teaching will never get tenure.

Administrators, though, say that while research excellence is the primary consideration, teaching ability is seen as "key" and is increasingly receiving "major emphasis" in tenure considerations.

"I think teaching is being considered to a greater extent now than it once was," says Lawrence Buell, dean for undergraduate education. "It takes a while for perception to catch up to reality."