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Junior Faculty Ponder Being Senior Tutors

News Feature

By Elizabeth T. Bangs

Assistant Professor of Government Matthew J. Dickinson has fond memories of the years he and his wife spent resident tutors in Lowell House.

"We were there two or three years and had our kids while we were there," Dickinson says. "We loved it and had a great time."

But Dickinson was still a graduate student in the Government Department at the time. Today he has a full time job teaching and doing research, and is raising older children.

Still, though, he says that he might consider coming back to the House system, as an Allston Burr Senior Tutor.

"Under the right circumstances, depending on the details of the job, I could see doing it," Dickinson says. "But I believe I'm probably an exception. Most junior faculty, at least in government, would not be interested."

Yet that's exactly what Dean of the College Harry R. Lewis '68 wants to do. Lewis has proposed hiring more junior faculty as senior tutors.

"They would ideally have completed their own education, hold faculty appointments of some kind, and have demonstrated experience in resolving complex problems," says the 1994 Report on the Structure of Harvard College, which Lewis co-authored.

That report quotes a detailed job description from a published advertisement for senior tutorships.

"These are half-time positions in academic administration, held in conjunction with another half-time compensated appointment in the University," the ad reads. "Persons holding a teaching appointment in the Faculty of Arts and Sciences are strongly preferred."

Although the job of Allston Burr Senior Tutor was created in 1952 with professors in mind, none of the current senior tutors are faculty members.

Should a junior faculty member be appointed, Lewis and Dean of the Faculty Jeremy R. Knowles say, the senior tutor's teaching load would be cut in half and the tenure clock would be pushed back.

Normally, junior faculty members may spend eight years at Harvard. At that point, they are either tenured or must find a job elsewhere. Knowles says that for each year a faculty member spends on the half-time senior tutor job, an extra semester would be added to their time here, up to two full years.

"What I'm trying to do is to remove the disincentive. Of course there is a disincentive at this moment," Knowles says. "I want the best possible senior tutors. I should want to deepen the pool of candidates."

Still, junior faculty members, even those potentially interested in the job, and current senior tutors express some reservations about the feasibility of combining the two jobs into one.

"The senior tutor's job...is a three quarter time job at a half-time salary," says Winthrop House senior tutor Gregory Mobley. "A lot of being a senior tutor is having your ear to the ground, being present, preventing problems from turning into crises."

"It isn't so much of whether you're in your office a certain number of hours per week, but rather whether you can be present and in the [House] community," he says.

"It involves your whole life. You can't do it by e-mail. You can't do it from an office elsewhere on campus," says Mobley, who lives in Winthrop with his wife Page Kelley and their children, Esther M. Mobley and Gregory M. Kelley.

Senior tutors and administrators define the job of an Allston Burr Senior Tutor as being responsible for keeping students safe and making sure they graduate.

In addition, the official job description includes organizing House activities, writing letters of recommendation and academic and non-academic advising.

"The senior tutor's job is so crucial that I would hope...the qualifications for that job [are] central in the hiring process," Mobley says. "They should hire senior tutors and work with departments to find a way to help them teach."

In fact, the Report on the Structure of Harvard College proposes doing just that.

"The position might be very attractive to postdoctoral scientists or teachers from elsewhere aiming to make a career in scholarship or administration," the report reads.

"If possible, funds might be raised to endow the Senior Tutorships, making the teaching half 'free' to departments... Because the Senior Tutorship would not be dependent upon a pre-existing Harvard 'half,'" it would then be advertised nationally."

Mobley, who says he is disappointed he has not heard more discussion of this proposal, points out that Yale already funds the teaching component of the job.

Currier House Senior Tutor John D. Stubbs cut his job as a curatorial associate at the Peabody Museum down to half-time this fall when he joined the ranks of the Allston Burr Senior Tutors.

"Really, so far I've been able to keep it half and half," Stubbs says. "[But] as a senior tutor, a lot of the work goes beyond the 9-to-5 workday. I don't go to the museum in the morning without stopping by [the Currier House] office first."

"It's more than half-time because there's this residential time when you can't help but do business," Stubbs adds.

Living and Learning

Mobley says it is imperative that senior tutors be involved in some academic work.

"It keeps you sane as a senior tutor to be doing academic work. It's good to keep the intellectual juices flowing," says Mobley, who is a lecturer at the Divinity School and is involved in research on the Dead Sea Scrolls.

"The most successful moments for me as a senior tutor are when I can help students in a way which connects with my own academic life," he says.

Although current senior tutors say academic work is important, junior faculty members argue that any benefit undergraduates would gain from having assistant and associate professors as senior tutors would likely be slight and would entirely depend on the person.

"From the undergraduates' perspective, academic tutors may increase academic engagement for some, but only on the margin," says Assistant Professor of Government Andrew M. Moravcsik. "What really matters is what happens in the classroom--a focal point for reform, in my view, far more important than the housing system."

"I don't think it's so much of a question of whether [the senior tutor is] junior faculty or a grad student or just a full-time administrator," Dickinson says. "It's not so easy to say, 'Oh, because they're junior faculty, they're bringing this or that."

But many faculty members say they enjoy time spent with undergraduates.

"Of course, some junior faculty members become very involved with 'undergraduate affairs,'" says Associate Professor of Geophysics Goran A. Ekstrom. "I am the head tutor in Earth and Planetary Sciences, and even though it requires quite a large time commitment during the beginning and end of the term. I find it worthwhile, and I think many others feel the same way."

Assistant Professor of Psychology Michael E. Hasselmo is currently a resident tutor in Eliot House.

"Personally I could probably manage [the job of senior tutor], but I suspect Harvard would find it difficult to recruit junior faculty for all the senior tutor positions unless they explicitly stated that this could be beneficial in a tenure decision," Hasselmo says.

"The University does not explicitly reward junior faculty for their level of commitment to undergraduates, though most junior faculty find it intrinsically rewarding--partly because many of the students we teach will eventually be colleagues," he says.

Hasselmo says he spends about 12 hours a week on House duties, including academic advising, writing letters of recommendation, hosting study breaks and attending House activities. He also teaches a House seminar, which takes additional time.

Doing Research

Historically, the majority of Allston Burr Senior Tutors were faculty members.

"A member of the Faculty has been appointed Allston Burr Senior Tutor for each of the eight [House]...[and] relieved of one-half of his normal teaching load," reads the President's report from the 1952-53 academic year, when the position was created.

By the 1993-94 academic year, according to the Report on the Structure of Harvard College, none of the 13 senior tutors were professors. Four were lecturers, two were instructors or preceptors, two were administrators and five were doctoral students.

Many junior faculty members say they are concerned that a senior tutor would simply not have the time to do the research necessary for achieving a tenured position.

Even the Report on the Structure of Harvard College acknowledges. "The Masters, unanimously appreciative of the difficult and time-consuming demands of the Senior Tutorship, worry that it is more than a half-time position, and not comfortably balanced with teaching and research."

Research, according to both senior tutors and faculty members, requires long, uninterrupted blocks of time.

"Academic research and keeping students safe and helping them graduate are two very different and very demanding tasks," Mobley says. "I wonder if anyone can keep them completely in balance."

Dickinson agrees.

"Research for most professors has a very different mind-set. You have to clear an entire day...and just focus on research," he says. "It would be hard to...set aside time that's strictly [for] research."

Lewis suggests that junior faculty members could devote their summers to research.

But Mobley points out that senior tutors' summers are considerably shorter than students.

"The senior tutor's job isn't through until almost July. After [faculty members] turn in the grades, our work has just begun," he says. "The senior tutors are the first people who have to get the administrative wheels greased the day after Labor Day."

Stubbs says he already faces the challenge of setting aside blocks of time away from the House by combining his job at the Peabody Museum with his responsibilities at Currier House.

"Certainly, when problems come up, you have to devote time to them," Stubbs says. "I am certain there will be a time when I'll face [an] overwhelming situation which will make it difficult to juggle."

Stubbs says that in some ways, a teaching appointment could actually be more flexible than another University job.

"I have people who work for me," he says. "I have to be somewhat predictable."

Stubbs says the College should not require senior tutors to be junior faculty members.

"There are lots of people like myself involved in a professional sense in their field who are connected in some way," he says. "I think it would be a shame to totally exclude those people from an applicant pool."

And Moravcsik says he doesn't want to see the College take junior faculty members away from teaching and research duties.

"My experience with other universities...has led me to conclude that Harvard needs to provide more opportunities for junior faculty to do research and to interact with their department colleagues, rather than more opportunities to run the massive infrastructure around here," Moravcsik says.

"To make junior faculty senior tutors will thin out the sense of scholarly community in our already fragmented department," he says.

Climbing the Ladder

The biggest concern for most junior faculty members, though, is that assuming a senior tutorship would hamper their chances of getting tenure.

"As a junior faculty member there are many factors which work against becoming involved with undergrads in the Houses or as a [senior] tutor--the main one, of course, being that the reality is, or is perceived to be, that the tenure decision is based almost entirely on research achievements," Ekstrom says.

"The bottom line is, I guess, that the University has to not only express [its] interest in seeing junior faculty involved, but also somehow show that it counts when promotions are under consideration," Ekstrom says.

Slowing down the tenure clock may not be enough. Age is also a concern, Dickinson says.

"There's a risk, and the risk is that you're older when you get turned down for tenure," Dickinson says. "Now you're competing with people who've produced an equal amount as you have and they're two years younger."

"I think you're going to be a less attractive candidate," he says.

Mobley, however, has taken that risk. His goal is to be a professor, and he has "mixed feelings" about the effect his five years as a senior tutor will have on his tenure chances.

"I think people who want to become senior tutors want something more or something other than a full plate of academic research and teaching. To that extent, we choose our own fates," Mobley says.

"You don't get many brownie points for being a senior tutor," he says. "If you want to get in the game, just to get on board as a player in this academic Monopoly, then being a senior tutor won't help a bit."CrimsonJay L. AbremontsCurrier House Senior Tutor JOHN D. STUBBS.

"It isn't so much of whether you're in your office a certain number of hours per week, but rather whether you can be present and in the [House] community," he says.

"It involves your whole life. You can't do it by e-mail. You can't do it from an office elsewhere on campus," says Mobley, who lives in Winthrop with his wife Page Kelley and their children, Esther M. Mobley and Gregory M. Kelley.

Senior tutors and administrators define the job of an Allston Burr Senior Tutor as being responsible for keeping students safe and making sure they graduate.

In addition, the official job description includes organizing House activities, writing letters of recommendation and academic and non-academic advising.

"The senior tutor's job is so crucial that I would hope...the qualifications for that job [are] central in the hiring process," Mobley says. "They should hire senior tutors and work with departments to find a way to help them teach."

In fact, the Report on the Structure of Harvard College proposes doing just that.

"The position might be very attractive to postdoctoral scientists or teachers from elsewhere aiming to make a career in scholarship or administration," the report reads.

"If possible, funds might be raised to endow the Senior Tutorships, making the teaching half 'free' to departments... Because the Senior Tutorship would not be dependent upon a pre-existing Harvard 'half,'" it would then be advertised nationally."

Mobley, who says he is disappointed he has not heard more discussion of this proposal, points out that Yale already funds the teaching component of the job.

Currier House Senior Tutor John D. Stubbs cut his job as a curatorial associate at the Peabody Museum down to half-time this fall when he joined the ranks of the Allston Burr Senior Tutors.

"Really, so far I've been able to keep it half and half," Stubbs says. "[But] as a senior tutor, a lot of the work goes beyond the 9-to-5 workday. I don't go to the museum in the morning without stopping by [the Currier House] office first."

"It's more than half-time because there's this residential time when you can't help but do business," Stubbs adds.

Living and Learning

Mobley says it is imperative that senior tutors be involved in some academic work.

"It keeps you sane as a senior tutor to be doing academic work. It's good to keep the intellectual juices flowing," says Mobley, who is a lecturer at the Divinity School and is involved in research on the Dead Sea Scrolls.

"The most successful moments for me as a senior tutor are when I can help students in a way which connects with my own academic life," he says.

Although current senior tutors say academic work is important, junior faculty members argue that any benefit undergraduates would gain from having assistant and associate professors as senior tutors would likely be slight and would entirely depend on the person.

"From the undergraduates' perspective, academic tutors may increase academic engagement for some, but only on the margin," says Assistant Professor of Government Andrew M. Moravcsik. "What really matters is what happens in the classroom--a focal point for reform, in my view, far more important than the housing system."

"I don't think it's so much of a question of whether [the senior tutor is] junior faculty or a grad student or just a full-time administrator," Dickinson says. "It's not so easy to say, 'Oh, because they're junior faculty, they're bringing this or that."

But many faculty members say they enjoy time spent with undergraduates.

"Of course, some junior faculty members become very involved with 'undergraduate affairs,'" says Associate Professor of Geophysics Goran A. Ekstrom. "I am the head tutor in Earth and Planetary Sciences, and even though it requires quite a large time commitment during the beginning and end of the term. I find it worthwhile, and I think many others feel the same way."

Assistant Professor of Psychology Michael E. Hasselmo is currently a resident tutor in Eliot House.

"Personally I could probably manage [the job of senior tutor], but I suspect Harvard would find it difficult to recruit junior faculty for all the senior tutor positions unless they explicitly stated that this could be beneficial in a tenure decision," Hasselmo says.

"The University does not explicitly reward junior faculty for their level of commitment to undergraduates, though most junior faculty find it intrinsically rewarding--partly because many of the students we teach will eventually be colleagues," he says.

Hasselmo says he spends about 12 hours a week on House duties, including academic advising, writing letters of recommendation, hosting study breaks and attending House activities. He also teaches a House seminar, which takes additional time.

Doing Research

Historically, the majority of Allston Burr Senior Tutors were faculty members.

"A member of the Faculty has been appointed Allston Burr Senior Tutor for each of the eight [House]...[and] relieved of one-half of his normal teaching load," reads the President's report from the 1952-53 academic year, when the position was created.

By the 1993-94 academic year, according to the Report on the Structure of Harvard College, none of the 13 senior tutors were professors. Four were lecturers, two were instructors or preceptors, two were administrators and five were doctoral students.

Many junior faculty members say they are concerned that a senior tutor would simply not have the time to do the research necessary for achieving a tenured position.

Even the Report on the Structure of Harvard College acknowledges. "The Masters, unanimously appreciative of the difficult and time-consuming demands of the Senior Tutorship, worry that it is more than a half-time position, and not comfortably balanced with teaching and research."

Research, according to both senior tutors and faculty members, requires long, uninterrupted blocks of time.

"Academic research and keeping students safe and helping them graduate are two very different and very demanding tasks," Mobley says. "I wonder if anyone can keep them completely in balance."

Dickinson agrees.

"Research for most professors has a very different mind-set. You have to clear an entire day...and just focus on research," he says. "It would be hard to...set aside time that's strictly [for] research."

Lewis suggests that junior faculty members could devote their summers to research.

But Mobley points out that senior tutors' summers are considerably shorter than students.

"The senior tutor's job isn't through until almost July. After [faculty members] turn in the grades, our work has just begun," he says. "The senior tutors are the first people who have to get the administrative wheels greased the day after Labor Day."

Stubbs says he already faces the challenge of setting aside blocks of time away from the House by combining his job at the Peabody Museum with his responsibilities at Currier House.

"Certainly, when problems come up, you have to devote time to them," Stubbs says. "I am certain there will be a time when I'll face [an] overwhelming situation which will make it difficult to juggle."

Stubbs says that in some ways, a teaching appointment could actually be more flexible than another University job.

"I have people who work for me," he says. "I have to be somewhat predictable."

Stubbs says the College should not require senior tutors to be junior faculty members.

"There are lots of people like myself involved in a professional sense in their field who are connected in some way," he says. "I think it would be a shame to totally exclude those people from an applicant pool."

And Moravcsik says he doesn't want to see the College take junior faculty members away from teaching and research duties.

"My experience with other universities...has led me to conclude that Harvard needs to provide more opportunities for junior faculty to do research and to interact with their department colleagues, rather than more opportunities to run the massive infrastructure around here," Moravcsik says.

"To make junior faculty senior tutors will thin out the sense of scholarly community in our already fragmented department," he says.

Climbing the Ladder

The biggest concern for most junior faculty members, though, is that assuming a senior tutorship would hamper their chances of getting tenure.

"As a junior faculty member there are many factors which work against becoming involved with undergrads in the Houses or as a [senior] tutor--the main one, of course, being that the reality is, or is perceived to be, that the tenure decision is based almost entirely on research achievements," Ekstrom says.

"The bottom line is, I guess, that the University has to not only express [its] interest in seeing junior faculty involved, but also somehow show that it counts when promotions are under consideration," Ekstrom says.

Slowing down the tenure clock may not be enough. Age is also a concern, Dickinson says.

"There's a risk, and the risk is that you're older when you get turned down for tenure," Dickinson says. "Now you're competing with people who've produced an equal amount as you have and they're two years younger."

"I think you're going to be a less attractive candidate," he says.

Mobley, however, has taken that risk. His goal is to be a professor, and he has "mixed feelings" about the effect his five years as a senior tutor will have on his tenure chances.

"I think people who want to become senior tutors want something more or something other than a full plate of academic research and teaching. To that extent, we choose our own fates," Mobley says.

"You don't get many brownie points for being a senior tutor," he says. "If you want to get in the game, just to get on board as a player in this academic Monopoly, then being a senior tutor won't help a bit."CrimsonJay L. AbremontsCurrier House Senior Tutor JOHN D. STUBBS.

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