End the FAS Ph.D. Monopoly


The Ph.D. is the highest academic degree which a scholar can obtain in any given field of study. And like all types of degrees, it is being awarded with greater frequency and being required of greater numbers of applicants to positions in industry, education and academia. The recent hiring of two new Assistant Deans of Freshmen, both with Ph.D.s, points to the pervasive standard for hiring practices which is fast becoming the norm.

At Harvard, Ph.D.s may be awarded only through a single faculty: the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences (GSAS) in the Faculty of Arts and Sciences (FAS). Other Harvard graduate schools, such as the Law, Medical and Business Schools, cannot award Ph.D.s in their fields of professional training except through joint programs with FAS granted by ad hoc committees. The highest degrees that our professional schools are able to award are other doctorates, such as the Law School's J.D. degree or the Medical School's M.D. degree.

Harvard is one of the only universities in America where the Ph.D. is not a university-wide program. This unique treatment of the degree unnecessarily increases university bureaucracy and places Harvard at a disadvantage in attracting distinguished students and faculty. We urge the Corporation to discontinue FAS's monopoly on the Ph.D. in its inquiry into the restructuring of the Ph.D. program.

Harvard's present system of awarding Ph.D.s makes it increasingly difficult for the University to attract top-notch doctoral candidates. Once, Harvard's mere name was good enough to ensure the best pool of doctoral candidates. But today, the rampant proliferation of highly specialized programs found at other universities offering integral Ph.D. programs in professional disciplines presents students with well-tailored options suiting their very specific academic and professional interests. Harvard's roundabout way of offering Ph.D.s, by contrast, is seen as less attractive and less cohesive.

The Faculty of Arts and Sciences receives all of the tuition dollars of Ph.D. candidates and then returns the tuition to the individual programs for use with financial aid. In addition, students are cross-registered in both FAS and the professional school. The Ph.D. is in such high demand nowadays that Harvard must do everything to create a carefully evaluated plan to attract leading Ph.D. candidates to its professional programs. This means granting the professional schools the right to grant their own Ph.D.s without the obsolete hassle of joint programs.

Dean of the Business School John H. McArthur describes Harvard's present system as creating "haywire accommodations with FAS in order to get Ph.D. programs," unnecessarily complicating the bureaucracy involved. McArthur, Dean of the School of Public Health Harvey V. Fineberg '67 and Dean of the Dental School R. Bruce Donoff are three of the biggest proponents of ending FAS's monopoly on the Ph.D. They all note that increasing demand for the Ph.D., combined with Harvard's inefficient and incoherent approach to awarding it, makes Harvard's professional programs less appealing to students.

Dean of the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences Christoph Wolff, one of the strongest defenders of Harvard's current policy on the Ph.D., contends that giving the power to award the degree to the professional schools would undermine interfaculty cooperation and increase competition for star professors, who will be attracted to the higher salaries and lighter workloads of the wealthier graduate schools.

The argument runs as follows: By decentralizing the Ph.D. program, the graduate schools might be able to attract professors away from the FAS, paying them much more and requiring less teaching of them. Most importantly, these professors would then have no link to the FAS. Their accessibility to non-professional school students would be drastically reduced.

Such criticism, however, embraces a wholesale separation of the faculties. Allowing the graduate schools to award Ph.D.s would no more undermine interfaculty cooperation than their offering separate degrees does already. To prevent a "brain drain" from FAS into the wealthier graduate schools, an agreement for faculty sharing between schools or even a requirement to teach within the FAS--similar to the faculty's present commitment to undergraduate teaching--would guarantee some measure of equality among Harvard's schools.

Harvard's current Ph.D. policy, like its idiosyncratic and vestigial names "Allston Burr Senior Tutor" and "concentration," makes it unique among most universities in the United States. However, unlike those bits of history, the Ph.D. policy handicaps the University in the increasingly competitive academic marketplace in which our graduates must compete.