When Margo Selzter received tenure in the Computer Science department last week, she beat all the odds. Harvard's tenure process is notoriously unfriendly to its junior faculty and few women, parents or inspiring teachers receive tenure. Seltzer was tenured from within the University, not hired after making her significant contributions at another university. She is an excellent teacher--she won the Roslyn Abramson award and the Phi Beta Kappa award for excellence in teaching. And her near-perfect 4.9 score in the CUE Guide for her course entitled Computer Science 161: Operating Systems shows her commitment to undergraduates. Finally, Seltzer is a mother and currently on maternity-leave.
Seltzer's tenure may be incongruous at Harvard but that makes it no less important. Harvard must reward teaching excellence as well as published works, be friendly to women, not punish parents--mothers and fathers--and nurture its junior faculty.
In one area Seltzer's tenure is certainly not out of the ordinary for Harvard--the quality of her academic work. Seltzer's research as the Associate Professor of Computer Science on the Gordon McKay Endowment, including the design of a new operating system, VINO, has been remarkable.
Seltzer was named the 1996-97 recipient of the Radcliffe Junior Faculty Fellowship at the Bunting Institute, a fellowship that allowed her to begin her work on VINO. That fellowship was established in 1995 out of a concern about the low percentage of tenured women professors. Seltzer has proved that such programs allowing talented junior faculty to pursue their research away from the demands of administrative work and teaching can be useful. In fact, the demands of the tenure process are almost simultaneous with the demands with parenting. Programs which alleviate some demands on junior faculty during their prime parenting years, allowing them to do the necessary academic research to achieve tenure while taking care of small children, are important.
Seltzer was tenured because she was an outstanding candidate and a noted academic in her field. The fact that she embodies so many of the characteristics so noticeably absent among many Harvard faculty members--teaching excellence among them--is secondary to this fact. However, her tenure indicates that programs which exist to make academia friendlier to working parents--not to mention the recognition given to professors who are teachers and mentors as well as great minds--can eliminate some of the non-academic pitfalls in the tenure process.
The programs, awards and policies which worked together to help Seltzer along her way should be expanded and improved so that Harvard can continue to attract, retain and nurture the best academics in the nation. We welcome you, Margo Seltzer, to the ranks of the tenured with great joy, for our sake as students, and for yours. We hope that your appointment shows the University that tenure is for mothers, too.
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