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Flute-Playing Slavic Scholar Offered Tenure

By David B. Rochelson, Contributing Writer

A Slavic studies scholar who took nearly a decade away from academia to work as a computer programmer and a semi-professional flutist won another unusual distinction for her resume yesterday—an offer of tenure from Harvard.

Weston Associate Professor of Slavic Languages and Literatures Julie A. Buckler was extended an offer of tenure yesterday. Though she has yet to officially accept, Buckler says she plans to do so.

“I’m completely thrilled,” she said. “It’s something you shoot for for seven years, but you would be a fool to count on it or assume that it will happen. I feel very lucky.”

Chair of the Department of Slavic Languages and Literatures Michael S. Flier says Buckler’s appointment comes as part of a larger effort on the part of the University to attract and maintain junior faculty members.

“This old system of people shuffling in and out of junior positions is no longer viable,” Flier said.

William Mills Todd III, Reisinger professor of Slavic languages and literatures said that Buckler’s appointment is part of a larger trend.

“I think it is definitely part of a trend that the University is willing to now promote superb people from within, much more than it’s been under previous administrations,” he said.

“I’m guessing...that President Summers, who himself was promoted from within to tenure, is more receptive to this than previous presidents. And I think it’s a willingness on his part to take risks with younger people,” Todd added. “I think an economist would call him risk-loving.”

Todd praised Buckler’s commitments to teaching, research, and the University community.

“She’s been very much a triple-threat,” Todd said. “A superb scholar, teacher and citizen. It’s wonderful for her but no less wonderful for the Slavic department and the literature concentration and Harvard in general.”

Flier said Buckler “represents a new generation of Slavist,” whose research spreads the impact of Slavic studies to other fields.

Buckler, who grew up in Lincoln, Mass., said it is “great” to know she will be close to home for good.

“I didn’t expect to be a hometown girl, but I am, I guess,” she said.

Buckler spent nearly a decade away from academia between earning her B.A. from Yale in 1980 and entering the Harvard Ph.D. program in 1989.

In that time, she worked writing documentation for software companies and playing the flute near-professionally.

Flier said taking a hiatus from academia can be a dangerous career move, but it wasn’t for Buckler.

“You know when you go away from academia you run the danger of losing the skills that you had developed as a student,” Flier said. “It seems to me that in her particular case she was able to use the time away to her advantage and developed a great sense of focus and organization.”

And Todd said Buckler’s hiatus is becoming less of an anomaly.

“It’s increasingly common that people after they graduate from college do something else for a while first,” he said.

Buckler also serves as director of undergraduate studies in the Slavic department and as an associate at the Davis Center for Russian and Eurasian studies.

Buckler said that the appointment, though attended by new pressures and responsibilities, is also something of a relief. She plans to use her newfound job security to revisit old extracurricular activities and pick up some new ones.

“I’d like to pick up my flute again, I’d like to take tap-dancing lessons, I’d like to return phone calls more quickly, and spend more time at Southwick wild animal farm with my daughter,” she said.

Buckler said the appointment was a surprise, but she thanks her peers for their support.

“I think anyone who gets tenure at Harvard would find it a surprise,” she said. “But that being said I feel like I had wonderful support from my department all the way through; they gave me good advice and good guidance, and they kept me informed over the course. So I wasn’t flying as blind as some people may have been under these circumstances.”

Buckler’s research has focused on imperial Russia. Her first book, entitled The Literary Lorgnette: Attending Opera in Imperial Russia received the “Best Work of Literary and Cultural Criticism for 2000” award from the American Association of Teachers of Slavic and East-European Languages Publications Committee. She said she plans to submit her second book, which examines the “middle culture” of St. Petersburg, to Princeton University Press at the end of the summer.

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