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Since its establishment in 2007, Harvard’s School of Engineering and Applied Sciences has vastly increased its undergraduate population, with a 37 percent rise in undergraduate concentrators in the past three years.
In the wake of the economic recession, on the heels of the newly announced reduced endowment payout, and with an eye to future faculty retirements, the school hopes to maintain instruction quality in undergraduate classes by hiring a cadre of non-ladder faculty while it continues to search for tenure-track professors.
These non-ladder faculty include both graduate students and post-doctoral fellows, each with a unique term-limit and focus within the school, but collectively geared toward developing curriculum and easing undergraduate advising issues.
While SEAS follows the same hiring procedures as the Faculty of Arts and Sciences, administrators say that the school is still playing “catch-up” to FAS’ instructional infrastructure.
“There always needed to be additional course advising and design and focus in SEAS,” Associate Dean for Administration and Academic Affairs Edward Kleifgen says. “I think that this was something that SEAS, and its predecessor DEAS [The Division of Engineering and Applied Sciences], has been thinking about for some time.”
The importance of undergraduate courses, Kleifgan adds, has always been a priority for SEAS, regardless of the school’s financial health.
“We have to keep up the teaching, irrespective of the budget,” he says.
SEAS Dean Cherry A. Murray has sought to have SEAS grow into a larger hub in the University, a dream that already is becoming realized: one in nine students in the current freshman class intends to concentrate in engineering.
As the school continues its initiative to make each focus in its Engineering Sciences concentration into its own concentration—following the successful transition of Biomedical Engineering to a full-fledged concentration this year—the need for instructors is increasing.
The school hopes to hire the necessary number of non-tenure track faculty members to maintain its target 6-1 student-to-faculty ratio.
“Where we have lots of students, I’m going to input preceptors,” Murray says. “We need to build up the teaching infrastructure.”
Murray and the rest of the SEAS administration are currently actively recruiting to complement their ongoing faculty searches with preceptors to serve as support.
“We are starting to look into these positions more proactively, because we have to,” Kleifgen says. “We need these non-ladder faculty to ensure that our teaching can stay consistent through this expansion and to buffer when faculty retire.”
Computer Science Area Dean Michael D. Mitzenmacher said that he hopes to see the CS Area student-to-faculty ratio continue to fall below that of other concentrations at Harvard.
“We tend to be looking for people across the board,” Mitzenmacher says. “In CS, we have lots of needs, and lots of holes that can be filled.”
Applied Mathematics, another field that is growing rapidly, is earmarked for gaining more preceptors, as is Environmental Sciences.
“They [the preceptors] aren’t necessarily replacements for the faculty,” says Kleifgen, who emphasizes that ongoing faculty searches are still taking place.
But these non-tenure track faculty are no less qualified in their abilities to teach, according to Environmental Engineering Area Dean Steven C. Wofsy.
As equally capable instructors, non-ladder faculty will serve the growing undergraduate population at SEAS.
And while this undergraduate expansion may have increased SEAS’ presence in the University, it has also pushed the school to efficiently allocate its resources.
“We must grow,” Murray says, “without growing apart.”
—Staff writer Gautam S. Kumar at firstname.lastname@example.org.
—Staff writer Evan T.R. Rosenman contributed to the reporting of this story.
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