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Psychology Department Faces Hiring Woes Amid Faculty Shortage

By Noah S. Rayman and Elyssa A. L. Spitzer, Crimson Staff Writers

Facing an already high student-to-faculty ratio, the department of psychology is anxious to resume hiring.

The size of its faculty has shrunk to 24—a four-decade low. The number of professors had hovered around 27 over the past four decades.

Space and budgetary constraints have prevented the department from replacing departing professors.

“We can’t run our department on what we’ve got,” said Department Chair Susan E. Carey ’64.

While many departments in the Faculty of Arts and Sciences grew during the more financially stable years in the early 2000s—during this time, the Faculty expanded from 589 to 712 members—the psychology department’s size remained static because the department could not find physical space for incoming professors.

By the time rooms and laboratory space in the new Northwest Science Building were available for the department, FAS had imposed heavy limitations on faculty hires in response to the 30-percent drop in the University’s endowment in 2009.

But as the financial situation of FAS improves, members of the department said they are hoping FAS Dean Michael D. Smith will authorize the faculty searches the department needs to bring it back to its typical size.

Department members said that while they understand that other FAS departments are also in need of new professors after nearly two years of reduced hiring, they are making their voices heard in the FAS administration.

“We are an opinionated department,” said Psychology Professor Mahzarin R. Banaji, the head tutor in the department.

“We have on multiple occasions sent word that we hope that we will not be penalized for having been good citizens in the past,” she said, referring to the years of FAS expansion when the department held off on hiring.

Psychology Professor Marc D. Hauser’s unexpected year-long leave of absence in the wake of allegations of misconduct this summer has only further reduced the size of the department’s faculty for the year.

The psychology department, which had consisted of around 27 faculty members in total since the 1960s, is currently conducting two searches for junior members, according to Carey.

But with 24 faculty members and 192 junior and senior concentrators, the department is facing one of the largest student to faculty ratios in the College, said Banaji.

Psychology ranks as the fourth largest undergraduate concentration at the College.

By contrast, the Department of Molecular and Cellular Biology has more than 30 professors for 121 declared concentrators.

“This is something that I’m hoping the administration really takes a hard look at,” Banaji said, referencing the psychology department’s need for a larger faculty.

“I am very worried that our competitor schools will grab some amazing candidates, and that we will not be able to maintain our absolutely incredible position,” Banaji added.

Undergraduate Advising Administrator Laura L. Chivers said the department was forced last spring to offer fewer courses because of its limited resources.

As a result of the reduction in course offerings, she said, some courses that were planned for 20 students saw more than 100 students shop the course.

“At that point in time, we worked very hard to try to make sure that students who needed classes to graduate at least got in to those,” Chivers said.

For the current academic year, the FAS administration has provided additional funding for temporary teaching positions such as guest lecturers—professors who come to temporarily teach in FAS—and Harvard graduate students.

Added manpower has enabled the department to offer smaller seminar courses, some of which were postponed last year. Chivers said students have benefitted from the staff additions.

“Having some flexibility about the courses at the upper level can only help the undergraduate experience,” Chivers said.

—Staff writer Noah S. Rayman can be reached at nrayman@fas.harvard.edu.

—Staff writer Elyssa A.L. Spitzer can be reached at spitzer@fas.harvard.edu.

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