Chinese Program Seeks New Head

FAS approves faculty search despite financial constraints

Harvard’s Chinese Language Program—built into one of the nation’s most preeminent by departing director Shengli Feng—will begin a search for a new director after receiving a rare authorization from the dean of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences.

Feng, a Chinese professor, announced this spring that he will leave Harvard at the end of this academic year for a tenure-track position at the Chinese University of Hong Kong.

Administrators in the Department of East Asian Languages and Civilization had expressed concerns that in the current financial landscape, which led to a salary freeze and significantly reduced hiring last spring, FAS would not be able to replace the departing professor.


But East Asian Languages and Civilization Department Chair Wilt Idema said that the department ultimately did receive authorization to conduct a search.

The authorization for EALC—the department’s third in the past year—is one of only 41 faculty searches across FAS that was authorized this past semester, according to FAS Spokesperson Jeff Neal.


While FAS Dean Michael D. Smith said that the size of the Faculty will grow slightly in the coming year—a marked slow-down after a decade that saw the Faculty expand by nearly 20 percent—he acknowledged that he does not expect new faculty searches to keep pace with departures, leading to a halt in expansion.

But Diana Sorensen, the FAS divisional dean for the arts and humanities, wrote in an e-mailed statement that finding Feng’s replacement was among the division’s priorities.

Once authorized, searches can last over a year as the department identifies a candidate and receives approval for the person from administrators throughout a chain of command, ending with the president of the University.

In the meantime, Idema said, Senior Preceptor in Chinese Emily Hui-Yen Huang will oversee the program.

At the time of Feng’s departure, Idema said that filling Feng’s position is “extremely important” for the health of Harvard’s Chinese language offerings.

“[Feng’s] leaving is a great loss for Harvard,” said Yu Feng, Shengli Feng’s former college roommate and a former Chinese language preceptor at Harvard who now heads Brandeis’ Chinese language program. “This is really sad to say, but that’s true. You won’t find anyone who can really replace him.”

At the Chinese University of Hong Kong, Feng said he plans to devote more energy to his scholarship than he currently can in the managerial post of director. Feng has also said that he will be better compensated in his new post than he has been at Harvard.

—Staff writer Noah S. Rayman can be reached at —Staff writer Elyssa A.L. Spitzer can be reached at



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