Sociology Department Calls for New Hires

Despite an increase in concentrators, the number of faculty members in the Sociology Department has remained flat, and professors in the department—including Department Chair Mary C. Brinton, Orlando Patterson, Nicholas A. Christakis, and Christopher Winship—now say that they need at least three more faculty members to meet student demand.

With his department growing, Patterson called on the Faculty of Arts and Sciences to reevaluate its departmental priorities in an interview last Friday.

“Even if you have a fiscal constraint you can still prioritize in terms of where you put your money,” Patterson said in reference to FAS, which is currently trying to close a budget deficit of $35 million by 2012. “The University is still spending, it’s still hiring, and they’ll have to choose between departments that are declining and those that are increasing.”

During the past five years, the number of sociology concentrators has more than doubled—from 88 in 2006 to 202 in the current academic year. The number of undergraduates pursuing a secondary in sociology has jumped from 0 to 22 during that time.

Meanwhile, the number of faculty members has stayed relatively constant. Currently, there are 13 full-time faculty in the department and three professors who split their time between sociology and other departments.

“The big issue is—do we have sufficient faculty so we can offer an adequate number of junior tutorials, keep our classes from being too large, have enough faculty to supervise senior theses, and advise students?” Winship said. “It’s unusual to have sociology and psychology departments to be such a small fraction of the size of the economics and government departments.”

“The way we prevent our students from paying a price is that we just work hard, work harder. We’re overworked right now. We could’ve offered fewer courses, but that wouldn’t be right for the students,” Patterson said.

According to Patterson, the FAS’s reluctance to allocate more resources to the department is the result of “a lack of respect” on the part of administrators for the department.

“I don’t think they would do this to the Economics or science departments,” he said.

In addition, the department underwent an “embarrassing” situation two years ago, when it was forced to retract unofficial job offers to two professors, Patterson said.

The department had been authorized to fill two junior positions that year but was forced to rescind the offers, he said, because of budget constraints within the FAS, which were the result of the then-recent financial crisis.

In addition to its strained student-faculty ratio, the department took a hit this year when four of its senior faculty members took leaves of absences, including Robert J. Sampson, Michele Lamont, Frank Dobbin, and Bruce Western.

“This is Harvard—we ought to have a little bit of wiggle room. What happens is that it just overburdens the faculty who are here, and it’s not good for us,” Patterson said.

Aside from the serving the needs of a growing number of concentrators, Christakis said that the department would benefit from covering a wider spectrum of topics.

“One important issue is what kind of faculty do we need to cover important intellectual areas. In my opinion, we could really use someone who does the sociology of Islam, the sociology of environment, and biosociology,” he said.