FAS Departments Say Tenure-Track Faculty Scarce

With the Faculty of Arts and Sciences poised to meet its goal of balancing its budget by the end of June, faculty members across all disciplines are hoping to increase tenure-track faculty representation in their departments—all of which have seen stagnation in hiring since the 2008 financial crisis.

Both large and small departments have continued to make tenure appointments despite the hiring freeze that FAS Dean Michael D. Smith implemented in Nov. 2008 to balance the school’s deficit. The ranks of tenure-track faculty have since shrunk from 208 in 2008 to 173 at the beginning of this academic year.

For example, a spate of promotions in the history department has left only five tenure-track professors in a department of 50, department chair James T. Kloppenberg said.

According to professors, tenure-track faculty are critical for the teaching staff to maintain the vitality and freshness of its teaching and research. Younger tenure-track professors often enter departments with cutting-edge research.

“In general, the ideal balance is about one-third junior [faculty], two-thirds senior,” said Julie A. Buckler, chair of the Slavic languages and literatures department.

But with the sole junior professor in her department currently under review for tenure and no current search for tenure-track faculty underway, Buckler may find her department without any tenure-track faculty next fall.

The loss of tenure-track faculty to other universities—a commonplace phenomenon as faculty often receive competitive offers from institutions other than Harvard—has only exacerbated skewed ratios.

“We have a number of faculty who are on track for retirement; we were understaffed in certain fields; and we were constantly losing people,” said Jeffry A. Frieden, a government professor. “The first year of the crisis, we lost five very, very promising junior faculty members [to tenure offers].”

Frieden added that the government department has increasingly relied on visiting professors to fill teaching positions.

“We’re finding it difficult to staff our classes,” he said.

A strong tenure-track faculty is also critical to the intellectual depth of departments, according to many professors.

“The junior faculty is the incubator of new ideas,” said economics professor Claudia Goldin, whose department has seen tenure-track faculty decreased by 40 percent, from 15 to 9 in just three years.

“These are usually people who have an awful lot of energy and connect with students very well,” said Sean D. Kelly, chair of the philosophy department. “[They know] what cutting-edge research is like.”

FAS hired a slew of new assistant and associate professors in the years preceding the economic downturn, increasing the total number of tenure-track faculty by nearly 20 percent between 2002 and 2008.

But this period of growth was cut short when Smith halted all new faculty hires in Nov. 2008 to cut costs.