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Faculty Meeting Focuses on Online Education and Gender Imbalance

By Nicholas P. Fandos and Sabrina A. Mohamed, Crimson Staff Writers

A month after administrators announced to a packed University Hall that the School of Engineering and Applied Sciences would move to Allston, Tuesday’s Faculty Meeting was comparatively uneventful, with few attendees and fewer announcements.

While faculty members expected a continuation of last month’s discussion on academic integrity, academic culture on campus was not mentioned until question period.

The second meeting of the semester instead focused on policies to clarify faculty involvement in online education and new findings on gender imbalances in the faculty’s tenured ranks.

TWEAKING THE RULEBOOK

In light of the rapidly growing potential to offer higher education courses online, Faculty of Arts and Sciences Dean Michael D. Smith began the meeting by highlighting the need to redraw guidelines on how professors report work done outside of the University. Administrators are currently updating existing policies on reporting outside activity across the University, Smith said.

“We have seen a true explosion in the kinds of opportunities that are before our faculty to do work not only here on this campus, but to explore educational opportunities outside this university,” Smith said.

University President Drew G. Faust echoed Smith’s statements, noting that clear expectations are imperative to ensure that outside work does not detract from the teaching and learning goals of professors on campus.

“How do we sustain that balance between the special obligation to students at Harvard University and meld it with other opportunities?” she said.

The proposed policies would require professors to consult with divisional deans if they wish to distribute educational content over the Internet through non-Harvard platforms, a procedure that some professors said raises questions about ownership and control of educational materials.

“Do these draft principles assume that the University can control any educational content produced by the faculty placed on the internet?” asked English and comparative literature professor James T. Engell ’73. “How can the University control this material if it does not own it?”

The deadline for faculty comment on the draft policies is April 15, a week before next month’s Faculty Meeting.

BALANCING THE RANKS

In the only docketed agenda item of the afternoon, biology professor Elena M. Kramer, chair of the Standing Committee on Women, reported that the percentage of tenured and tenure-track women has leveled out at 25 percent over the last six years—casting Harvard behind some of its peer institutions in terms of gender balance in the faculty. Kramer added that she thinks tenure-track searches would benefit from a more deliberate effort to recruit talented young female academics and hopes that the report will spur further review within individual departments.

“This is very scary to me,” Smith said of the slowed pace at which women are offered tenured-track professorships. “In a noticeable number of places we’re not working hard enough to recognize women and underrepresented minorities to get them into our applicant pools for our tenure-track positions.”

Smith acknowledged the faculty’s need “to do better in this area” and suggested that best practices for hiring women will be considered in the approval of all future faculty searches,

ACADEMICS IN QUESTION

Absent from the Faculty Meeting agenda was a presentation by the Committee on Academic Integrity, which was expected to offer a series of proposals, including a modified honor code, for faculty discussion.

Nevertheless, the issue came up during question period when mathematics professor Wilfried Schmid asked administrators if Harvard has allowed pre-professional interests to overshadow its traditional academic culture.

Citing a Crimson magazine article on the decline of academics at Harvard, Schmidt further wondered whether the intrinsic value of education has been diluted by overemphasizing metrics such as Q scores and easy grading.

Faust said that these questions have already spawned a number of conversations and have influenced the agenda of the Committee on Academic Integrity. Still, she added that all members of the University community need to do a better job reaffirming the importance of academics for their own sake.

“It behooves all of us to think how we as an institution can think about the process of learning, not just the outcomes—the way the act of engaging with academic materials reflects what matters so much to all of us,” Faust said.

Specific proposals from the Committee on Academic Integrity, including a modified honor code, are expected to be formally introduced next month.

—Staff writer Nicholas P. Fandos can be reached at nicholasfandos@college.harvard.edu. Follow him on Twitter @npfandos.

—Staff writer Sabrina A. Mohamed can be reached at smohamed@college.harvard.edu. Follow her on Twitter @sab_mohamed.

This article has been revised to reflect the following correction:

CORRECTION: March 6, 2013

Due to an editing error, an earlier version of this article misquoted Faculty of Arts and Sciences Dean Michael D. Smith as saying, “we’re not working hard enough to recognize women and underrepresented faculty to get them into our tenure tracks.” In fact, Smith expressed concern that in some areas Harvard may not be working hard enough “to recognize women and underrepresented minorities to get them into our applicant pools for our tenure-track positions.”

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