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Faculty Decry Attrition of Tenure-Track Women

A “troubling” percentage of women leave the Faculty of Arts and Sciences before final tenure review, administrators say

Harvard faculty exit University Hall after the first Faculty meeting of the academic year.
Harvard faculty exit University Hall after the first Faculty meeting of the academic year.
By Karl M. Aspelund and Meg P. Bernhard, Crimson Staff Writers

Citing the “troubling” percentage of women who leave the Faculty of Arts and Sciences before they are up for final tenure review, top administrators on Tuesday decried departmental culture and a lack of mentorship as major factors behind women’s departures from Harvard.

“We’re not doing enough to build a strong enough environment to make sure the women in this case feel they have the best long term support for their careers,” FAS Dean Michael D. Smith said in an interview after the semester’s first Faculty meeting on Tuesday afternoon.

In interviews with tenure-track women who were leaving Harvard, administrators found a “striking” reason for their departure was an uncomfortable culture in their respective departments, according to the school’s annual report, which administrators presented at the meeting.

Only 66 percent of women on schedule to be considered for promotions to become full professors last year remained at Harvard for the final stage of that process, compared with 78 percent of men. That gap is widening, said FAS Dean for Faculty Affairs and Planning Nina Zipser, who presented the data on Tuesday.

Harvard faculty exit University Hall after the first Faculty meeting of the academic year.
Harvard faculty exit University Hall after the first Faculty meeting of the academic year. By Jiwon Joung

Tenure track women in FAS have the lowest level of overall satisfaction with their experience compared to women of the same professional cohort from any other Harvard school, Zipser said. They also report higher levels of stress than their male counterparts.

Zipser also noted that the majority of women who depart FAS before their final tenure reviews stay in academia, leaving Harvard for other universities.

Reacting to the trend, administrators plan to create more leadership workshops for tenure track faculty, add symposia for tenure-track women in different divisions, increase the amount of day care provided to FAS affiliates, and review departmental mentoring programs.

Smith said after the meeting that he and other administrators will focus on gathering information from departments about the types of support and mentoring they offer their faculty.

Several faculty members, including Classics professor Richard F. Thomas and History professor Charles S. Maier ’60, a former Crimson editorial chair, asked questions about the statistics and expressed concern that last year, a third of women up for their final tenure review left Harvard before the process could complete.

At the meeting, Smith also briefly commented on the “deeply disturbing” results of last spring’s sexual assault climate survey, administered at Harvard and 26 other universities nationwide. The results, released late last month, indicate that nearly a third of surveyed senior women at Harvard College said they had experienced some form of sexual misconduct since matriculating.

Smith said FAS is currently planning faculty programs to help prevent sexual assault, including faculty training, Title IX information sessions, and Title IX coordinator meetings with department representatives.

Additionally, administrators are currently searching for someone to fill a new Title IX coordinator position for faculty affairs and graduate students. “I think we’re fairly close to hiring someone,” Smith said after the meeting.

To close off the meeting on Tuesday, faculty members discussed new Faculty Council elections procedures and the progress of the General Education review committee, which hopes to finalize a proposal and recommendations for the College’s core curriculum by the end of the semester for faculty vote. Faculty met for a town hall on the program last week and will meet three more times this semester to discuss it.

—Staff writer Karl M. Aspelund can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @kma_crimson.

—Staff writer Meg P. Bernhard can be reached at Follow her on Twitter @meg_bernhard.

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FASFAS AdministrationGender and SexualityFacultyFront FeatureFaculty NewsNews Front FeatureSexual AssaultMike SmithTitle IX

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