Faculty Diversity Still a Work in Progress, Administrators Say

Administrators acknowledged diversifying the Faculty of Arts and Sciences is still a work in progress at a town hall last Friday.

“Like our own nation and society, our aspirations run ahead of our reality,” said Dean of the College Rakesh Khurana, who fielded questions from undergraduates about administrative plans to ensure the Faculty’s hiring process considers diverse candidates along with FAS Dean of Faculty Affairs and Planning Nina Zipser.

Dean Khurana Holds Town Hall
Dean Khurana explains the relevance of a liberal arts education to our modern society. Last Friday, the Dean of the College held a town hall at Boylston Hall in order to discuss with students the issues facing Harvard today.

In recent months, students across the University have called for more diversity within their respective faculties, emphasizing more generally the need for better treatment of minorities on campus. Zipser herself has decried attrition rates of female faculty members, in particular.

At the town hall, which a handful of undergraduates and administrators attended, several students expressed concern at the underrepresentation of women and minorities in the Mathematics and Statistics Departments. Others added minority and women tenure-track faculty members often face additional burdens that could take time away from their own research. Such burdens include mentoring many undergraduates and serving on more departmental committees than their colleagues.

In response, Zipser suggested FAS should consider mentorship of undergraduates and graduates more formally as part of a “service” component in the tenure recommendation process. In addition, she said FAS administrators are attempting to diversify the Mathematics Department faculty, which has no senior female faculty.


One professor, Sophie Morel, left the department for Princeton a few years after she became the first female tenured math professor at Harvard in 2009. At the townhall, Zipser said Harvard has offered professorships to two women, including Stanford’s Maryam Mirzakhani, the first female recipient of the Fields Medal.

“What we’re trying to do is make sure that [Mathematics is] hiring the most outstanding candidates, which we believe would include women and minorities,” Zipser, who received a Ph.D. in mathematics from Harvard in 2000, said. “I believe they think they need to change too, so I think they are wholeheartedly on board with change, and now we just need to have some success.”

Zipser also said her office has considered “cluster hiring”—or hiring small groups of minority and women candidates—especially in fields where such groups are underrepresented significantly.

Friday’s forum was the most recent of several town hall meetings Khurana has hosted since last November, when a College working group published a report calling for increased diversification in Faculty and administrative bodies on campus, among other recommendations.

“Harvard’s administration, faculty, and staff, however, continue to lag behind in terms of diversity,” the report concluded. “This lack of diversity frustrates Harvard’s efforts to foster a campus environment that diminishes cultural and structural cues of exclusion, minimizes stereotype threats, and provides students from varying backgrounds equal opportunities to succeed in concentrations throughout the arts and sciences.”

After the town hall, Director of the Harvard Foundation S. Allen Counter said he appreciates what he considers increased efforts to diversify the Faculty.

“I do hope the University will make a concerted effort to reach out to other schools and recruit,” Counter said, adding that the refocused commitment to diversity is “such an improvement from what it used to be.”

Undergraduate Council Finance Committee Chair William A. Greenlaw ’17, who attended the town hall, said underrepresented students also would appreciate the role models and mentors that a more diverse Faculty could provide.

“If I am female, or of another underrepresented minority or ethnicity, sometimes it’s important for me to see other folks who are like me, and that have my shared experience, who are doing well and doing what I want to do,” Greenlaw said. He suggested Harvard could publicize new faculty appointments to highlight for students its commitment diversity.

—Staff writer Melissa C. Rodman can be reached at Follow her on Twitter @melissa_rodman.

—Staff writer Luca F. Schroeder can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @lucaschroeder.


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