Majority of Surveyed Faculty Support Fossil Fuel Divestment, Social Group Sanctions

A significant majority of the Harvard Faculty of Arts and Sciences—67 percent—believe the University should divest from fossil fuels, while a slightly smaller majority—55 percent—support the College’s controversial social group penalties.
By Simone C. Chu, Luke W. Vrotsos, Brian P. Yu, and Phelan Yu

UPDATED: May 3, 2018 at 1:45 p.m.

This is the first installment in a five-part series analyzing the results of The Crimson’s survey of the more than 1,000 members of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences, Harvard’s flagship faculty. Read the second installment here, the third installment here, and the fourth installment here, and the fifth installment here.

A significant majority of the Harvard Faculty of Arts and Sciences—67 percent—believe the University should divest from fossil fuels, while a slightly smaller majority—55 percent—support the College’s controversial social group penalties, according to a faculty survey conducted by The Crimson.

By Dianne Lee

While faculty broadly indicated they agree with Harvard’s attempts to regulate undergraduate social life, a plurality of respondents reported they believe the administration handled the rollout of the policy “poorly” or “very poorly.” The sanctions, which took effect with the Class of 2021, bar members of single-gender final clubs and Greek organizations from varsity team captaincies, campus leadership positions, and from receiving College endorsement for certain prestigious fellowships.

The Crimson conducted a survey of Harvard’s flagship faculty over the course of two weeks in mid-April 2018. The results paint a picture of how the more than 1,000 members of FAS think about key University policies, life at Harvard, the national political climate, and pressing issues of sexual harassment both on campus and nationwide.

The 54-question survey garnered roughly 500 responses, representing over 40 percent of the faculty, though not all respondents answered each question. The survey, emailed to nearly every single member of the FAS, was open from April 17 to April 30 and was anonymous. The Crimson did not adjust the data for possible selection bias.

The past several years have seen the implementation of multiple milestone policies on campus, ranging from the historic social group penalties to updates to the decade-old General Education program. Then there are the policies yet to pass—including administrators’ repeated refusal to divest from fossil fuels and the possible elimination of “shopping week,” the class selection period held at the beginning of each semester and beloved by students.

The first installment of The Crimson’s faculty survey series examines how professors regard these key shifts.


Student calls for Harvard to divest from fossil fuels recently found new urgency—over the past three years, members of student advocacy group Divest Harvard twice occupied and shut down administrative buildings to protest Harvard’s ties to the coal industry. In April 2016, three Divest Harvard students were arrested for demonstrating in the downtown offices of the Harvard Management Company, which oversees the University’s endowment.

But University President Drew G. Faust has not budged, repeatedly arguing divestment would harm the health of Harvard’s $37.1 billion endowment.

Most faculty agree with the protesters. In total, 67 percent of faculty respondents indicated they believe Harvard should divest from fossil fuels, while just 9 percent reported they disagree with that proposal.

Faculty opinions about divestment varied across academic divisions and by gender. The vast majority of Arts and Humanities respondents—81 percent—indicated they support divestment. A smaller majority of Sciences professors—55 percent—reported they support divestment.

Sixty-one percent of male respondents supported divestment, compared to 76 percent of female respondents.

Faculty also generally indicated they endorse the College’s roughly year-old social group policy. Asked whether they support Harvard’s attempts to regulate undergraduate social life, 55 percent of respondents answered “Yes” while 25 percent answered “No.” The remaining 20 percent indicated they held no opinion.

Support for the policy differed along gender lines. Women were more likely to be supportive of the sanctions than were men—among female respondents, 66 percent indicated they support the policy, while 51 percent of male respondents did the same.

Faculty views on the sanctions also correlated with political leanings. Sixty-one percent of respondents who identified themselves as “liberal” or “very liberal” elsewhere on the survey supported the penalties, while just 35 percent of self-identified “moderate” or “conservative” respondents did so.

Professors reported feeling less content with the way administrators have debuted the policy. A plurality of respondents—46 percent—indicated they believe the College handled the rollout of the penalties “poorly” or “very poorly.”

By contrast, just 28 percent of respondents indicated they believe the College handled the rollout “well” or “very well.” Twenty-six percent reported holding no opinion.

Faust first announced the penalties in May 2016. Nearly two years of administrative deliberation followed—including the creation of two different committees, two Faculty-wide votes, and three separate reports totaling more than 90 pages. Administrators at times sought to revise the policy, once recommending Harvard ban social groups altogether. The Crimson reported in July 2017 that that suggestion garnered only seven votes from the 27-member committee that proposed it, making it the third-most popular option considered.

The committee later walked back its proposed ban and admitted it “did not reach consensus.” In Dec. 2017, the Harvard Corporation stepped in and voted to officially approve the original sanctions as debuted in 2016.

Nearly half of respondents—48 percent—indicated they approve of the Harvard Corporation’s decision to approve the social group policy. A quarter of respondents indicated they do not approve of the vote, while the remaining 27 percent said they neither agree nor disagree with the decision.

Faculty reported mixed opinions on whether administrative attempts to regulate undergraduate social life have affected their views of Faust, Dean of the College Rakesh Khurana, and FAS Dean Michael D. Smith.

Twenty-five percent of faculty respondents reported the sanctions have improved their opinion of Khurana’s job performance, while 28 percent reported the penalties worsened their opinion of his job performance. The remaining 47 percent reported the sanctions had no effect on how they see Khurana.

Faculty gave similar responses to a question asking how the sanctions affected their views of Faust’s job performance. Twenty-eight percent of respondents indicated the social group policy worsened their opinion of Faust’s job performance; 26 percent indicated the policy improved their opinion of her performance. A plurality—46 percent—indicated the sanctions did not affect their view of Faust.

Administrative attempts to regulate undergraduate social life also did not alter most faculty members’ opinions of Smith. The vast majority of respondents—roughly 70 percent—said the penalties did not change how they evaluate Smith’s job performance.

Respondents were split on whether the Faculty was properly consulted during the formulation of the College’s social group policy—a flashpoint for conflict across the past year-and-a-half. Thirty-five percent of respondents indicated they feel faculty gave enough input, while 29 percent reported feeling professors were not properly consulted. The additional 35 percent reported no opinion.

Overall, just 22 percent of those surveyed said they felt the University’s path to approving and implementing the College’s social group policy encroached on the authority of the Faculty.

Forty-four percent of respondents disagreed, while the remaining 34 percent indicated they had no opinion.

Faculty discontent with an alleged lack of involvement in crafting the sanctions led to at least two separate Faculty motions designed to kill the penalties over the past year. Only one of these motions came to a vote at a Faculty meeting, where it was ultimately defeated after 130 professors voted against while 90 voted in favor.


The Crimson’s survey comes at a time when administrators and faculty are plotting and positing major changes to Harvard’s undergraduate academic offerings.

At a faculty meeting early last month, professors discussed the benefits of instituting an early registration system and cancelling the long-running “shopping week,” a one-week period at the beginning of the semester during which students can freely walk in and out of classes before officially enrolling. The suggested registration system would require students to select classes they would like to take before the start of the semester.

A significant majority—about 66 percent—of respondents indicated they think Harvard should abandon shopping week and move to an early registration system. Twenty-three percent reported feeling neutral, while just 11 percent disagreed with the shift.

Professors in the Arts, Humanities, and Social Sciences were more likely to support early registration than were Sciences and Engineering professors.

Faculty cited a number of concerns with shopping week. The Crimson’s survey offered a pre-written menu of possible complaints, though respondents could also write in their own grievances.

66 percent of Faculty members who responded to the survey indicated they think Harvard should abandon shopping week.

The most common complaint, selected by 39 percent of respondents, comprised “complications for graduate students and teaching fellows” inherent in the structure of shopping week. The second-most popular complaint comprised a “delay in teaching”—20 percent of respondents selected this option.

Administrators are currently reforming the College’s General Education requirements. The changes, approved in 2016, come in response to a May 2015 report that found the program was “failing on a variety of fronts.” The changes—which would restructure and reclassify the classes required under the program—are set to take effect in fall 2019.

Professors offered mixed opinions on the General Education program currently in place at the College. Thirty-seven percent of respondents reported they feel dissatisfied with the current program, while 30 percent reported they feel satisfied. The remaining 33 percent of survey-takers were neither satisfied nor dissatisfied.

On average, respondents who identified themselves as tenured professors were less satisfied with the General Education program than were their non-tenured counterparts. Forty-nine percent of tenured respondents indicated they were dissatisfied, compared to 33 percent of non-tenured respondents.

Faculty held slightly more positive views of the new General Education program. Twenty-five percent of survey-takers indicated they feel satisfied with the new requirements, while 31 percent were dissatisfied. Roughly 44 percent reported feeling neither satisfied nor dissatisfied.


The Harvard Crimson collected electronic responses through the Qualtrics survey platform from April 17 to April 30, 2018. A link to the anonymous survey was sent to 1,173 FAS and SEAS faculty members through emails sourced from Harvard directory information and departmental websites.

Of those faculty who received emails, 516 accessed the link to the survey. A total of 498 participants answered at least one question, and 296 participants completed every question in the survey. To prevent participants from accidentally taking the survey more than once, The Crimson enabled Qualtrics’ browser cookie functionality to register unique survey sessions on each device. This device data is controlled by Qualtrics, and The Crimson does not retain information that could identify devices accessing the survey with anonymous responses.

In an effort to check for response bias, The Crimson compared respondent demographics with publicly available information on faculty demographics provided by the University—information regarding gender, minority background, divisional affiliation, and ladder versus non-ladder status. Overall, respondent demographics tracked with faculty demographics.

Of survey respondents who identified themselves as ladder faculty, 34.5 percent were women and 16.2 percent were minorities. Based on data in the 2017 FAS Dean’s Annual report, women and minorities make up 29.9 percent and 21.9 percent of FAS ladder faculty, respectively.

The Crimson previously reported that, in May 2015, 28.9 percent of the FAS were non-ladder faculty. By contrast, 42 percent of respondents to The Crimson’s survey identified themselves as non-ladder faculty.

Of faculty with known divisional affiliations who were sent links to the survey, 317—or 28.5 percent—are affiliated with the Arts and Humanities, 341—or 30.6 percent—with the Social Sciences, 316—or 28.4 percent—with the Sciences, and 140—or 12.6 percent—with SEAS. In comparison, of respondents who indicated their divisional affiliation on the survey, 39.9 percent reported an affiliation with the Arts and Humanities, 27.8 with the Social Sciences, 28.26 percent with the Sciences, and 7 percent with SEAS.

Broadly, the distribution of responses among each category tracked with the overall distribution of responses for the five central questions examined in the story.

Reweighting all responses by ladder status and divisional affiliation—the two demographic categories which saw the most significant areas of response discrepancy—produces nominal changes from the unadjusted results reported in the main body of the story.

Applying the adjustment to faculty opinion on divestment suggests that 30.75 percent of faculty strongly agree Harvard should divest, 33.48 percent agree, 25.82 percent are neutral, 6.49 percent disagree, and 3.46 percent strongly disagree. By comparison, the unadjusted data shows that 33.15 percent of respondents strongly agree, 34.25 percent agree, 23.56 are neutral, 6.03 disagree, and 3.01 percent strongly disagree.

Adjusting data on faculty opinions of the College’s social group policy suggests that 54.68 percent of faculty broadly support Harvard’s attempts to regulate undergraduate social life, 26.93 percent do not support the sanctions, and 18.39 percent have no opinion. By comparison, the unadjusted data shows that 55.38 percent of respondents support the policy, 25 percent do not support the penalties, and 19.62 percent have no opinion.

Adjusting data on faculty opinions of the administrative rollout of the social group policy suggests that 3.59 percent of faculty believe the rollout went “very well,” 22.43 percent believe it went “well,” 32.30 percent believe it went “poorly,” 18.12 percent “very poorly,” and 23.68 percent have no opinion. By comparison, the unadjusted data shows that 3.59 percent of respondents believe the rollout went “very well,” 24.84 percent believe it went “well,” 29.08 percent believe it went “poorly,” 16.67 percent “very poorly,” and 25.82 percent have no opinion.

Adjusting faculty opinion on the Gen Ed program suggests that 36 percent of faculty are dissatisfied, 36 percent are neither satisfied nor dissatisfied, and 28 percent are satisfied. By comparison, the unadjusted data shows that 37 percent of respondents are dissatisfied, 33 percent are neither satisfied nor dissatisfied, and 30 percent are satisfied.

Adjusting data on faculty opinions of shopping week yields no changes greater than the precision of unadjusted data reported in the story.

Separately adjusting data on faculty opinions of all five issues discussed in the story by gender or minority background yielded no changes greater than plus or minus 0.8 percent to the response category percentages reported in this story.

Editor's Note: This article has been updated to include a Methodology section discussing The Crimson's data-gathering procedures as well as the paper's understanding of the collected data, including corrections to the raw data made using publicly available information regarding the demographics of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences.

This article has been revised to reflect the following correction:

CORRECTION: May 2, 2018

A previous headline accompanying this article incorrectly stated a majority of Harvard's Faculty of the Arts and Sciences support divestment and the sanctions. The headline has been amended to clarify that a majority of surveyed members of FAS support divestment and the sanctions.

—Staff writer Simone C. Chu can be reached at Follow her on Twitter @simonechu_.

—Staff writer Luke W. Vrotsos can be reached at Follow him on Twitter at luke_vrotsos.

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