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FAS Prioritizing Ethnic Studies Faculty Searches Despite Stagnant Overall Hiring, Dean Gay Says

University Hall
Dean of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences Claudine Gay works alongside other administrators in University Hall.

Though mounting financial hardships mean the size of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences will not grow for the foreseeable future, the school is nonetheless making a concerted effort to increase its ranks of ethnic studies faculty.

Part of the school’s effort to replenish departing members will include ongoing searches for professors who specialize in Asian American, Latinx, and Muslim American studies. FAS Dean Claudine Gay announced in June that FAS is seeking to hire three to four such faculty.

Candidates for the jobs were encouraged to apply by earlier this week — though FAS is still accepting applications — and Gay said in an interview Wednesday that members of the faculty search committee are currently developing a preliminary list of candidates. She added that up to three of those appointments could be hired with tenure, adding that the search is “open-rank.”

“We appreciate, and I appreciate, the importance of senior leadership in this field,” Gay said. “At the same time, just as the FAS in general, we are continually renewed by bringing in early-career scholars, supporting them, and helping them develop their careers here, so I always want to make sure that that is on the table.”

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Gay said that the ladder faculty loses an average of 30 members each year. But last year, the school lost 37 ladder faculty members, according to Dean of Faculty Affairs and Planning Nina Zipser.

Because FAS also completed a lower-than-usual number of faculty searches last year, it shrunk by a net 10 members. Zipser said at a faculty meeting Tuesday that the FAS did not expect the decrease.

“That was not intended,” Zipser said. “It was influenced by a few unforeseen events.”

In an interview soon after taking office last year, Gay said she planned to make recruitment of ethnic studies faculty a priority, adding that building up Harvard’s faculty ranks is the best way to strengthen the school’s capacity to later create a formalized program in ethnic studies.

Gay said that candidates visiting campus in the coming months may give public lectures, which she encouraged students and faculty to attend.

At Tuesday’s meeting, Zipser also spoke about the issue of faculty diversity. While the ranks of the faculty have slowly diversified along gender lines, there remain significant disparities in representation; women make up just 31 percent of ladder faculty.

Last year, the FAS extended offers to 18 women and 16 men, yet only 10 women accepted their offers, compared to 14 men. Gay and Zipser both asserted the disparity is simply the product of a small sample size. In 2017 and 2018, the acceptance rates of male and female hirees were nearly even.

At Tuesday’s faculty meeting, Zipser outlined various policies that the University has undertaken to help prospective hires’ spouses find jobs in the Cambridge area, including increased cooperation with MIT and adding new non-tenure track positions that spouses could fill.

“We think that that might be a nice track to help attract people,” Zipser said.

The University remains unwilling to give preference to spouses for internal tenure-track positions, Gay said Wednesday, despite concerns that the policy exacerbates gender disparities.

In a report released by the Government Department Committee on Climate Change — which examined internal department culture — earlier this year, the authors wrote they believe the department’s inability to retain and recruit women is exacerbated by the University’s policies on spousal hiring.

“For every position, we evaluate the candidates on their own merits,” Gay said.

Correction: Oct. 7, 2019

A previous version of this article misattributed the photo to Shera S. Avi-Yonah. In fact, Steve S. Li is the photographer.

—Staff writer Jonah S. Berger can be reached at jonah.berger@thecrimson.com. Follow him on Twitter @jonahberger98.

—Staff writer Molly C. McCafferty can be reached at molly.mccafferty@thecrimson.com. Follow her on Twitter @mollmccaff.

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