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FAS Dean Gay 'Hopeful' Faculty Will Develop Ethnic Studies Concentration

Dean of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences Claudine Gay poses for a photo in her office in University Hall.
Dean of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences Claudine Gay poses for a photo in her office in University Hall. By Allison G. Lee
By James S. Bikales and Kevin R. Chen, Crimson Staff Writers

Dean of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences Claudine Gay reiterated her position that the search for faculty who study race and ethnicity must come before the establishment of a formal Ethnic Studies concentration in an interview Friday, but said she is “hopeful” a concentration will be established “sooner rather than later.”

Gay first argued that hiring faculty must precede creating a concentration last fall, citing the need for faculty to lead the development of a program of study and ensure its long-term sustainability.

“It’s really about trying to build on our strength and get us to a point where we could not only, you know, stand up a really robust program, but ensure that there is longer term curricular stability,” Gay said Friday.

Earlier this month, Gay wrote an email to FAS affiliates about Harvard’s “institutional commitment” to building an ethnic studies program. The email came in the wake of renewed activism pushing for such a program, including a sit-in at University Hall and a protest during the faculty's monthly meeting in December.

While Harvard affiliates have lobbied for an ethnic studies program for nearly five decades, the University’s recent decision to deny tenure to Romance Languages and Literatures associate professor Lorgia García Peña — whose scholarship engages with race and ethnicity — prompted a surge in activism around the topic. Hundreds of students and ethnic studies scholars within and outside of Harvard have signed onto letters condemning the University’s decision.

Gay declined to comment on the tenure decision and on whether García Peña will continue serving on the faculty search committee.

García Peña did not immediately respond to a request for comment early Thursday morning.

As part of its commitment to strengthening ethnic studies, FAS is currently searching for four faculty members specializing in topics including ethnicity, indigeneity, and migration. Roughly a dozen candidates will visit campus in the spring and give public lectures, Gay said last week.

While the ethnic studies faculty search is open rank — meaning the faculty members may be hired at the tenured or tenure-track level — Gay said she recognizes the importance of selecting faculty equipped to be leaders. She predicted the “vast majority, if not all,” of the candidates that visit campus in the spring will be at the tenured ranks.

“I acknowledge and recognize that leadership will be important, and that argues for hires at the senior ranks,” she said.

Gay wrote in her to FAS affiliates that faculty, not deans, must “spearhead” the creation of a new ethnic studies concentration by developing a proposal and bringing it before the full faculty for a debate and ultimate vote.

Though she declined to name specific professors, Gay said last week that multiple current faculty members have expressed interest in helping to create the concentration to her and added that she will support them in doing so.

"Long before this message and actually since this message went out, there have been conversations with a number of individual faculty taking up the work — the necessary sort of faculty governance work — that would be required to establish a program," Gay said. "I'm feeling really optimistic, not only because we do, again, have important leaders who are already in our community who are prepared to take up this work, but then they will hopefully be joined by this next group of potential faculty leaders."

“I want to be a source of support and encouragement to the faculty who'd like to take up that work," she added.

Asked about the most significant things her office has worked on in the past year, Gay pointed to the ongoing faculty search.

“We’re not even at the point yet where we’re welcoming these folks into the community, but already it’s been great to see that we’re very clearly on a path that’s going to lead with a real enhancement of this area,” she said.

— Staff writer James S. Bikales can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @jamepdx.

— Staff writer Kevin R. Chen can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @kchenx.

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FASFAS AdministrationAcademicsFaculty NewsClaudine GayEthnic Studies