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Admins Defend Spousal Hiring Policy, Say Harvard Is Past Days of ‘Honey, We're Moving to Cambridge’

Dean of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences Claudine Gay.
Dean of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences Claudine Gay. By Jocelyn Wang
By Jonah S. Berger and Molly C. McCafferty, Crimson Staff Writers

Dean of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences Claudine Gay defended Harvard’s professional support for spouses of prospective hires in a Thursday interview, responding to concerns about faculty retention raised in a recent Government department report.

The issue arose in the final report of the Government Department Committee on Climate Change, which outlined a litany of challenges and potential changes to departmental policies, including those surrounding faculty recruitment and retention.

The Department formed the Committee in March 2018 in response to public allegations from 18 women that former Government Professor Jorge I. Dominguez committed repeated acts of sexual misconduct over four decades.

The “recruitment and retention” subcommittee of the CCC examined long-term trends in the gender and racial diversity of the department, writing in the report that such diversity serves as a “crucial component” of an “environment” in which sexual misconduct is less likely to occur.

In the past 25 years, the department has only put two women up for tenure — one of whom was promoted — compared to 14 men put up for tenure, of whom 12 gained promotion, according to the report. While the proportion of women in the department — around 30 percent — is roughly comparable to peer institutions, the CCC wrote that the department still has an “obvious problem” in retaining junior female faculty members.

Harvard’s policies on career offers to spouses could be one of the primary factors contributing to the low retention rate, the report states.

“Several women have left the department as a result of moving with their spouses,” the report reads. “The problem is exacerbated by the university policy of not making ‘spousal appointments’ for the purpose of retaining faculty.”

Gay said on Thursday that Harvard provides significant “transitional assistance” to spouses in finding a position at Harvard or a nearby institution. She pointed out that there are several faculty couples within FAS.

“The level of commitment to responding to the legitimate needs and professional ambitions of the partner is very high,” she said. “This is something that we take seriously, because we realize that when we're hiring someone, we're not bringing just that person, but we're bringing, in many cases, a whole family.”

Though the report notes that the University does occasionally hire spouses for non-tenure-track positions, it argues that such hiring “may not be enough” to convince all prospective hires.

“There is probably not much we can do about this; it is mainly a problem at the university level,” the report states.

Gay argued that instead of using a one-size-fits-all policy, the University attempts to examine each prospective spousal hire separately.

“Every circumstance is different, and so the conversations are never about a blanket policy, it's about in this particular circumstance, how do we work together to support the professional needs of the partner of a faculty member that we are eager to recruit?” she said.

In an interview last month, Vice Provost for Faculty Development and Diversity Judith D. Singer also said that in order to remain competitive in the academic market, the University has increased its support for couples seeking faculty positions.

“Our faculty are constantly getting inquiries from other places,” Singer said. “One of the other things we've had to do is increase our supports for work life and dual-career couples.”

“The old days of calling somebody up, usually a man, and saying, ‘You want to come to Harvard?’ and he’d say yes and go home and say, 'Honey, we're moving to Cambridge — that is a thing of the past,” she added.

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

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

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