Sixty-two lecturers, preceptors, and fellows sent a letter to administrators Thursday asking the Faculty of Arts and Sciences not to terminate them once their teaching appointments automatically end.
In the letter, the signatories argue that FAS should stop placing nonrenewable “time caps” on their appointments which require them to leave Harvard no matter their credentials after three, five, or eight years, depending on their positions.
The instructors who signed the letter say they are winners of the Certificate of Teaching Excellence for Lecturers and Preceptors, which the Derek Bok Center for Teaching and Learning and the Office of Undergraduate Education award based on student course evaluations. Roughly half of the signatories have won multiple teaching awards.
“While we are active researchers and while many of us aspire to tenured positions, we also value our work teaching Harvard’s undergraduates, and we believe that this work deserves respect,” the letter reads. “This arbitrary rule deprives contingent faculty of stability and deprives our students of hundreds of experienced teachers who ‘time out’ and are shown the door every year.”
“We write today to ask you not to fire us,” they wrote.
History and Literature Lecturer Thomas A. Dichter and Environmental Science and Public Policy Preceptor Michaela J. Thompson hand-delivered the letter to the offices of University President Lawrence S. Bacow, FAS Dean Claudine Gay, Dean of the College Rakesh Khurana, and Dean of Undergraduate Education Amanda J. Claybaugh Thursday afternoon.
University spokesperson Anna G. Cowenhoven wrote in an emailed statement that non-ladder faculty are “extremely important” to FAS’s pedagogical mission.
“The ability to bring in new non-ladder faculty serves an essential educational purpose,” she wrote. “The FAS acknowledges the challenge of balancing the academic needs of students and departments with the professional advancement needs of outstanding non-ladder faculty.”
Dichter said in an interview Thursday he sees a “disconnection” between the University’s teaching awards and the “on-the-ground reality” for non-tenure-track faculty members, who comprise a significant portion of FAS instructors.
“We think it’s self-defeating for the University to be simultaneously recognizing the teaching accomplishments of non-tenure-track faculty, and automatically requiring them to leave,” Dichter said.
Preceptor in Japanese Ikue Shingu, who wrote in an email that she has received teaching awards for 12 consecutive semesters, wrote that she signed the letter because she would like to stay at Harvard past the eighth and final year of her appointment, but her requests to arrange an exception to the time cap are “not going anywhere.”
“This rule prevents qualified teachers from even applying to Harvard positions,” Shingu wrote. “I hesitated to accept the offer myself.”
Both Dichter and Thompson said FAS rules around time caps are complicated and lack transparency. They added that the process of applying to positions at other universities or at Harvard requires a significant amount of time and can be stressful. Because their positions are mainly geared towards teaching, it can be difficult to complete the amount of research needed to survive the hyper-competitive academic job market, they said.
Moreover, they said their time as non-ladder faculty in the FAS does not give them a leg-up when applying to tenure-track positions at Harvard.
“Letters take time, interviews take time, campus visits take time,” Thompson said. “This is extremely unstable, where folks don't know if they're going to be here until next year until sometimes like March, which makes it really hard to line up something.”
— Staff writer Jonah S. Berger can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @jonahberger98.
—Staff writer Molly C. McCafferty can be reached at email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter at @mollmccaff.