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Majority of Surveyed Faculty Say Harvard Should Review Circumstances Behind García Peña’s Tenure Denial

A majority of respondents to a Crimson survey of Harvard's Faculty of Arts and Sciences said the University should review the circumstances behind its decision to deny tenure to Romance Languages and Literatures associate professor Lorgia García Peña.
A majority of respondents to a Crimson survey of Harvard's Faculty of Arts and Sciences said the University should review the circumstances behind its decision to deny tenure to Romance Languages and Literatures associate professor Lorgia García Peña. By Aiyana G. White
By Kevin R. Chen, Crimson Staff Writer

A majority — 61 percent — of respondents to a Crimson survey of Harvard’s Faculty of Arts and Sciences said the University should review the circumstances behind its decision to deny tenure to Romance Languages and Literatures associate professor Lorgia García Peña, whose research engages with race and ethnicity.

Hundreds of students and ethnic studies scholars have signed onto letters condemning the University’s decision to deny García Peña tenure. The denial prompted a surge in activism for a formalized ethnic studies program, for which Harvard affiliates have lobbied for nearly half a century.

Sixty-five percent of faculty respondents agreed that Harvard should create a formalized ethnic studies program, whereas 35 percent disagreed.

In December, more than 100 faculty members called on FAS Dean Claudine Gay to review tenure procedures in the wake of García Peña’s case. Gay agreed to initiate such a review during the 2020-2021 academic year — though she specified in an interview last week that the review will not examine individual tenure cases such as García Peña’s.

The Crimson distributed its faculty survey to more than 1,000 members of the FAS in late February, polling Harvard’s flagship faculty on key University policy decisions, pressing issues on campus, and challenges they face as academics. Emeritus, tenured, tenure-track, and non-tenure-track faculty all received the survey.

The 74-question survey garnered more than 400 responses, though not all respondents answered each question. The anonymous survey, a link to which was emailed to nearly every member of the FAS, was open from Feb. 20 to 27. The Crimson did not adjust the data for possible selection bias.

The three previous installments of The Crimson’s 2020 faculty survey series explored faculty perspectives on national politics, the University administration, and Harvard’s campus culture. This final installment examines faculty opinions on academic and institutional matters, including tenure procedures, the admissions lawsuit against Harvard, and the graduate student union.

Tenure

While a majority of faculty respondents agreed that the University should review the circumstances behind its decision to deny García Peña tenure, opinions diverged by academic division.

A large majority — 82 percent — of respondents from the Arts and Humanities agreed that the University should conduct such a review. In contrast, a slim majority of faculty from the Sciences and Social Sciences — 51 percent and 52 percent, respectively — disagreed that a review should take place.

Opinions on whether the University should create an ethnic studies program also varied by academic division. While 79 percent of Arts and Humanities faculty respondents agreed, 62 percent from the Social Sciences did, compared to only 48 percent in the sciences.

A large majority — 94 percent — of faculty respondents from all divisions said they support Gay’s decision to launch a review of the FAS tenure promotion process. Only 6 percent said they did not.

Nonetheless, a majority — 57 percent — of respondents said they do not feel a colleague in their department has been unjustly denied tenure, whereas 43 percent of respondents said they do. The difference in opinions across divisions was not statistically significant.

In addition, 56 percent of respondents agreed FAS provides enough support to tenure-track faculty in their department, including 17 percent in strong agreement. Twenty-seven percent said they neither agree nor disagree, and 17 percent disagreed.

The faculty most likely to say FAS provides enough support to tenure-track faculty were the tenure-track faculty themselves, with 72 percent of tenure-track faculty in agreement. Meanwhile, 64 percent of tenured faculty agreed, and 40 percent of non-tenure-track faculty agreed.

Furthermore, 54 percent of respondents agreed that their voices are adequately represented in tenure decisions, whereas 46 percent disagreed.

Respondents overwhelmingly said that their research played the largest role in their own tenure decisions — though many disagreed that research is their primary role as a professor in a separate question.

Out of respondents who said they are tenured professors, 97 percent said that their research played the largest role in Harvard’s decision to grant them tenure.

A plurality — 40 percent — of total respondents said their primary role is research, but a nearly equal proportion — 37 percent — said their primary role is undergraduate teaching. The remainder chose a mix between graduate teaching and undergraduate and graduate mentorship, among other items, as their primary roles.

University Affairs

Faculty generally agreed with the College’s defense of its admissions policies in the lawsuit brought against it by anti-affirmative action group Students for Fair Admissions.

Filed against the University in 2014, SFFA’s suit alleged that Harvard College’s race-conscious admissions policies illegally discriminate against Asian Americans. While a federal judge ruled in favor of Harvard in October, SFFA submitted its appellate brief in February.

Sixty-nine percent of faculty respondents said they agree with Harvard’s defense of its admissions policies, including 31 percent who strongly agreed. Twenty-three percent said they neither agree nor disagree, while only 8 percent disagreed.

Faculty opinion on the University’s negotiations with the Harvard Graduate Students Union-United Automobile Workers was more mixed.

Prior to HGSU-UAW’s decision to go on strike in December, the union met for 28 bargaining sessions after the University negotiations began in October 2018. Despite reaching 12 tentative agreements, the two sides did not agree on the three core issues for the union — compensation, healthcare, and an independent third-party grievance procedure for adjudicating sexual harassment and discrimination complaints — prompting the union to strike.

Four weeks into the strike, the union announced it will end the strike without a contract and accepted a University offer to engage federal mediators.

Half of survey respondents said Harvard should agree to HGSU-UAW’s demands for a third-party harassment and discrimination grievance procedure, including 30 percent who “strongly agreed.” Twenty-nine percent disagreed, and 21 percent neither agreed nor disagreed.

The distribution of opinions regarding the strike itself were similar. A plurality — 48 percent — of respondents agreed with the decision of HGSU-UAW to go on strike last December, including 31 percent who strongly agreed, whereas 32 percent disagreed, and 20 percent neither agreed nor disagreed.

Methodology

For its 2020 Faculty Survey, The Crimson collected electronic responses through Qualtrics, an online survey platform, from Feb. 20 to 27, 2020. A link to the anonymous survey was sent to 1,341 FAS and SEAS faculty members through emails sourced in October 2019 from Harvard directory information. The pool included individuals on Harvard’s Connections database with FAS titles, including emeritus, tenured, tenure-track, and non-tenure-track faculty.

Of those faculty, 476 accessed the link to the survey. A total of 416 participants answered at least one question, while 263 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, SEAS affiliation, and ladder versus non-ladder status. Overall, respondent demographics tracked with faculty demographics.

Of survey respondents, 41 percent identified themselves as women and 20 percent identified themselves as minorities. Based on data in the 2019 FAS Dean’s Annual report, women and minorities make up 39 percent and 24 percent of FAS ladder faculty, respectively.

According to the Dean’s report, 41 percent of the FAS were non-ladder faculty — a term synonymous with non-tenure-track faculty. By contrast, 39 percent of respondents to The Crimson’s survey identified themselves as non-ladder faculty.

Of faculty who were sent the link to the survey, 127 — or 9 percent — are affiliated with SEAS. In comparison, of respondents who indicated their divisional affiliation on the survey, 7 percent reported an affiliation with SEAS.

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

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